The aim of this event was to get locals back on track to fight for their wilderness and to stand against the current threats these areas face, such as ressource extraction, recreation and the current political climate. Stewart “Brandy” Brandborg talked about the beginnings of the U.S. Wilderness Act, the ideas and reasons behind it and how these ideas and reasons still live on. He remembered the crowd that ensuring that the managing agencies are doing their job in the wilderness areas, demands their active participation. After his introduction and building on his passionate speech, I was honoured to talk about the role of the U.S. Wilderness Act for the protection of European Wilderness, the threats and challenges as well as oportunities for Wilderness in Europe at the moment.
Stewart “Brandy” Brandborg – the last surviving architect of the Wilderness Act
Stewart “Brandy” Brandborg, born and raised in the Bitterroot valley of Montana, played an essential role in getting the U.S. Wilderness Act passed through Congress in 1964. Working on mountain goats in Idaho as a young wildlife biologist, he was exposed to wild land and wildlife. These experiences left long-lasting impressions and shaped his future career path significantly. Elected to the Council of The Wilderness Society in 1956, he worked closely with Howard Zahniser, 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 and was later signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson. He remarked:
“If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them something more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning.”
After this historic passing of the U.S. Wilderness Act, foundation and source for several laws to protect Wilderness all over the world, Brandy traveled through the United States to get areas designated as Wilderness. He cultivated and trained citizen activists on how to carry out field studies on prospective Wilderness. He joined forces with the agencies managing the designated areas and most important he carried out grassroots publicity and lobbying campaigns to win Congressional designation of proposed wilderness areas. Thanks to Brandy’s efforts the number of acres designated as Wilderness rose significantly. To this day, Brandy fights for the support of wilderness and for the engagement of citizens in protecting wild lands and wildlife. He sees the main task of leading environmentalists in getting local citizens active.
“Your roles as leaders…in maintaining the wild is essential. If I had one admonishment, I would say go forth and enlist citizens who care about the wilderness, who will spend time and energy in seeing that it’s preserved in a wild state. … you are the emissaries.”
The far-reaching impact of the U.S. Wilderness Act
The U.S. Wilderness Act is seen as the first defintion of Wilderness for protection reasons. Consequently, this definition of Wilderness shaped Wilderness definitions that followed all over the world, such as the IUCN categories 1a, strict nature reserve, and 1b, wilderness area. The European Wilderness Definitions, developed by the Wilderness Working Group, are, and consequently the European Wilderness Quality Standard, also based on the U.S. Wilderness Act as well as on the IUCN definitions. As a result, it can be said that the most important definitions of Wilderness are mostly alike. However, there are some differences between the American and the European definitions of Wilderness. These differences as well as the similarities were discussed during my talk.
The talk in Hamilton not only gave me the opportunity and honour to meet and talk with Stewart “Brandy” Brandborg, but to interact with local wilderness advocates. The latter showed me how much passion for wilderness some of the people in the Bitterroot valley have and how deeply rooted this passion is. Missoula and its surroundings are the wilderness Mecca of the United States for a reason. Surrounded by several Wilderness areas, home to numerous organisations working with, in and for wilderness and most important, home of passionate wilderness advocates fighting to keep Americas wild lands wild.
Stewart “Brandy” Brandborg is an Honoury Member of the European Wilderness Society
Brandy encouraged us to continue with our work and reminded us that wilderness needs protectors. We will listen to the advice and encouragement he will provide us in our mission to protect Europe´s last wilderness.
Please also read: Stewart Brandborg honored at wilderness celebration | Bitterroot Star
What’s up next?
During my last week in Missoula I will meet with the Selway-Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation, Ecology Project International and Charles Besancon. After that I will travel on to Nevada and California to meet with Garry Oye and visit some Wilderness Areas there.