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The Importance Of John Muir

John Muir

If you define a great American as one who helps change the direction of this country toward more socially desirable goals, then John Muir was a greater American than all but a handful of U.S. Presidents.

When Muir began his conservation career in the late 1880's, America was committed to a totally devastating attack on the environment. When Muir died in 1914, the Nation was committed in spirit, if not always in fact, to the wise use of its natural resources. That, in a nutshell, is his greatness.

Muir did not invent conservation any more than Henry Ford invented the automobile, but as Ford popularized a radically new concept in transportation, Muir popularized a radically new concept in American land use.

Gifford Pinchot was perhaps a better forester and Asa Gray a better botanist, but it was Muir's writings that moved presidents, congressmen, and plain Americans to action:

"Any fool can destroy trees. They cannot run away; and if they could, they would still be destroyed -- chased and hunted down as long as fun or a dollar could be got out of their bark hides, branching horns, or magnificent bole backbones... Through all the wonderful, eventful centuries since Christ's time -- and long before that -- God has cared for these trees... but he cannot save them from fools -- only Uncle Sam can do that."

The above quote is from his American Forests , which supported President Cleveland's acts to establish 13 Forest Reserves totaling more than 21 million acres and the creation of what was to become the U.S. Forest Service.

Muir had a direct hand in the establishment of Yosemite (1890), Sequoia (1890), Mount Rainier (1899), Petrified Forest (1906), and Grand Canyon (1908) National Parks.

In 1892, he helped found and was president for life of the Sierra Club , that private watchdog of the environment.

Muir was on personal terms with three presidents and many writers and philosophers of the time, but it was with Theodore Roosevelt that Muir exerted his greatest influence. After a 1903 meeting with Muir at Yosemite, Roosevelt embarked on a course of action that established 148 million acres of National Forest, 5 National Parks and 23 National Monuments during his term of office.

Source: John Muir National Historic Site
National Park Service
4202 Alhambra Avenue
Martinez, California 94533
(510) 228-8860
Posted: 1994 July 21
Revised: 2003 September 1

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