When Dr. Edgar Wayburn celebrated his 90th birthday in September, he
also commemorated more than 50 years of dedication to protecting the
environment. "His efforts have been felt regionally, in his San
Francisco Bay Area backyard, nationally, from Alaska to Washington,
D.C., and globally, where he promotes parks, preservation and
population control in international organizations and United Nations
conferences," said Michael McCloskey,Club chairman.
Wayburn's extraordinary career -- which began in 1946 when he signed on
as trip doctor for a High Trip in Kings Canyon -- has been captured in
two volumes of oral history, the first completed in 1985, the second in
1992. His interviews provide a unique picture of the evolution of the
Club through the second half of this century as it became a major
player in U.S. environmental movement.
Wayburn was honored at this year's annual awards banquet and his oral
history was presented to him.
"In this modern world, we spend too little time listening to stories,"
said California volunteer and oral history participant Michael
Endicott. "As environmentalists we depend on helping people understand
connections -- those between our actions and their disrupting or
beneficial effects on our environment. Without such living history,
there is no way to tell if we are making progress or walking in
Following is an excerpt from Volume 2:
Peggy [my wife] and I started as explorers, vacationers. The very first
year, we encountered some of the practices of the national parks in
Alaska, notably in then-Mount McKinley National Park; we became imbued
with the idea that something had to be done, that this was a great
opportunity never before realized in the United States.
That was 1967. In the winter of 1968, Jack Calvin wrote an impassioned
letter that he wanted someone to help him save a wilderness on West
Chichagof Island in the Southeast where he had a plan to save what
could be saved of the beauty and natural aspects of Alaska, in a way
that couldn't be done otherwise.
I had some experience with asking for a large amount of terrain for
protected areas before this in connection with Mount Tamalpais State
Park and Redwoods National Park [in California], so this time I felt we
would go for broke. By 1970, we were already formulating what became
the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980. By 1973, I
had put that into form in an epilogue to the book that Peggy did with
Mike Miller. I outlined 104 million acres, not including the Southeast,
Now, during this time and in the years following, we were covering
every part of Alaska that we could. Each year, we had a different
mission. Each year, we got out into the field to explore some of the
land ourselves. We ran some thirty rivers by kayak, by canoe, by small
boat, by raft. The passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Act of
1980 was the great stepping stone, but we've had just about as much to
do since then as before then. It was the culmination of a long-term
[On the Club's role in Alaska, and when to take a stand:]
We take a stand because we think it's right. Now, others may decide
whether this stand is in the middle or extreme on one side. We know
that we won't get all that we're trying to get, and in that respect,
we're often far out on the edge. But sometimes we do.
Take the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act itself. When I
first discussed this with Senator Henry Jackson in 1971 and he said,
"What do you want? How much do you want?"
I said, "150 million acres."
He said, "That's too much. Would 80 satisfy you?" I said, "No, but
we'll take it."
And 80 million acres were put into Section 17(d)2 of the Alaska Native
Claims Settlement Act.
The Oral History Project
In an effort to recognize the people behind the Sierra Club's 104
years, the Club's History Committee has been recording the oral
histories of Board members and key Club leaders regionally and
nationally since 1970.
The committee encourages chapters and groups to conduct oral histories
with longtime leaders and has guidelines for planning and conducting
interviews. The committee can also assist chapters in establishing
repositories for these records in regional libraries.
For more information: Contact Ann Lage at the Regional Oral History
Office, Room 486 Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley,
CA 94720; (510) 655-3462; e-mail:
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