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John Muir and the Pioneer Conservationists of the Pacific Northwest

presentation by Ronald Eber

FULL TEXT: John Muir and the Pioneer Conservationists of the Pacific Northwest by Ron Eber (off-site link to

ABSTRACT: John Muir's connections with the literary and scientific communities in the Northeast and California are well known. However, his acquaintances with many pioneer naturalists, mountaineers and conservationists in the Pacific Northwest have received little attention. This paper will explore these acquaintances and how they established the foundation of the early conservation movemåent on the Pacific Coast using many new letters, diaries and news accounts regarding John Muir's visits to the Pacific Northwest.

Although Muir's travels in Oregon and Washington were limited, he was able to become acquainted with a wide range of important community leaders who shared his love for the regions extensive forests and wilderness. Beginning with his first visit in 1880, Muir gave a series of lectures about his recent trip to Alaska. The "standing room only" lectures received extensive coverage in the Oregonian and provided an opportunity for those already familiar with Muir's writings and explorations about Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada to experience him in person. Muir renewed and expanded these acquaintances during his most extensive trip to the Pacific Northwest in 1888. This trip, which took him to Portland, Mount Rainier, Multnomah Falls, the Columbia River Gorge and Crater Lake, allowed for further exploration of the region and its emerging conservation issues.

Many of those Muir met on these early trips later became active members of the Mazamas, a Northwest mountaineering club, and vocal advocates for the protection of Crater Lake and the establishment of the Cascade Range Forest Reserve. Among those to be discussed, the more prominent were Oregon Supreme Court Justice John Waldo, William Gladstone Steel and Colonel L. L. Hawkins. Judge Waldo extensively explored the Cascade Mountains and was a leading advocate for forest protection in Oregon. Will Steel later founded the Mazamas and his tireless efforts earned him the title, the "Father of Crater Lake National Park" Col. L. L. Hawkins originally met and camped with Muir as a member of Joseph LeConte's 1870 trip to the High Sierra. In 1895, he became President of the Mazamas and later helped Muir coordinate joint Sierra Club and Mazama efforts to retain the Cascade Range Forest Reserve.

Muir relied on the acquaintances from his earlier trips to rally support for the region's Forest Reserves when he traveled again to the Pacific Northwest in 1896 and 1899. What emerged from his earlier visits and acquaintances was a network of individuals dedicated to the protection of the pristine forests, wilderness areas and park lands of the Pacific Northwest. Finally, the importance of this early network of conservation leaders was clearly demonstrated in a joint Sierra Club - Mazama climbing trip to Mount Rainier in 1905. This trip brought together an amazing group of pioneer mountaineers and conservationists who had heard and been inspired by Muir's wilderness gospel. Although Muir could not attend, this trip firmly established a working relationship between the Sierra Club, the Mazamas and other northwest conservationist. The trip resulted in joint efforts to improve the protection of Mount Rainier National Park and helped to enlist northwest conservationists in John Muir's final crusade to protect Hetch-Hetchy and the integrity of national park's everywhere.


Experience in Field: Ron Eber serves on an advisory committee to the Curator of Special Collections at the University of Oregon's Knight Library regarding the establishment of an Oregon Conservation Collection. Visiting lecturer at the University of Oregon and Willamette University on Oregon Land Use Planning, Agricultural Land Preservation, The History and Meaning of Land in America, Oregon Conservation History and John Muir and the American and Northwest Conservation Movement.

He has also written a variety of articles on environmental subjects and Oregon conservation history including "John Waldo, Pioneer Conservationists of Oregon," "The History of Oregon's Forest Reserves," and "John Muir and Oregon," John Muir Newsletter, Fall 1993.

Education: Masters in Urban and Regional Planning, University of Oregon; B. A. in Geography, Cal State University, Northridge.

Current Employment: Rural and Agricultural Land Specialist, Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development (1975 to present).

1996 John Muir Conference

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