I’m packing up and heading to Santa Fe, New Mexico to attend the Women in Wilderness conference! I’m excited to be able to meet and learn from other women involved with wilderness throughout the United States. I feel quite lucky to be a part of this event, as I was one of 60 women asked to participate. As I prepared to attend this conference, I began to question women’s involvement in wilderness conservation and their scantly referenced contributions. Were women part of wildland conservation in the beginning or is this a new trend?
When I think of iconic wilderness conservationists and leaders the first names to bubble up are Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, John Muir, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau, but where were the women? Prior to the 1970’s, recognition for women’s contributions to wildland conservation were almost completely obsolete, until historian Carolyn Merchant began to identify women’s real role in the wilderness movement. She found that women were able to transform the conservation movement from an elite male driven campaign into a mass movement, donating time, money and letters to the cause
Women’s longstanding history of charitable and reform work in the 19th century gave them all the skills needed to build on grassroots support for a conservation movement. Women’s clubs began to organize throughout the country in the 1860’s, encouraging women to improve themselves through study and social programs. These clubs became politically organized and started to rally around environmental issues, the first being in Yosemite National Park, when a stand of trees were in danger of being logged. The California Federation of Women’s Clubs stepped up and committed to providing assistance in making the timber sale stop. The club’s president Catherine White stated “it is better to have a living tree in California than 50 acres of lumberyard. Preserve and plant the trees and the state will be blessed a thousand fold in the development of its natural resources.” The fight for that stand of trees lasted over a half a century, and was successful in creating the Calaveras Big Tree State Park.
Flash forward a couple hundred years and we see that women are right alongside men in the fight for wilderness protection. Here at HCPC, the staff is half women and half men, all working together to protect the wilderness of NE Oregon, SE Washington and West Central Idaho. Not only do we guard over the biggest wilderness in the state of Oregon (Eagle Cap Wilderness), but six others including Strawberry Mountain Wilderness, Monument Rock Wilderness, North Fork John Day Wilderness, Hells Canyon Wilderness, North Fork Umatilla Wilderness, and Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness. These wild places need continued protection so that we all have places that allow us free to be wild!
The opportunity to learn and share with women engaged in wilderness is a gift that is sure to inspire ideas for HCPC’s role in the future of wilderness for the Hells Canyon-Wallowa-Blue Mountain areas. What a great way to bid farewell to 2010 and look forward towards a wilder 2011!
By Renee Tkach, Development Outreach Coordinator
Photos courtesy of John Driscoll