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Identifier: CONS130


The Wilderness Society Records document the administration and the programs of the organization. It includes correspondence, memos, reports, maps, studies, film and video recordings. The material dates from 1874 to 2005, with the bulk of the material from 1935 to the 1990s. The collection remains open and periodically receives additional material.

While the organizational structure of the Wilderness Society has changed over the years, its work has been organized around internal organizational needs, its interface with government agencies and its work in specific locations through its regional offices. The collection has been organized accordingly and is divided into sixteen series. Each series has been cataloged and numbered separately.

Series 1 and 2 contain the Governing Council and administrative files of the organization, which date primarily from 1935 to 2002. This includes material related to the development of policy and the governance of the organization. Series 3 and 4 are focused on the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the designation of wilderness areas throughout the United States. Series 5 relates to the current Communications Department, formerly referred to as the Public Affairs Department, and focuses on the interface of the organization with the public. It includes the production of the magazines Wilderness and The Living Wilderness, fact sheets and brochures.

Series 6 through 11 contains the files of the Public Policy Department, earlier known as the Conservation Department, and is organized around congress and the federal agencies responsible for management of public lands. Series 6 comprises the Public Policy (Conservation) Department administrative files. Series 7 files reflect the work of the department with Congress, particularly the monitoring of the budget and appropriations bills for the Department of Interior. It also includes the appropriations for the Land and Water Conservation Fund which supports the acquisition of wilderness areas. The department’s Bureau of Land Management Program forms Series 8. The California Desert Protection Act was a major part of this program in the 1980s and 1990s. The files also document the Society's work to protect areas from mining and mining pollution.

The files of Michael Francis, Director of the National Forests Program, comprise Series 9. These records cover the building of roads in National Forests, fire management policies, timber sales, water rights and the protection of endangered species. The National Parks Program files form Series 10 and include the files of Rose Fennell, Brien Culhane and William Reffalt. The subject material includes the appropriate use of aircraft in National Parks, and the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park.

Series 11 contains the files of three Refuge and Wildlife Program directors; William Reffalt, 1983 to 1991; Pam Eaton, 1992 to 1995; and James Waltman, 1995 to 2005. This program focuses on the wildlife refuges managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the protection of endangered plants and animals.

Over time, the Wilderness Society has established regional offices to carry out programs specific to a geographic area of the United States. The regional office material is organized in Series 12 with the large volume of Alaska records in Series 13. Records received by the Denver Public Library from the regional offices after 2003, have been maintained as the following separate collections:

  1. Alaska Regional Office, CONS254;
  2. California Nevada Regional Office, CONS249;
  3. The Four Corners Regional Office, CONS227;
  4. Idaho Regional Office, CONS258;
  5. The Northeast Regional Office,CONS241;
  6. Northern Rockies Regional Office, CONS260;
  7. Pacific Northwest Regional Office, CONS247;
  8. The Southeast Regional Office, CONS246;

Most reference material is organized within each departmental series, but the Wilderness Society had an extensive program of clipping and distributing material that appeared in the press. These clipping files are organized in Series 14. Films and video recordings produced by or about the Wilderness Society comprise Series 15. The oversize material, primarily maps, have been brought together in Series 16. The photographs are in Series 17.

Material received since September 2005 has not been processed, but is available for research use. CONS130


For location information, refer to the Denver Public Library Catalog.

Series 1 contains the correspondence of the founders of the Wilderness Society and the members of the governing council. Also included are agendas, minutes and reports of the governing council meetings, annual reports and the policies adopted by the council. The correspondence of Robert Sterling Yard begins in 1920, prior to the organization of the Wilderness Society, when he served as executive secretary of the National Parks Association, now the National Parks Conservation Association. Yard also served as the editor of the National Parks Bulletin from 1919 to 1936, copies of which are included Yard’s scrapbooks.

Series outline:

  1. Governing Council - founder, Harold C. Anderson (1937-1957)
  2. Governing Council - founder, Harvey Broome (1937-1968)
  3. Governing Council - founder, Bernard Frank (1937-1964)
  4. Governing Council - founder, Aldo Leopold (1937-1948)
  5. Governing Council - founder, Benton MacKaye (1937-1954)
  6. Governing Council - founder, Robert Marshall (1937-1939)
  7. Governing Council - founder, Ernest C. Oberholtzer (1937-1968)
  8. Governing Council - founder, Robert Sterling Yard (1937-1945)
  9. Governing Council - Assistant Treasurer, Corporate Secretary, Richard W. Van Wagenen
  10. Governing Council - correspondence
  11. Governing Council - agendas, minutes, committee reports
  12. Governing Council - policy and subject files by date

For location information, refer to the Denver Public Library Catalog.

The administrative records of the organization contain the files for the executive staff. The files comprise the working papers for conferences and workshops, correspondence with individuals and organizations related to membership issues and advocacy work, and information about educational tours sponsored by the organization. The financial records include fund-raising activities and the administration of the Robert Marshall Wilderness Fund. Correspondence and reports related to the issue of non-profit tax status and lobbying activities comprise the legal files. The subject files contain reports, studies, articles, clippings and correspondence related to the following topics: energy, forest management, mining, National Parks, pesticides, pollution, population, public lands, wilderness legislation, management and wildlife. Copies of correspondence from a few prominent persons have been placed in the folders and the originals moved to Vault Box 1.

Series outline:

  1. Executive staff, Director 1945-1962 - Olaus J. Murie
  2. Executive staff, Executive Director 1945-1964 - Howard Zahniser
  3. Executive staff, Assistant Executive Director, 1955-1971; Consultant 1971-19-- ; Michael Nadel
  4. Executive staff, Executive Director 1964-1976; Stewart M. Brandborg
  5. Executive staff, Executive Director 1976-1977; George D. Davis
  6. Executive staff, Executive Director 1977-1978; Celia M. Hunter
  7. Executive staff, Executive Director 1978- - ; William A. Turnage
  8. Executive staff, Counselor; Gaylord Nelson
  9. Administration – awards, conferences, correspondence, educational material, financial, legal, membership and program developments
  10. Administration – subject files

For location information, refer to the Denver Public Library Catalog.

The work of the organization to gain legal protection for the remaining wilderness areas in the United States is documented in this series. The historical files are organized by date beginning in 1952 through 1964 when the Wilderness Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson.

With the passage of the Wilderness Act, the national forest areas were to be surveyed to identify those roadless areas, which would be suitable for wilderness designation. These surveys were referred to as the Roadless Area Review and Evaluation (RARE) studies. General files relating to these studies are organized by date, followed by studies organized by specific state and area. The series also includes studies of National Grasslands, potential Department of Interior wilderness sites, Wildlife Refuges and Wild and Scenic Rivers, which were proposed for wilderness status.

Series outline:

  1. Wilderness Preservation System - 1952-1964
  2. Wilderness campaign reference material
  3. Roadless Area Review (RARE) I, II
  4. Regional inventories
  5. National Grasslands
  6. U.S. Department of the Interior Wilderness proposals by site
  7. National Wildlife Refuge areas by site
  8. Wild and Scenic Rivers
  9. Rivers and dams reference material
  10. Additions to wilderness areas by date

For location information, refer to the Denver Public Library Catalog.

This series contains state by state files of areas proposed for wilderness designation. The majority of material dates from the 1960s and 1970s. It is organized alphabetically by state. Within each state, the correspondence is listed first, followed by the material related to a specific site within that state. Many of the site specific files contain reports compiled to support the request for Wilderness designation. The files related to wilderness areas in Alaska form part of Series 13, Regional Offices – Alaska.

Series outline:

  1. Alabama - Wyoming

For location information, refer to the Denver Public Library Catalog.

This series documents the Communications Department’s responsibilities, which includes the publication of magazines and newsletters, distribution of membership alerts, providing press releases for statements and speeches made by Wilderness Society officials and the production of a wide variety of specialty publications. Additional responsibilities include planning and carrying out a variety of public relations projects. Departmental records consist of work plans, schedules, budget reports and planning documents. A large number of subject or reference files form a portion of the series.

Personal papers include records of departmental vice-presidents, editors and various members of the publications staff. Material from Mary F. Hanley, long time department vice president, and Tom Watkins, Wilderness magazine editor, comprise the bulk of this material. Substantial amounts of correspondence between staff members and subscribers, authors, photographers and organizations comprise the administrative records of various publications including Wilderness magazine, The Living Wilderness magazine and Wilderness Watch, the quarterly newsletter. Additional material documents a number of specialty publications including The Watt Book and a number of anniversary and other special events.

Series outline:

  1. Communications Department Administrative Records
  2. Communications Department Vice Presidents - Mary F. Hanley
  3. Communications Department Vice Presidents - Bennet H. Beach
  4. Editors - Tom H. Watkins (Managing Editor Wilderness magazine)
  5. Editors - Patricia Byrnes (Assistant Editor, Managing Editor Wilderness Magazine
  6. Publications Staff - John Teare (Staff writer, reporter)
  7. Publications Staff - Karl Gawell (Lobbyist, Staffer)
  8. Publications Staff - Charlene Osman (Graphics Specialist)
  9. Publications Staff - Justin M. Darisse (Communications Associate)
  10. Publications - The Living Wilderness (magazine)
  11. Publications - Wilderness (magazine)
  12. Publications - Wilderness Watch (quarterly newsletter)
  13. Publications - Special - The Watt Book
  14. Publications - Special - Other
  15. Communications Department Subject Files

For location information, refer to the Denver Public Library Catalog.

The Public Policy Department focuses on implementing the activities of the Wilderness Society through federal legislation and working with federal agencies responsible for wilderness areas. The files are organized first by administrative staff, then by program subject files and include the files of Chuck Clusen, Karin Sheldon, Donald Hellman and Rindy O’Brien.

Series outline:

  1. Vice President of Conservation, Chuck Clusen
  2. Vice President of Conservation, Karin Sheldon
  3. Vice President of Public Policy (Conservation), Donald Hellman
  4. Vice President of Public Policy (Conservation), Rindy O'Brien
  5. Program subject files - Endangered Species Act
  6. Program subject files - oil, gas leases by date
  7. Program subject files - population programs
  8. Program subject files - public lands
  9. Program subject files - River Protection and Water Use Conference, Denver, Colorado
  10. Program subject files - water rights

For location information, refer to the Denver Public Library Catalog.

In 1958, the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission (ORRRC) was created to develop specific recommendations for a national recreation program. One result of the Commission’s work was the Land and Water Conservation Fund legislation, which was signed into law on September 3, 1964, as Public Law 88-578. It established a funding source for federal acquisition of park and recreation land and matching grants to state and local governments. A portion of this series contains files related to funding requests for the acquisition of land using the Land and Water Conservation Fund monies and federal agency requests for wilderness status for areas under their jurisdiction.

Takings legislation involves the concept that governments must compensate private property owners if their property is taken for public use. It has been expanded to include “regulatory takings”, whereby restrictions on land use imposed by regulations, especially environmental rules, also require compensation. Files related to takings legislation are included here. Congressional testimony of Wilderness Society staff or representatives concludes the series.

Series outline:

  1. Director of Budget and Appropriations, Sue Gunn
  2. Appropriations requests, hearings, testimony
  3. Other legislation
  4. Land and Water Conservation Fund
  5. Bureau of Land Management acquisitions by prospective sites
  6. Fish and Wildlife Service acquisitions by prospective sites
  7. Forest Service acquisitions by prospective sites
  8. National Parks Service acquisitions by prospective sites
  9. Takings laws by date
  10. Reference files by subject
  11. Trustees for Conservation
  12. Wilderness Society staff or representative: congressional testimony

For location information, refer to the Denver Public Library Catalog.

This series contains the records related to the wilderness areas within the public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management. It includes the files of Terry Sopher, the program director. Work to enact The California Desert Protection Act is documented, as well as the management policies for public lands, including, mining and grazing. Also included in this series are the files related to the areas in the western United States under Bureau of Land Management jurisdiction, which were considered for Wilderness designation (Wilderness Study Areas).

Series outline:

  1. Program Director, Bureau of Land Management, Terry Sopher
  2. Bureau of Land Management
  3. California desert
  4. Grazing issues
  5. Mining issues
  6. Public lands, wilderness policies
  7. Wilderness areas – Western states

For location information, refer to the Denver Public Library Catalog.

Michael Francis is the Program Director for the National Forests program of the Wilderness Society. The series is organized first by his administrative files, then by subject files. Issues covered by this material include roadless areas, timber sales and management, federal land payments in lieu of taxes, military overflights, Native American rights and off-road vehicle use. Also contained in this series is the management of timber in the Tongass National Forest and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

Series outline:

  1. Public Policy Department, Forest Service Program administration
  2. Forest Service Program, policy issues
  3. Forest Service budget and appropriations
  4. Forest Service management
  5. Forest Service - roads
  6. Forest Service - wilderness
  7. Forest Service subject files
  8. Forest Service reference material by title/subject

For location information, refer to the Denver Public Library Catalog.

The National Parks Program of the Public Policy Department was concerned with issues affecting the integrity of the National Parks system. A large portion of this material deals with the issue of aircraft in the parks and in wilderness areas, including access and overflights of both civilian and military aircraft.

Series outline:

  1. National Parks Program - administrative material
  2. National Parks Program - legislation
  3. Grand Canyon - aircraft over-flights
  4. Director, National Parks Program, Rose Fennell
  5. Rose Fennell - Grand Canyon
  6. Rose Fennell - appropriations
  7. Rose Fennell - National Parks research program
  8. Rose Fennell - National Parks, by sites
  9. Rose Fennell - Yellowstone National Park
  10. Rose Fennell - subject files
  11. Assistant Director, National Parks Program, Brien Culhane
  12. Directors, National Parks Program, Culhane, Reffalt, Whitney
  13. National Parks Program - subject files by subject/title

For location information, refer to the Denver Public Library Catalog.

Since the first wildlife refuge was set aside in 1903, a variety of unique ecosystems have been preserved within the more than 500 units of the National Wildlife Refuge System -- Arctic tundra and prairie potholes, tropical Hawaiian forests and Sonoran deserts among others. The Refuges and Wildlife Program addresses a wide variety of issues affecting the National Wildlife Refuge System, including policy issues such as appropriate or compatible use, management policies and conflicting needs of the public and the wildlife. It also follows such issues as hunting and fishing in refuge areas, water and mineral rights, endangered species and threats from external sources such a pollution. The files are organized around three of its directors, William Reffalt, Pam Eaton and James Waltman.

Series outline:

  1. Program Director (1984-1991) Refuges and Wildlife, William Reffalt
  2. William Reffalt - compatible use
  3. William Reffalt - migratory birds
  4. William Reffalt - refuge management
  5. William Reffalt - Refuges 2003 program
  6. William Reffalt - refuges
  1. Director of Refuges and Wildlife (1992-1995) Pam Eaton
  2. Pam Eaton - California - Central Valley Project
  3. Pam Eaton - coastal marine refuge/sanctuary
  4. Pam Eaton - ecosystems
  5. Pam Eaton - endangered species
  6. Pam Eaton - Fish and Wildlife Act
  7. Pam Eaton - forests
  8. Pam Eaton - hunting, fishing
  9. Pam Eaton - Pacific Yew tree
  10. Pam Eaton - public lands
  11. Pam Eaton - refuges by subject/title
  12. Pam Eaton - water rights
  13. Pam Eaton - wetlands
  1. Director of Refuges and Wildlife (1995-2005), James Waltman
  2. James Waltman - endangered species
  3. James Waltman - Everglades Coalition
  4. James Waltman - legislation
  5. James Waltman - litigation
  6. James Waltman - National Wildlife Refuge System
  7. James Waltman - Natural Resource Summit
  8. James Waltman - reference material by subject/title

For location information, refer to the Denver Public Library Catalog.

The series documents the regional structure of the Wilderness Society. Documents include administrative records, financial records, reports and correspondence. Subject or reference files dealing with state wilderness issues comprise the bulk of the material. Field programs served as the administrative connection between the central office and the regional offices. Addition material is arranged alphabetically by region, then alphabetically by state within each region.

Series outline:

  1. Field Programs - administrative records
  2. Field Programs - reports
  3. Field Programs - Deputy Vice President - Ron Tipton
  4. Field Programs - subject files
  5. Central Rockies Region
  6. Four Corners Region - Arizona
  7. Four Corners Region - Colorado
  8. Four Corners Region - New Mexico
  9. Four Corners Region - Utah
  10. Northern Rockies Region - Idaho
  11. Northern Rockies Region - Montana
  12. South East Region - Florida

For location information, refer to the Denver Public Library Catalog.

The material in this series centers around two major pieces of legislation dealing with the large, wilderness areas of Alaska, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), passed in 1971, and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, passed in 1980.

The legislation granting Alaska statehood in 1959 put into place several provisions for dividing the lands between the state and the federal government. The state was granted the right to select 104 million acres of land; the rest remained under federal control. As Alaska began the selection process, conflicts arose with Alaska Native communities, especially when the state selected lands traditionally used by the Natives for subsistence living. Alaska's Native community claimed that without a treaty, or an act of Congress extinguishing their rights, the State should not be allowed to continue selecting lands. Stewart Udall, Secretary of the Interior at the time, agreed, and the state land selections were frozen in 1966.

When oil was discovered in Alaska, it was clear that these native land claims had to be settled, and on December 18, 1971, congress passed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) Public law 92-203. This legislation created twelve Native-owned regional corporations; granted 962 million dollars in settlement of the aboriginal claims to land in Alaska; authorized the Native corporations to select 44 million acres in Alaska for their own economic base; and required the Secretary of the Interior to withdraw 80 million acres from development until Congress determined their status as National Parks, Wildlife Refuges, Wild and Scenic rivers, or National Forests. These designations were to be made by Congress before December 15, 1978. These "national interest lands" were required under Section 17 (d) (2) and became known as the "withdrawn, or, d-2 lands." If congress failed to act by the deadline, these lands would be reopened to development.

In 1977, the first Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA, HR 39), to determine the status of the withdrawn d-2 lands, was introduced in the House of Representatives, but it was not until 1980 that congress passed the legislation, protecting over 100 million acres of federal lands in Alaska. President Carter signed the bill into law on December 2, 1980.

The files of this series document the Wilderness Society’s involvement in passing these two pieces of legislation. The trans-Alaska pipeline is also a subject of these files, as is the protection of timber resources in the Tongass National Forest and the protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Series outline:

  1. Alaska Program Director, Randall Snodgrass
  2. Alaska Coalition
  3. Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA)
  4. Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA)
  5. Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)
  6. Oil, gas leasing in Alaska
  7. Tongass National Forest
  8. Trans-Alaska pipeline
  9. Alaska reference material

For location information, refer to the Denver Public Library Catalog.

Newspaper clippings comprise the bulk of the reference materials in this series. Clippings by subject files also include a limited number of magazine articles, fact sheets and reports. For certain date ranges both original clippings and copies of clippings are indicated. In almost all cases, the copies and originals are not of the same articles and do not overlap. Rather, the copies comprise an additional, separate run of articles.

The series includes two broad categories: daily and weekly clippings organized by date ranges and clippings arranged by subject. Prior to 1988, clippings are simply designated as general clippings and are arranged chronologically. After 1988, the Wilderness Society designated clippings as daily or weekly. Generally, daily clippings are from larger, metropolitan newspapers, while weekly clippings reflect smaller, more regional media. Daily and weekly clippings are arranged chronologically. The Wilderness Society assembled copies of clippings into clips packets for distribution to regional offices and other interested organizations. The series includes both regional and national clips packets. Clippings by subject are arranged alphabetically by subject and then chronologically within a subject.

Series outline:

  1. General clippings
  2. Daily clippings
  3. Weekly clippings
  4. Weekly clips packets
  5. Regional clippings
  6. Regional clips packets
  7. Newspaper clippings by subject

For location information, refer to the Denver Public Library Catalog.

The Wilderness Society acquired film and video material on subjects related to their work for reference use. It also created films for educational purposes and public service announcements. This series contains 16 mm film, VHS, magnetic tape reels and audio cassette formats, and includes subjects such as Maine Wilderness, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and ancient forests. Also included are cassette recordings of award presentations, speeches and interviews. An interesting addition to this collection is the wildlife sound tapes, including Humpback Whale songs, loons, ice break-up and wolves. The material is organized primarily by format.

Series outline:

  1. Video (VHS) tapes
  2. Maine Wilderness film
  3. Film
  4. Tape
  5. Audio cassettes
  6. Audio cassettes, digital media

For location information, refer to the Denver Public Library Catalog.

Maps comprise the bulk of the oversize material. Standard topographical and highway maps contain annotations depicting wilderness proposals, boundaries and other features. Also included are specialized Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and government maps showing trails, national forests, species habitats and roadless areas. Additional material includes flip-chart pages from various briefings, certificates, publications and a Wilderness Act twenty-fifth anniversary portfolio.

Series outline:

  1. Alaska maps, posters, story boards
  2. Arizona, Nevada, Utah maps
  3. Arizona, New Mexico and Utah wilderness proposals
  4. California maps
  5. Colorado maps
  6. Florida maps
  7. Georgia maps
  8. Georgia, North Carolina maps
  9. Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee border area maps
  10. Idaho maps
  11. Idaho, Montana maps
  12. Kenai, Alaska and Virginia maps
  13. Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri maps
  14. New Mexico maps
  15. North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia maps
  16. Oregon maps
  17. Texas, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin maps
  18. United States - Eastern United States maps
  19. United States - National Parks, Forests, Refuges, Wilderness Areas maps
  20. United States-National Wildlife Preservation System maps
  21. Utah maps
  22. Virginia maps
  23. Washington maps
  24. West Virginia maps
  25. Wyoming maps
  26. Communications Department retreat notes and briefing pad

For location information, refer to the Denver Public Library Catalog.

The photographs from the collection have been brought together in this series.

Series outline:

  1. Photographs from Series 1, Governing Council
  2. Photographs from Series 2, Administration
  3. Photographs from Series 3, Wilderness Preservation System
  4. Photographs from Series 4, Wilderness areas by states
  5. Photographs from Series 5, Communication
  6. Photographs from Series 6, Public Policy - Administration
  7. Photographs from Series 8, Public Policy - Bureau of Land Management
  8. Photographs from Series 10, Public Policy - National Parks
  9. Photographs from Series 12, Regional Offices
  10. Photographs from Series 13, Regional Offices - Alaska
  11. Photographs - Series not identified

For location information, refer to the Denver Public Library Catalog. This material was received after 2004.


  • 1874-2016


The collection is open for research.


The Wilderness Society Records are the physical property of the Denver Public Library.


Copyright is assigned to Denver Public Library for research purposes only, and may be cited but not published from. All requests for permission to quote from material in the collection should be discussed with the appropriate librarian or archivist. Permission to publish must be obtained from the copyright holder, by the customer. The Library does not assume any responsibility for infringement of copyright or publication rights of the manuscript held by the writer, heirs, donors, or executors. Reproduction restrictions are decided on a case-by-case basis.


The stated mission of the Wilderness Society is to: “Deliver to future generations an unspoiled legacy of wild places, with all the precious values they hold: Biological diversity; clean air and water; towering forests, rushing rivers, and sage-sweet, silent deserts.” (Wilderness Society web site)

In October 1934, Robert Marshall, Benton MacKaye, Harvey Broome, and Bernard and Miriam Frank, traveling together for a field trip during an American Forestry Association meeting, stopped by the roadside to discuss wilderness preservation issues, and a letter written by Harold C. Anderson. (Anderson was advocating a federation of outdoor clubs which would alert the public to issues threatening wilderness areas.) The roadside gathering resulted in a statement of principles, an organizational name, The Wilderness Society, and the beginnings of a founding committee (called the Organizing Committee).

Robert Marshall, chief forester for the Office of Indian Affairs, wrote in 1930 about the value of preserving wilderness and the need to organize “spirited people who will fight for the freedom of the wilderness.” Benton MacKaye was a forester, land planner and would become known as the father of the Appalachian Trail. Harvey Broome, an attorney, was past president of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club; Bernard Frank was an assistant forester for the Tennessee Valley Authority and would later become the assistant chief of watershed management in the U.S. Forest Service.

Shortly after their roadside meeting, they extended an invitation to four men to complete the make-up of the organizing committee. The four invited were: Harold C. Anderson, an accountant and author of the letter; Aldo Leopold, forester and wildlife ecologist at the University of Wisconsin; Ernest Oberholtzer, leader in the protection of the Quetico Superior Boundary Waters Canoe Area; and Robert Sterling Yard, editor and executive secretary for the National Parks Association (now the National Parks Conservation Association). The organizing committee held their first official meeting on January 21, 1935 at the Cosmos Club in Washington D.C. with Yard serving as Secretary-Treasurer. By April 29, 1937, the Society was incorporated in the District of Columbia with formal bylaws, a governing council to direct its activities and a slate of officers.

The Wilderness Society advocated the protection of wilderness areas against development, working in many areas such as the Quetico-Superior Boundary Waters Canoe Area, the Flathead, Selway and Wind River Wilderness Areas, the Grand Canyon, Kings Canyon, and Glacier Bay, Alaska. While protection of these individual areas was important, there was a growing recognition of the need to provide federal legislation to insure the protection of the remaining wild areas throughout the United States. Setting aside and protecting unique areas within the United States began when President Abraham Lincoln signed an act ceding certain federal public domain lands of Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees (Giant Sequoia trees) to the state of California as public parklands.

Protecting wild lands continued with the designation of Yellowstone as the first National Park and the establishment of the federal agencies to manage and oversee the public lands. In 1940, the Wilderness Society began studying the legal status of wilderness areas. In 1952, the governing council proceeded with a legislative proposal for a national wilderness preservation system, and in 1955, Howard Zahniser spoke to the American Planning and Civic Association on the need for wilderness areas. This speech was published in the Congressional Record and widely circulated. It served to increase public support for the concept and encouraged Senator Hubert H. Humphrey to introduce a Wilderness Bill, drafted by Zahniser, on June 7, 1956, which was followed by Representative John P. Saylor’s House bill on June 11, 1956.

On September 3, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Wilderness Act, creating a national wilderness preservation system. It directed Congress to set aside nine million acres in the national forests, national parks, national wildlife refuges and other federal lands to be kept permanently unchanged by humans, where “man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” (The Wilderness Preservation Act of 1964)

This however, was not the end of the Society’s work. It has continued to work for preservation of wilderness areas through education and lobbying for additional legislation, among them the Alaska National Interest Lands and Conservation Act of 1980, which designated fifty-six million acres of Alaska wilderness, and the California Desert Protection Act of 1994, that protects eight million acres of desert. It continues to work for the protection of wildlife and endangered species and the prevention of intrusions into wilderness areas from mining, logging, off-road vehicles and pollution. It carries out this work with the support of its members and through its regional offices.

The records of the Wilderness Society provide extensive documentation of the conservation movement in the United States from 1935 to the present.


441 boxes

38 oversize folders

16 audiovisual boxes

2 oversize boxes

2 photo boxes

132 unprocessed Boxes

9 unprocessed audiovisual boxes

2 unprocessed photo boxes

Language of Materials



The Wilderness Society donated its papers to the Denver Public Library beginning in 1968. The collection remains open for additional material.


Olaus J. Murie Papers


Related Materials

William and Christine Reffalt Papers


Related Materials

Howard Zahniser Papers


Related Materials

Additional material on Alaska, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act are in the following manuscript collections:

Alaska Coalition Records


Related Materials

Harry Crandell Papers


Related Materials

John Seiberling Papers


Related Materials

Dee Frankfourth and Peter Scholes



Publications have been transferred to the Western History/Genealogy Department.


Number of boxes: 441

Oversize: 2 OV boxes; 37 OV folders

Audio-visual: 14 boxes

Photographs: 2 boxes

Vault: 1 box




Elizabeth Happy



Claudia Jensen

Dennis Hagen


Revised January 2010


Ellen Zazzarino

Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Denver Public Library, Western History and Genealogy Repository

10 W. 14th Ave. Pkwy
Denver CO 80204 United States