Last December's Senate vote on H.R. 3979, enacted the first expansion of wilderness in the U.S. in more than four years. The legislation added 250,000 acres designated as wilderness, along with 100 miles of wild and scenic river, including 46 miles of Vermont's Trout and upper Missisquoi Rivers.
With the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act fading in the past, we applaud that act of Congress and can't help reflect on the role that print, writing, photography and design have played in the history of conservation in America.
William Henry Jackson's photographs of the Yellowstone and John Muir's essays in Robert Underwood Johnson's The Century are largely credited with raising public awareness of wild lands that led to the creation of the National Park System. Later, Carleton Watkin's images of Yosemite helped ensure protection of that epic valley as a state park.
One of the most powerful examples of photography, writing and design supporting conservation goals was Ansel Adams' remarkable edition of Sierra Nevada, The John Muir Trail published in 1938. Limited to 500 copies, the book featured 175 line screen letterpress prints of Adams' photographs tipped onto the pages. A couple of years later, Adams delivered copies of the book to Interior Secretary Harold Ickes and President Roosevelt, illustrating the intense beauty of the Sierra and gaining support that led to the formation of Kings Canyon National Park.
In the early 1960's, David Brower, Muir's successor at the Sierra Club, initiated the Exhibit Format book series, expanding on the model created by Adams. These large, beautifully-printed coffee-table books featured the work of legendary photographers such as Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter and Wynn Bullock together with the writings of Muir, Thoreau and contemporaries like Wallace Stegner, Nancy Newhall and Robinson Jeffers.
Targeted at influential American leaders, they were highly effective at advancing the Sierra Club's mission. The books helped build the growing appreciation for open lands and the protection of ecosystems and wildlife habitat that led to the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the Clean Water Act of 1972.
Today, more than 110 million acres in the United States are designated as wilderness. However, open lands and ecosystems continue to be under pressure from development and mining. We are hopeful that visionary leaders will continue to ask talented designers, writers and photographers to create designs that inspire Americans who value these treasured resources to take action.
DPV / East Arlington VT