Wallace Stegner

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Wallace Stegner (February 18, 1909April 13, 1993) was a United States writer (of fiction and nonfiction) and environmentalist.


  • It is a better world with some buffalo left in it, a richer world with some gorgeous canyons unmarred by signboards, hot-dog stands, super highways, or high-tension lines, undrowned by power or irrigation reservoirs. If we preserved as parks only those places that have no economic possibilities, we would have no parks. And in the decades to come, it will not be only the buffalo and the trumpeter swan who need sanctuaries. Our own species is going to need them too.

    It needs them now.

    • This is Dinosaur: Echo Park Country and its Magic Rivers is a collection of essays and photographs edited by Wallace Stegner and published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1955. This passage is from the collection's first essay, "The Marks of Human Passage", which is by Stegner (page 17).
  • It has never been man’s gift to make wildernesses. But he can make deserts, and has.
    • "The War Between the Rough Riders and the Bird Watchers" (1959 address; reprinted in Wildlands and Our Civilization, David Brower, editor, 1964, and in Voices for the Wilderness, William Schwarz, editor, 1970, page 76)
  • There is a sense in which we are all each other's consequences.
    • All the Little Live Things (1967)
  • If the national park idea is, as Lord Bryce suggested, the best idea America ever had, wilderness preservation is the highest refinement of that idea.
    • "It All Began with Conservation" Smithsonian magazine, April 1990, pages 35-43
  • The national park idea, the best idea we ever had, was inevitable as soon as Americans learned to confront the wild continent not with fear and cupidity but with delight, wonder, and awe.
    • "The Best Idea We Ever Had" Marking the Sparrow's Fall: The Making of the American West, page 137

A 3 December 1960 letter to David Pesonen, concerning the wilderness portion of the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission's report. Reprinted many times, for example, in The Sound of Mountain Water (1969) and Marking the Sparrow's Fall (1998).

  • Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed; if we permit the last virgin forests to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette cases; if we drive the few remaining members of the wild species into zoos or to extinction; if we pollute the last clear air and dirty the last clean streams and push our paved roads through the last of the silence, so that never again will Americans be free in their own country from the noise, the exhausts, the stinks of human and automotive waste. And so that never again can we have the chance to see ourselves single, separate, vertical and individual in the world, part of the environment of trees and rocks and soil, brother to the other animals, part of the natural world and competent to belong in it. … We need wilderness preserved — as much of it as is still left, and as many kinds — because it was the challenge against which our character as a people was formed. The reminder and the reassurance that it is still there is good for our spiritual health even if we never once in ten years set foot in it.
  • It is a lovely and terrible wilderness, such as wilderness as Christ and the prophets went out into; harshly and beautifully colored, broken and worn until its bones are exposed, its great sky without a smudge of taint from Technocracy, and in hidden corners and pockets under its cliffs the sudden poetry of springs.
  • These are some of the things wilderness can do for us. That is the reason we need to put into effect, for its preservation, some other principle that the principles of exploitation or "usefulness" or even recreation. We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.
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