‘What are you going to do to make things better?’ – a tribute to Stewart “Brandy” Brandborg

Stewart “Brandy” Brandborg passed away last Saturday, surrounded by his family in his home in the Bitterroot valley. Brandy was “a mentor and inspiration, not only environmentally but as a champion for social justice”, as Van Keele from the Friends of the Bitterroot put it. His passion for Wilderness was infectious and was essential for the success of the Wilderness Act and the establishment of the Wilderness Preservation System. Stewart Brandborg was the last living architect of the 1964 U.S. Wilderness Act and honoury member of the European Wilderness Society.

I (2nd from the left) was so lucky to have met the Wilderness Legend Stewart Brandborg during my recent trip to the USA.
Jamie Williams, President of the Wilderness Society, said the following about the tragic loss of their former executive director, who led the organisation from 1964 to 1976, right after the passing of the U.S. Wilderness Act.

“Brandy was a passionate and tireless advocate for protecting America’s wilderness.  His ability to mentor advocates and galvanize citizen action was unmatched. He took up the leadership of The Wilderness Society right after the untimely death of Howard Zahniser, the author of the Wilderness Act, and Brandborg led the organization through a critical time for America’s conservation movement. His talents and passions, which never ebbed, have contributed greatly to conservation and preservation of America’s wilderness.”

A life dedicated to Wilderness and Wildlife

Stewart Brandborg, born in 1925, grew up in a family passionate for the outdoors and Wilderness. His father was the supervisor of the Bitterroot National Forest during the the U.S. Forest Service’s reassessment of its relationship with timber production. Brandy shared the dinner table with legendary Wilderness advocates Bob Marshall and Gifford Pinchot, both friends of the family. As a trained wildlife biologist Brandy worked on mountain goats in Idaho before moving to Washington D.C.. Elected to the Council of The Wilderness Society in 1956, he worked closely with Howard Zahniser. Zahniser was the director of The Wilderness Society at the time and author of the U.S. Wilderness Act. Brandy’s people skills were essential to get the public support for the Act and to get Congress man on board. After Zahniser’s sudden death in 1964, Brandy took over his role within The Wilderness Society. And only a few months later, the Wilderness Act, after several years of fighting, finally passed through Congress. The Act was later signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson.

In 1966, two years after the passing of the act, Stewart Brandborg wrote:

“These coming years … will test our power to the limit: our ability to communicate the need for preserving wilderness; our depth of conviction and willingness to follow through on our commitments as citizens; and above all our basic faith in the American people, who are moving so fast and crowding so closely, and needing wildness so much more today than ever before.”

During the years Brandy was director of The Wilderness Society, Congress approved more than 70 new wilderness areas in 31 states. Brandy himself described his life’s work as “building the circles” – mobilising local support by putting people into working circles.  A long and laborious process that determines the fate of conservation efforts, according to Brandy.

Bringing Brandy’s passion to Europe

About a month ago Brandy was the star of a local Wilderness Celebration in Hamilton organised by the Friends of the Bitterroot. During this celebration Brandy reminded the audience to step up for their wild public lands. He said, “let’s go out and kick some butt to save our wilderness.” I am still grateful to have had the opportunity to share the stage with Brandy and so many passionate wilderness advocates during this inspiring evening. My talk picked up the importance of the U.S. Wilderness Act for Wilderness protection worldwide. Today’s discussion on and efforts for Wilderness protection wouldn’t be possible without pioneers, such as Brandy Brandborg.

Standing ovations for Steward “Brandy” Brandborg at the Wilderness Celebration in Hamilton in March 2018

For the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act in 2014 Brandborg told the Missoulian:

Brandy Brandborg deeply believed in the power and passion of the people to move things forward. Everybody has something to contribute to protect, not only, Wilderness, but our planet, as the U.S. Wilderness Act intended “to secure for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.” Therefore, let’s work on the answers to Brandy’s question:

“What are YOU going to do to leave the world a better place, with healthy wildlife and wilderness for all?”

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