December (?) 1936 – Statement by the Wilderness Society

  • Date uncertain – 1936 – Statement by the Wilderness Society, written by Robert Sterling Yard


By Robert Sterling Yard

The business of the Wilderness Society is promotion of nation-wide cooperation to save all that can be saved of the American wilderness during a period of extreme emergency.

It appeals to all who appreciate nature, including virtually all organized sportsmen and the hikers of mountain and wild, even persons who know little of nature and never saw wilderness to recognize it.

It appeals to nearly all scientists and powerfully to idealistic people of all classes and occupations who have vision. Of these there are many millions in America.

It is opposed principally by persons who have something to gain, in profit or politics, by destruction of wilderness quality. The government’s interest is political.

It is ignored by many of enthusiastic shouters whom nature has fitted with blinders, like horses, permitting them to see neither right nor left of exciting projects in motor roads, mountain summits and seventy miles an hour and monotonous skyline drives! Thoughtless scorchers of the asphalt, these, many of whom grow wiser with experience, but too late to save priceless gems of creation; for wilderness, lost, can never return.

I come in response to a request made “to suggest a zoning plan for keeping certain areas wild and free of any development.” Inn the Adirondacks it is only the wild areas which concern the Wilderness Society, and these have already been zoned by the Constitution of the State, “The lands of the State,” to quote the clause, “now or hereafter acquired, constitution the forest reserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest land. They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, nor be taken by any corporation, public or private, not shall the timber hereafter be sold, removed or destroyed.”

We find it impossible to read into these words authority for the truck trails and the highways which, after theses many years of faithful protection, are now despoiling and endangering your forest preserve. To me, the startling point in the attitude of your Conservation Commissioner is his unconcern for the fate of the Forest reserve during administrations following those for which he is personally responsible, apparently caring only that the public front of his own administration, as such, shall be confirmed. Afterward, who cares? He tells critics that he will take the chances of keeping out irresponsible invaders or truck trails. But who, in administrations to come, will keep them out of the elaborate system of truck trails which those of his originating will surely have begotten by then?

In the wisdom of its protecting law and the primeval perfection of its reserve, New York challenges even the best of the National Parks. In these respects no other state has its equal. It is the Governor’s clear duty to safeguard so noble a possession with an official protector who not only keeps its health, perfection and preservation above the influences of politics and federal dictation, but conceive the word “forever” a solemn injunction of the law upon himself.

What you are facing here, the country faces, everywhere, and everywhere from the same cause. Its origin is federal and its given purpose is relief, which makes it difficult to limit. CCC forces are assigned to states to find them work, and often it is hard to find: and millions are so plentiful for road building that mountains and plains must be explored and again explored to find locations. So much road money is allocated to the United State Forest Service that already it is obliged to invade areas which it had not expected to touch for a century, and State Forest areas are already over-abundantly motorized. The National Park Service is over-building State parks in an endeavor to spare National Parks, but with scant success. This is the situation now. What next year CCC may find to feed upon no one can guess now, and a second term of the New Deal may leave practically no primeval area in America.

Where no law protects surface, CCC operators work their will. In forests, national and state, the National Forest Service controls. In parks, national and state, the National Park Service controls. National bureau practice prevails, but varies enormously according to the personality in charge. The object of these bodies, providing work for unskilled men at barely living wage, is never for a moment forgotten. Everything is subject to that. There is no appreciation and little care for wilderness values. And no longer is one group well trained than it is exchanged for raw labor.

But there is this difference from other states, that New York has protected her noble Forest Preserve in advance by her Constitution. It alone in all the states was potentially safe. And actually safe it would be today if only the spirit of the law were considered. Whatever cleverness of argument may be devised to evade its letter, its meaning and purpose are openly defied. And without these who can claim the present Administration faithful to its trust?

To New York’s Forest Preserve law, however, the federal forces are obliged to yield or would, even if they did not understand it, if New York insisted. Appreciation of its constitutional wilderness, if your Conservation Commissioner had it, would enforce respect of the CCC. But does he have it? His friends protest that he has. To us from outside the State who do not know him personally but judge the man by the acts, he does not seem to have. No man inspired by live and devotion would, at the biding of politics, subject the object of his devotion to risks so certain – would start it, from its secure mountain top, down a slope of increasing declivity toward certain ruin. Personally, I have no doubt whatever that, as created under the State Constitution nearly half a century ago, the New York Forest Preserve has started toward its end.

In my experienced opinion, it has one chance for survival – an uprising of the people against Department policy! Even our mountain tops are exploited. Next year, who knows? It may be Marcy. We read that the Green Mountains are doomed again. They were saved once, you recall, early in the summer, by act of the Vermont Legislature. And in October the case is opened again with all the chances favoring a skyline drive! Something for New York to think about!

But New York has a much greater duty even than the preservation “forever” and “Wild forest land” of her Forest Preserve. Holding it safe also constitutes an all-important duty to the Nation, to National Conservation, to the Wilderness of all America. Already this fight in New York is recognized in other states as the first great engagement in the war for Wilderness Preservation now beginning from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from the Great Lakes to the Gulf. Very soon it will be nationally recognized. You must win. The time is crucial. If New York with such a constitution cannot succeed, what chance has the rest of American with none? It may prove true that, as goes New York for Wilderness now, so will go the Nation.

More years ago than I care to count back, the Adirondacks introduced me to mountains. Here I caught my first trout, saw my first wild deer, laughed with my first loon, dreamed in my first primeval forest, and climbed Marcy. Where one took the trail from Fourth Pond (or was it Fifth?) for Cranberry Lake, I gazed into a memorable grove of old, crinkled, multi-colored copper beech so entrancing that many of the magic columns come back to memory in some detail through all these years. Here I saw my first fawn belly-deep among the lily pads, and the fawn its first man, gazing motionless long into each other’s eyes, no farther apart than the cast of my fly. Here I first saw tamarack and such white pine as I did not know where I was. And here I descended exquisite Indian Pass, treading silently lest I should awaken the ferns, almost bursting with a sense of beauty unexceeded later in many gorgeous defiles of the Rockies and the Sierra-Indian Pass which soon will be combed ad brushed by the CCC.

I came here tonight to talk Adirondacks to you from the point of view of the Wilderness Society, but find myself, at the end, begging your Forest Preserve of you as its lover.

Robert Sterling Yard

Secretary and Treasurer

The Wilderness Society

Washington, D. C.