Jack E. Williams
Establishment of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was an epic struggle in conservation and remains a touchstone for many of us that prefer a hearty dose of wildness. In this book by Roger Kaye, the reader gains an appreciation of the place rightfully called the Last Great Wilderness, but perhaps more importantly we learn about the coalition of scientists, sportsmen, and wilderness lovers who were profoundly touched by this wild corner of Alaska and how they struggled to protect it.
The people involved in the campaign to protect what would become the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge read like a who's who of the early conservation movement. Among those described are the likes of Bob Marshall, Aldo Leopold, Olaus Murie, Mardy Murie, George Collins, and A. Starker Leopold. In those early days, no one knew what special designation was fitting for such land or which agency should manage it, let alone how to convince Congress or the President to act on its behalf.
One of the great lessons of this book is that despite long odds, persistence and dedication eventually pay off. Virginia Wood and Celia Hunter, two early Alaska advocates for protection, captured what I am certain was broad sentiment among conservationists at that time and even today, they wrote: "conservation gets so many setbacks...it is easy to get discouraged and feel that individuals or small groups are impotent in the machinations of `bigness' that plague the modern world."
Today, we are the beneficiaries of their unselfish vision and dedication. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is indeed the last great wilderness, stretching for more than 19 million acres - about 9 times the size of Yellowstone National Park - plus adjoining parks on the Canadian side. Roger Kaye's fine book reminds us not only why such an area was protected but why it is vital that we not lose this vision of a place where nature still plays out her natural rhythms in tune to forces yet only partially understood by scientists and philosophers.
Francis J. Mauer
As conservationists continue the prolonged struggle to protect the Arctic Refuge from oil development and other encroachments, the epic story of the campaign to establish the original Arctic National Wildlife Range, documented in Last Great Wilderness, now provides new inspiration and deeper understanding of why the Refuge should remain protected. This is an invaluable resource for all who will face the battles that lie ahead because in revealing the idealism and values upon which the Arctic Refuge was founded, it provides the most persuasive arguments for keeping it wild. While Last Great Wilderness is a thoroughly researched and authoritative history of the conflict, it is at the same time an absorbing, hard-to-put-down story. Color and black and white historical photos lend interest.
Last Great Wilderness shows how conservation pioneers George Collins, Lowell Sumner, Olaus and Mardy Murie, Starker Leopold, Justice William O. Douglas, and Sigrud Olson united with Ginny Wood, Celia Hunter and other Alaskans to forge a highly effective strategy of grass roots action on a national scale. Their successful struggle set a number of milestones in conservation history: establishment of the nation's first vast ecosystem-scale conservation unit and the first administered as an adventuring ground--a place for the kind of challenging, self-reliant, and exploratory journeys that Bob Marshall had extolled. The Arctic Range exemplified the wild values and recreational opportunities its advocates soon succeeded in enshrining in the wilderness Act of 1964. The victory laid the groundwork for the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA).
While Last Great Wilderness is about what happened in the past, like any history, it was written to serve the future. For those who believe the vision, values, and ideals that led to the Arctic Refuge's establishment should guide its future stewardship, Last Great Wilderness will be an invaluable guide. And for those interested in the evolution of the wilderness movement, and especially its influence upon Alaskan conservation efforts, this book is a must-read.
A PhD in wilderness studies, Roger Kaye has been the Arctic Refuge's wilderness specialist and pilot since 1985.
William C. Reffalt
"Last Great Wilderness is the story of the beliefs and values, the ideas and idealism, and the hopes and concerns for the future that inspired the leaders of the campaign and many of their followers. (LGW, review copy, p. xv) Because the national campaign for establishment covered the period from 1950-1960, Arctic NWR serves also as tracer for the evolution of the Wilderness concept and the 1964 legislation establishing America's National Wilderness Preservation System. The Arctic NWR campaign, in its broadest context, involved many famous names in environmental conservation annals--Olaus and Margaret "Mardie" Murie, George Collins, Lowell Sumner, A. Starker Leopold, F. Fraser Darling, Howard Zahnizer, and others. The foundational vision came from Collins and Sumner, but the Muries helped steer the campaign at critical periods and obtained broad support for the proposal in Alaska, a feat worthy of Hercules.
Make no mistake; Last Great Wilderness will help readers understand the significance of this largest and most threatened refuge in our U.S. Refuge System. The book presents the hopes and dreams of the visionaries who worked so hard and so well for its creation. It presents the compromises that had to be made, and it gives context to the International, scientific, wilderness, fish and wildlife, cultural, and landscape-level ecological values for which the refuge stands, thereby creating a preeminent symbol of freedom, "...freedom from the crowding and pollution of our cities, freedom to continue, unhindered and forever if we are willing, the particular story of Planet Earth unfolding here--freedom for us as well who need to come to the few out-of-the-way places still remaining where we can breathe freely, be inspired, and understand a little of the majestic story of evolution... ."
No other place in America better symbolizes the fight to protect unspoiled wilderness than the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Yet many of us know all too little about the long, hard-fought campaign to first establish the refuge, and how that struggle informs our own today. That will now change with publication of Roger Kaye's absorbing new book, Last Great Wilderness, the first in-depth examination of that epic conflict.
Kaye documents the important roles that Wilderness Society president Olaus Murie and his wife Mardy played, as well as the work of Wilderness Act author Howard Zahniser, Sigurd Olson, Stewart Brandborg, Conservation Foundation president Fairfield Osborn, and even Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. They struggled throughout the 1950s to protect this vast corner of Arctic Alaska against those, like Alaska U.S. Senator Bob Bartlett, who saw the idea of wilderness as threatening to the dominant, unsustainable notion of "progress."
After Alaska's politicians blocked establishing legislation, conservationists convinced Interior Secretary Fred Seaton in the outgoing Eisenhower Administration to create the Arctic Range in December of 1960 by secretarial order. The Range was, of course, later expanded and renamed the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act in 1980, the monumental conservation law that had been in part inspired by "the beliefs and values, the ideas and idealism, and the hopes and concerns for the future" that propelled the original campaign.
Last Great Wilderness shows how the struggle to establish the Refuge influenced other national wilderness battles at the time, including the effort to block dams in Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado, and especially the eight-year struggle to pass the 1964 Wilderness Act. Many conservation leaders, like the Muries and Zahniser, worked on all three efforts. The Arctic campaign infused the wilderness movement with a great sense of idealism and symbolism, and enriched the national wilderness movement. Its success bolstered those working to enact the Wilderness Act. Part of that idealism and symbolism lay in the realization that northeast Alaska offered an unparalleled opportunity to protect an entire ecosystem from development and inappropriate management, a nine-million-acre wilderness landscape and adventuring ground unprecedented in scale and purpose. That expansive ecosystem view imbued the wilderness movement with a far broader vision and richer symbolism than had earlier been the case.
Roger Kaye is well-suited to tell this story. He has worked as a wilderness specialist and pilot for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Arctic Refuge for over twenty years. A Ph.D in wilderness studies, he has extensively researched and written about the Arctic Refuge and the wilderness concept. Richly illustrated, his account is at once a highly readable story and an authoritative history of the wilderness movement during the postwar era.
Last Great Wilderness tells an important story for today. The values symbolized by the Arctic Refuge has come to represent--cultural, recreational, spiritual, and ecological--are as meaningful for us as they were a half-century ago. The importance of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the national wilderness movement is as strong if not stronger today than in 1960. Last Great Wilderness will inspire all of us and better equip today's defenders of the Arctic Refuge and other wild places.
Midwest Book Review
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has for decades been at the center of the conflict between American needs for oil and nature's preservation, yet until now little has been provided in the way of a comprehensive history of how the Refuge came to be. LAST GREAT WILDERNESS: THE CAMPAIGN TO ESTABLISH THE ARCTIC NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE covers this history, from the early visionaries who set forth to save an entire ecosystem to the battles which led to the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964. It's a top, recommended pick for any interested in wilderness preservation in general and Arctic or oil issues in particular.
Diane C. Donovan