Sierra Club: The Planet--1996
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The Planet
Sierra Club Honors Dr. Edgar Wayburn

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 circles."

Following is an excerpt from Volume 2:

[On Alaska:] 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, for protection.

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 goal.

[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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