AWR Blog

Alliance for the Wild Rockies advisory board member, Stewart Brandborg, received the Wilderness Society’s highest honor, the Robert Marshall Award. AWR congratulates Stewart on this excellent achievement. To learn more about Stewart and the Society’s award, please read the article below from the Ravalli Republic.

by Buddy Smith, Staff Reporter
Ravalli Republic

DARBY — For a lifetime of caring about American wilderness, Stewart Brandborg will be handed a top honor.

The 75-year-old Darby resident and former national conservation leader will journey to Bigfork Oct. 6 where he’ll receive the Robert Marshall Award – the Wilderness Society’s highest honor – for his notable influence on the wilderness movement.

“This is an award that recognizes lifetime achievement in promoting effective conservation and wilderness in this country,” said Bob Ekey, regional director for the Wilderness Society, a 200,000-member national conservation group with offices in Bozeman.

As a former executive director for the Wilderness Society, Brandborg was instrumental in the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act, which set in motion the preservation of ultimately more than 104 million acres.

He also garnered grassroot support among activists for the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the Endangered Species Act and lobbied and testified before Congress on wildlife, public lands and environmental issues.

“He was on the ground at that time when the (Wilderness Act) was being passed, trying to organize the mushrooming wilderness movement at the time,” Ekey said.

Since 1981, the award has gone to the likes of author Wallace Stegner, Sigurd F. Olson, conservationists and writer of “The Singing Wilderness,” and Dr. Arnold Bolle.

Brandborg’s passion for wildness should come as no surprise.

Both his mother and father “loved beautiful country and wildlife and wilderness,” said Brandborg, who lives with his wife Anna Vee, two dogs and a parrot in a home perched on a hill up Tin Creek, overlooking the Bitterroot Valley.

“And it was a natural thing with me.”

Brandborg’s father, G.M., Brandborg, was a 20-year Bitterroot National Forest supervisor and an early advocate for establishment of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.

“He recognized that roaded development was going to touch most of the landscape of the United States, most of the national forest,” Brandborg said.

Early on, Brandborg rubbed shoulders with some of the most influential in forest management and conservation: Gifford Pinchot, the father of the modern Forest Service; and Bob Marshall, a wilderness preservation pioneer who founded the Wilderness Society in 1935.

Brandborg was about 12 or 13 at the time Marshall came to visit his father after one of his trademark hikes – from White Cap Peak in the Selway to Boulder Creek on the West Fork.

“I remember him being at the dinner table. …His face was so sunburned and red,” Brandborg said.

At 17, Brandborg went to work five summers for the Forest Service as a backcountry lookout and timber and range surveyor.

With his degrees in wildlife technology and wildlife management from the University of Montana and University of Idaho, Brandborg spent several more years working Idaho and Montana fish and game departments.

Work took him to the Selway-Bitterroot, the Salmon River country and the Selkirk Mountains of north Idaho and it led to a comprehensive, first-of-its-kind mountain goat study in the Bob Marshall Wilderness beginning in 1949.

In 1954, Brandborg went to Washington, where he first worked as an assistant conservation director for the National Wildlife Federation before being invited to join the Wilderness Society and serving 12 years as national director.

He worked closely with Howard Zahniser, the principle author and architect of the Wilderness bill.

When Brandborg became executive director after Zahniser’s death in 1964, the bill was near finished, but with work to be done.

“I had to shepherd the bill through House committee,” Brandborg said of his rallying of support, testimony and work with congressmen.

It took a “great groundswell of public support” from all over the country to overcome resistance the bill met since its introduction in 1956, he said.

But public support for wilderness preservation was also apparent.

It came from across the country, from the remote reaches of Alaska to the Florida Keys, Brandborg said, as Congress received more letters of support than any other of its time.

Even after President Lyndon Johnson signed it into law that year, Brandborg headed a grassroots movement with the Wilderness Society that helped add millions more acres to the National Wilderness Preservation System through hundreds of public hearings before House and Senate committees.

From his days spent riding pack trips over Lost Horse even before there was a road there, and from walking over some of the same wild country as wilderness pioneer Bob Marshall, Brandborg said he believed passionately in preserving that landscape from mostly “corporate outside interests” who might want its timber or its minerals.

“I could see the last of the best wild country, the great retreat for the rich wildlife resources we have in the northern Rockies was going to be gone unless we have good effective programs to give them protection,” he said.

During an hour with Brandborg, names of other noted politicians he’s been in contact with over conservation issues surface: the late Hubert Humphrey, a sponsor of the Wilderness Bill and former presidential candidate, and the late senators Lee Metcalf of Montana and John Saylor of Pennsylvania.

“He was a pistol, but on our side,” Brandborg said. “We loved him dearly.”

Mounted in a case on his wall is a pen President Johnson used to sign into law the first new wilderness, the San Rafael in California, after the passage of the Wilderness Act. Next to it, a photo taken in the White House shows Brandborg seated at a table with President Richard Nixon.

“In 1970, he announced this would be the decade of environmentalism,” Brandborg said.

Nixon did sign into law the National Environmental Policy Act. Brandborg later led a legal challenge against the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, whom the courts found violated the federal environmental act.

The case set a precedent by strengthening the environmental impact procedures of NEPA. Under Brandborg’s leadership, the Wilderness Society fought a Congressional battle to safeguard millions of acres of National Park Service, National Wildlife Refuge and other public lands in Alaska under the 1971 Native Claims Settlement Act.

Stevensville publisher and writer Dale Burk was a journalist covering U.S. Senate hearings on forest management issues in Washington D.C. when he first met Brandborg.

“At that time, the Lincoln-Scapegoat and the Great Bear wilderness were two of the first citizen-originated wilderness proposals in the United States,” Burk said. “This had never happened before. It was an historic turning point, if you will, in the notion of wilderness preservation in America.

“Stewart was one of the leaders in that and I was one of the people who had to write about that, both pro and con.”

But what Burk also called significant about Brandborg had to do with something beyond a role of wilderness advocate. It was Brandborg’s work in urban centers, inspiring and training people to believe in and empower themselves.

“I brought up the subject that there was a lot of urban unrest going on in the country,” Burk said. “He said, ‘Maybe you’d like to be exposed to that and he invited me to a function in Washington, D.C., involving slum landlords.”

Burk called him “the best people-person in political activism” he’s ever met.

“Here was a man who was one of a half-dozen top leaders in the wilderness preservation movement who saw there was a need to deal with preservation of human dignity by people trapped in an urban environment,” Burke said.

While he left the Wilderness Society 24 years ago, after being dismissed by some of its governing council over what he called differences, Brandborg wasn’t gloating about the top honor he’s about to receive.

“There were great associations, great friendships all over the country and in the Congress,” he said.

Brandborg went to work for the government, as a special assistant to the assistant secretaries of the Interior and the National Parks Service.

He continued his activism and empowering others.

While Brandborg contributed immensely to wilderness and conservation issues that have set the tone for today, he’s still active in conservation and has become a voice on land-use planning issues as a member of the valley group, Bitterrooters for Planning.

The Bitterroot’s lack of planning, Brandborg said, is typical of a problem facing communities across the West.

Brandborg also founded Friends of the Bitterroot in 1988 and serves on the Montana board of directors for Wilderness Watch.

“So it’s not like he hung up his saddle when he quit riding as executive director for the Wilderness Society,” Ekey said.

“He plays a patriarchal role with the conservation movement right now…He always speaks positively, trying to generate enthusiasm.”

The alternative to wilderness preservation, Brandborg said, is a “mishmash of land practices by state and federal agencies – each following its own direction in the absence of a stringent policy for preservation.”

Whether it’s wilderness issues or planning, bringing together people of different viewpoints is key, Brandborg said.

“That’s got to be done.”



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