HOWARD ZAHNISER was the man who made sure that there would be wilderness for us to enjoy by conceiving, drafting, and leading the campaign for the 1964 Wilderness Act - (b. February 25, 1906 – d. May 5, 1964).
Quiz: Do you know these 15 things about Howard Zahniser?
- Zahniser was the father of the Wilderness Act. Eight years after it was introduced in Congress, it was signed into law on September 3, 1964.
- Zahniser wrote 66 drafts of the Wilderness Act between 1956 and 1964.
But he began working on the ideas and discussing them with close confidants, including the directors of all four wilderness-administering agencies in 1947.
Proof that introducing kids to wilderness at a young age sets the stage for their future, Zahniser joined the Junior Audubon Club in the fifth grade.
- He was affectionately known as “Zahnie” by his legions of friends.
- Zahniser graduated from Greenville College, the small Free Methodist college in southern Illinois. He met his wife Alice there some years later. Every member of the Zahniser family has graduated from Greenville.
- He was a deeply scholarly man and served as president of the Thoreau Society.
- Zahnie’s scholarship played into his choice of every word in the Wilderness Act. He choose the word “untrammeled” over the objection of several friends, who thought that if he meant “undisturbed” he should just say “undisturbed” – which would have created the idea that areas ever disturbed by human impacts could not qualify as for wilderness protection. Brilliant!
- Zahnie and Alice honeymooned on a canoe trip down the Allegheny River to Tionesta, the town where he grew up and where he is buried, less than a mile downstream from one of the islands in the Allegheny Islands Wilderness Area.
- In the late 1950's, Howard Zahniser paid a Georgetown tailor to custom-make a coat with four supersized inside pockets in which he would keep booklets, wilderness bill propaganda, Wilderness Society membership information and applications and other items.
- He was raised and is buried in Tionesta, PA, on the bank of the Allegheny River, just downstream from one of the islands in the Allegheny Islands Wilderness. There is now a historical roadside marker honoring the man, located just south of what is now the Allegheny Islands Wilderness.
- A family man, Zahniser, used to bring his four children to Capitol Hill and have them talk about wilderness with members of Congress.
- He teamed up with David Brower of the Sierra Club (both became executive directors of their organizations in 1945) – the perfect team, an adroit Washington lobbyist with a unique style and a talented PR man with a unique gift for the compelling image. They honed their skills on the national stage working with the leaders of other national conservation groups in the impossible, come-from-behind victory against the proposed Echo Park Dam invading a unit of the National Park System.
- Tragically, after years of work, he died of heart failure just months before the Act was signed. His widow, Alice, was there by President Lyndon B. Johnson’s side when the Act was signed.
There is no wilderness named to honor Zahnie. He would have hated the idea. The National Wilderness Preservation System is his monument.
- Zahniser’s Wilderness Act protected 9,140,000 acres the day it was signed. Today, it protects more than 109,511,000 acres. Now that’s a birthday gift!
- The Wilderness Act has inspired three states to enact wilderness protection laws – California, Minnesota, and Maryland.
- The Wilderness Act has been the model inspiring nations around the world to institute their own wilderness/nature protection systems adapted to their individual societies.