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11 Amazing Women Who Made Wilderness Conservation History
Often working in the shadows of better-known male conservationists, female conservation leaders helped drive the twentieth century conservation movement.
In celebration of Women’s History Month, here are 11 of those women who have made a difference to America’s wild lands:
1. Margaret “Mardy” Murie (1902—2003)
Mardy Murie worked hand-in-hand with her husband Olaus Murie to accomplish important wilderness victories like the establishment and expansion of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Mardy Murie witnessed first-hand the signing of the Wilderness Act fifty years ago. She continued to fight for wilderness until her death at age 101 in 2003.
“I hope the United States of America is not so rich that she can afford to let these wildernesses pass by, or so poor she cannot afford to keep them,” Murie once said.
2. Celia Hunter (1910—2001)
Celia Hunter fought alongside Mardy and Olaus Murie to safeguard the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and became the first female president of a national conservation organization—The Wilderness Society. She played a major role in the passage of legislation that protected over 100 million acres in Alaska. On her dying day she wrote a letter to Congress urging the protection of the Arctic Refuge from oil drilling.
3. Rachel Carson (1907—1964)
Rachel Carson was employed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1943, and resigned to continue her writing career in 1952. Her bestselling book Silent Spring remains a environmental classic for it raised public health concerns and highlighted the need for regulation, inspiring grassroots movements that led to the development of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). There is a wildlife refuge named for her in Maine.
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”
4. Terry Tempest Williams (1955— )
Terry Tempest Williams is a contemporary author who writes about wilderness. She received The Wilderness Society’s Robert Marshall Award in 2006, our highest honor given to citizens. When President Clinton dedicated Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah in 1996, he held up a book she’d edited—Testimony: Writers Speak On Behalf of Utah Wilderness—and said, "This made a difference."
5. Hallie M. Daggett
Hallie Daggett learned how to hunt, fish, ride, trap and shoot early in life, skills which served her well as the first woman employed by the Forest Service. She worked as a lookout for 15 years beginning in 1913 at Eddy's Gulch Lookout Station atop Klamath Peak in California’s Klamath National Forest. It was almost a hundred years later before the Forest Service appointed their first female chief Abigail R. Kimbell in 2007.
6. Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1890—1998)
Marjory Douglas worked to protect the Everglades and wrote the iconic book The Everglades: River of Grass in 1947—the year Everglades National Park was established. The park contains a wilderness areas named for her legacy.
"It is a woman's business to be interested in the environment," said Douglas. “It's an extended form of housekeeping."
7. Herma Albertson Baggley (1896—1981)
Herma Baggley was the first female naturalist who worked for the National Park Service. She was a pioneer in botany and natural education at Yellowstone National Park starting in 1929. She paved the way for Fran P. Mainella, who became the first woman director of the National Park Service in 2001.
8. Bethine Church (1923—2013)
Bethine Church was as politically active as her husband U.S. Senator Frank Church—no small feat. Her husband sponsored the passage of the Wilderness Act 50 years ago, and she also supported the passage of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act four years later. In their home state of Idaho, they worked for the protection of Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, Sawtooth Wilderness, and the now-named Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.
9. Rosalie Barrow Edge (1877—1962)
Rosalie Edge was a suffragist and advocate for the preservation of birds. In 1934 she founded the first preserve for birds of prey at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in the Appalachian Mountains and she led campaigns to protect Olympic and Kings Canyon National Parks.
“The time to protect a species is while it is still common.”
10. Anne LaBastille (1935—2011)
Anne LaBastille was an ecologist who authored scientific papers, popular articles and books like the Woodswoman series and Women of the Wilderness. She led backpacking and canoe trips in the Adirondacks as well as wilderness workshops and lectures. She also photographed the outdoors as part of the EPA’s Documerica project in the 1970s.
11. Mollie H. Beattie (1947—1996)
Mollie Beattie was the first female director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In her short term there from 1993 to 1996, she oversaw the reintroduction of the gray wolf into the northern Rocky Mountains and the addition of 15 national wildlife refuges. A wilderness area is named for her in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
“In the long term, the economy and the environment are the same thing. If it's unenvironmental it is uneconomical. That is the rule of nature.”
Also, several federal lands preserve the legacies of American women and their lasting contributions, such as: Adams National Historic Site, MA (Abigail Adams), Clara Barton National Historic Site, Washington, D.C., Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, NY, Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, VA, Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site, Washington, D.C., Sewall-Belmont House National Historic Site, Washington, D.C. (Alice Paul), Whitman Mission National Historic Site, WA (Narcissa Prentiss Whitman).
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Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.
The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
Leaked documents show that Jair Bolsonaro's government intends to use the Brazilian president's hate speech to isolate minorities living in the Amazon region. The PowerPoint slides, which democraciaAbierta has seen, also reveal plans to implement predatory projects that could have a devastating environmental impact.
Last week we received positive news on the border wall's imminent construction in an Arizona wildlife refuge. The Trump administration delayed construction of the wall through about 60 miles of federal wildlife preserves.