New Deal Conservation: A View from the Wilderness

  • Paul Sutter
Part of the The World of the Roosevelts book series (WOOROO)


In late 1934 and early 1935, just as many of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s (FDR) conservation initiatives were taking shape, several of the era’s most distinguished environmental activists—including Aldo Leopold, Bob Marshall, Benton MacKaye, and Robert Sterling Yard—came together to form the Wilderness Society, the first national organization dedicated to the creation and protection of a system of wilderness areas on America’s public lands. Over the previous decade and a half, the founders of the Wilderness Society had cobbled together what we know today as the modern wilderness idea, one that found a statutory home in the Wilderness Act of 1964, but the New Deal context was crucial to the coalescence of modern wilderness advocacy. The single most important facet of the Wilderness Society’s early advocacy was the group’s united opposition to the threats that roads and automobiles posed to the nation’s remaining wildlands. These pioneer wilderness advocates were “driven wild,” pushed into a new brand of preservationist advocacy by a growing love affair between Americans, their automobiles, and wild nature.1 Such threats to wilderness were pronounced throughout the interwar era, but they climaxed during the early New Deal as the federal government deployed an army of unemployed workers on the public lands, many of them charged with building roads, trails, and other modern improvements designed to open the public domain to motorized outdoor recreation.


Public Land Outdoor Recreation Dust Bowl Tennessee Valley Authority Wild Nature 
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  1. 1.
    Paul S. Sutter, Driven Wild: How the Fight Against Automobiles Launched the Modern Wilderness Movement (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    See Samuel Hays, Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency: The Progressive Conservation Movement, 1890–1920 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1959)Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    Robert Marshall, “Fallacies in Osborne’s Position: An Open Letter to the Conservation Commissioner of New York,” The Living Wilderness 1, 1 (September 1935): 4–5.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    Benton MacKaye, “An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning,” Journal of the American Institute of Architects 9 (October 1921): 325–30.Google Scholar
  5. 10.
    Harold Anderson, “Primitive Trails and Super-Trails,” The Living Wilderness 1, 1 (September 1935): 8.Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    Harold P. Ickes, “Wilderness and Skyline Drives,” The Living Wilderness 1, 1 (September 1935): 12.Google Scholar
  7. 13.
    Richard West Sellars, Preserving Nature in the National Parks: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), 52Google Scholar
  8. 16.
    Thomas Dunlap, Saving America’s Wildlife: Ecology and the American Mind, 1850–1990 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988), 82.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Henry L. Henderson and David B. Woolner 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Sutter

There are no affiliations available

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