‘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?”

You May Also Like

Please Leave a Comment

Sign the Petition for resilient forests


90 signatures

Open Letter to the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture

Federal Ministry of
Food and Agriculture
Minister Julia Klöckner
11055 Berlin

Dear Minister Klöckner,

The current situation of the forest in Germany is worrying. It is a forest crisis not only driven by climate change. The current crisis management of the forestry industry is backward-looking and harmful to the forest. The declaration announced at the meeting of ministers in Moritzburg can be described as a `Moritzburg declaration of bankruptcy´. We call on the state forestry industry to, instead of expensive rushed actions, finally carry out an expert analysis of its own work and to involve all stakeholders in this process. What is called for is a consistent departure from plantation forestry and a radical shift towards a management that treats the forest as an ecosystem and no longer as a wood factory.

On 1stAugust 2019, five forestry ministers of CDU and CSU-led states adopted a so-called “master plan” for the forest in Germany, which was affected by heat, bark beetles, fire and drought. As of 2020, the federal government is to make 800 million euros available as a reaction to climate change. This money is to be used to repair the damage caused, reforest the damaged areas and carry out `climate-adapted´ forest conversion – including the use of non-native tree species that have not yet been cultivated in the forest. Research should therefore focus on on tree species suitability and forest plant breeding in the future – keyword: `Climate-adapted forest of the future 2100´.

Remarkably, the damage caused primarily by the extreme drought of 2018 is attributed solely to climate change. Climate change is meeting a forest that is systemically ill due to the planting of non-native tree species, species poverty, monocultures, uniform structure, average low age, mechanical soil compaction, drainage etc. A healthy, resistant forest would look differently! The master plan emphasizes: sustainable, multifunctional and `active´ forest management remains indispensable – and thereby means that its unnatural state cannot be changed. Reference is made to the `carbon storage and substitution effects´ of wood products. The use of wood, e.g. in the construction industry, should be increased and thus the demand for wood should be further fueled – while knowing that the forest in Germany already cannot meet this demand. In fact, forest owners are suffering from poor timber prices due to an oversupply of trunk wood on the world market.

All these demands make clear: the current forestry strategy, which has been practiced for decades, should not change in principle. The concept is simple: cut down trees – plant trees. At best, the `design´ of the future artificial forests consisting of perfectly calculated tree species mixtures, that are believed to survive climate change without damages, can be changed. In all seriousness, the intention is to continue selling the public a so-called `future strategy´ to save the forest. This strategy seamlessly follows the model of a wood factory, that is met with general rejection and must be regarded as a failure in view of the coniferous plantations that are currently collapsing on a large scale. An essential part of the forests that have currently died is exactly the part that was reestablished in 1947 as coniferous monocultures on a much larger area than today. There is only one difference to the situation at the time: considerable amounts of money are to be made available from taxes for forest owners this time.

Climate change is progressing, and this, without a doubt, has massive impacts on all terrestrial ecosystems, including forests. To pretend that the last two years of drought alone caused the disaster is too cheap. On closer inspection, the disaster is also the result of decades of a forestry focused on conifers – in a country that was once naturally dominated by mixed deciduous forests. People do not like to admit that for more than 200 years they have relied on the wrong species of commercial tree (spruce) and have also created artificial, ecologically highly unstable and thus high-risk forest ecosystems. A whole branch of business has become dependent on coniferous wood. And now the German coniferous timber industry is on the verge of bankruptcy.

It would only have been honest and also a sign of political greatness if you and the forestry ministers in Moritzburg had declared: Yes, our forestry industry has made mistakes in the past, and yes, we are ready for a relentless analysis that takes into account not only purely silvicultural, but also forest-ecological aspects. Instead, you have confined yourselves to pre-stamped excuses that are already familiar to everyone and that lack any self-critical reflection.

Clear is: We finally need resting periods for the forest in Germany, which has been exploited for centuries. We need a new, ecologically oriented concept for future forest – not a hectic `forest conversion´, but simply forest development closer towards nature. This gives the forest as an ecosystem the necessary leeway to self-regulate and react to the emerging environmental changes. We need a systemic forest management that is no less profitable than the present one, but must be substantially more stable and resistant to foreseeable environmental changes. The aid for forest owners that all citizens are now required to pay through their taxes is only politically justified in the interest of common good, if the forests of the future that are being promoted by it, do not end up in the next disaster, some of which is produced by the forest management itself.

That is why the signatories request from the the Federal Government, and in particular you, Mrs Klöckner, a master plan worthy of the name:

On disaster areas (mainly in public forests!) reestablishment through natural forest development (ecological succession), among other things with pioneer tree species, is to be brought about. In private forests, ecological succession for reestablishment must be purposefully promoted. Larger bare areas should be planted with a maximum of 400 to 600 large plants of native species per hectare in order to permit ecological succession parallelly.
To promote ecological succession, the areas should no longer be completely and mechanically cleared; as much wood as possible should be left in the stand (to promote optimum soil and germ bed formation, soil moisture storage and natural protection against browsing). In private forests, the abandonment of use in disaster areas should be specifically promoted for ecological reasons and in order to relieve the burden on the timber market.

Regarding the promotion of reestablishment plantings in private forests: priority for native tree species (of regional origin); choose wide planting distances in order to leave enough space for the development of pioneer species. For the forests of the future: Minimize thinning (low-input principle), build up stocks through targeted development towards old thick trees, protect the inner forest climate / promote self-cooling function (should have highest priority due to rapidly progressing climate change!), prohibit heavy machinery, refrain from further road construction and expansion, permit and promote natural self-regulatory development processes in the cultivated forest and on (larger) separate areas in the sense of an compound system; drastically reduce the density of ungulate game (reform of hunting laws).

Like in the field of organic agriculture, which has been established since the 1980s, the crisis of our forests should be the reason today to transform at least two existing forestry-related universities. They should be turned into universities for interdisciplinary forest ecosystem management. This is a contribution not only to the further development of forestry science and silviculture in Germany, but also of global importance! The goal must be to produce wood through largely natural forest production and to start with it here in Germany, the birthplace of forestry.


**your signature**

Share this with your friends:

%d bloggers like this: