Senator Byrd's Wilderness Speech
From the Congressional Record - Senate, September 8,1999
[In the Senate Wilderness and Public lands Caucus, the Senator form Wisconsin was recognized to speak for up to 30 minutes. He began his speech with, "..... I rise to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the Wilderness Act of 1964....." and he went on to do so. He ended his speach with "In conclusion, I would like to remind colleagues of the words of Aldo Leopold in his book A Sand County Almanac. He said "The outstanding scientific discovery of the twentieth century is not the television or radio, but rather the complexity of the land organism. Only those who know the most about it can appreciate how little is known about it." We still have much to learn, but this anniversary of the Wilderness Act reminds us how far we have come and how powerful a collegial commitment to public lands can be in the Senate.
I am very pleased and honored to be able to yield the remainder of my time to one of the three Senators who is here to vote for this legislation, the senior Senator from West Virginia, Mr. BYRD."
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from West Virginia is recognized.
Mr. BYRD. Mr. President, I thank the Chair. Mr. President, I thank the Senator from Wisconsin, Senator FEINGOLD, for bringing us together today to celebrate the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964. Too often, the pressing events of the day prevent us from remembering so many important pieces of legislation. I am happy that we are able to take a moment to recognize a historic piece of legislation.
Let me begin with a look backward over the well-traveled road of history. It is only fitting that we turn our faces backward so that we might be better informed and prepared to deal with future events. On a whole range of important issues, the Senate has always been blessed with Senators who were able to rise above political parties, and consider first and foremost the national interest. There are many worthy examples throughout the Senate's history.
My friend and former colleague, Senator Mike Mansfield, and other distinguished Members of the Senate understood this point well. Political polarization, a simple zero-sum strategy by one party to achieve a short-lived victory while demonizing the other party, is not now, and has never been, a good thing for the Senate. I know that Americans have always loved a good debate. I believe that this is one of the lessons that we can take from the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964. Members on both sides of the issue focused on the more substantive and stimulating policy challenges rather than allowing pure politics and imagery to enter into the fray.
The debate on the Wilderness Act of 1964 serves as a great example of the Senate's charge in taking a leadership role and working over the long term to Pass historic pieces of legislation. I believe the bill's chief sponsor, Senator Clinton Anderson from New Mexico, Understood this point well when he said, upon consideration of the conference report, an August 20, 1964:
What we have done we have done not only to meet the urgency of the moment, but for the future. In no area has this Congress more decisively served the future well-being of the Nation that in passing legislation to conserve natural resources and to provide the means by which our people could enjoy them. One of the brightest stars in the constellation of conservation measures is the -wilderness bill * * *. The path of the wilderness legislation through Congress has sometimes been as rugged as the forests and mountains embraced by the wilderness system.
The Senate understood there was a need to protect America's unique places, and Members worked to craft a proposal over a, number of years that could achieve that end. Senator George McGovern, another key supporter of the Wilderness Act, observed:
I think each of us has been enriched at one time or another through our experiences with natural undisturbed areas of the country * * * its comparatively uncluttered open spaces, its lakes and woods, have special appreciation for the purpose of the wilderness preservation system. As the population of our country grows and as our city areas be- come more contested, it is all the more imperative that we look to the preservation of great primitive outdoor areas, where people can go for recreational and inspirational experience.
The U.S. population has since grown by more than 70 percent since the Wilderness Act of 1964 was enacted. In addition to land preservation, the act has encouraged the discovery of America's history, promoted recreation, provided for its diverse wildlife and ecosystems, and satisfied people's urge for solace and a return to wild places. The definition of wilderness according to the act is "an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." Initially endowed with 9.1 million acres of public lands, the wilderness system today en- compasses more than 104 million acres in forty-four States.
My home state of West Virginia remains wild and wonderful because of Congress' actions. Covered from end to end by the ancient Appalachian Mountains, West Virginia remains, to me, one of the most beautiful one of the most unique of all places and I have seen lot of places throughout the world in my time. It is the most southern of the northern States and the most northern of the Southern states; the most eastern of the Western States and the most western of the eastern States; where the east says good morning to the west, and where Yankee Doodle and Dixie kiss each other good night. The luscious mountains gently roll across that land, providing an elegant sense of mystery to the landscape. The wilderness of my State has given West Virginians a freedom to explore. This freedom has been secured and protected so that future generations--like my baby granddaughter, her children, and her children's children-will be able to say Montani Semper Liberi, Mountaineers are always free!
Four wilderness areas have been designated in West Virginia since the 1964 act. Each area captures and preserves uniquely a beautiful aspect of a State that has, I believe, more than its fair share of native loveliness. God must have been in a spendthrift mood when he made West Virginia!
In the Otter Creek Wilderness Area, consisting of 20,000 acres so designated in 1975, you can follow the same twisting trails that early settlers to the area wove through the dense forest. Amid the stands of towering White Oaks, dark hickory, and ghostly poplar trees, you may discover stunted groves of apple trees, remnants of an early settler's orchard. Maybe Johnny Appleseed came that way.
Also designated in 1975, the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area preserves 10,000 acres of Canada that somehow migrated south and chose to settle in West Virginia. Heath thickets, bogs, and low-growing evergreens combine to establish a wide open feeling akin to more northerly climes such as those of Minnesota. Offering scenic vistas, Dolly Sods is a famed spot in which to enjoy hiking, camping, fishing, and nature watching.
The Cranberry Wilderness Area proves the regenerative power of nature. Its 35,864 acres were logged in the early part of this century, with the valuable timber shipped by steam locomotives to a mill in Richwood. It also suffered severe wildfires which raged over much of the area. In order to restore it to its natural condition, the Forest Service purchased the land in 1934-the year I graduated from high school. Now grown into a mature forest, the Cranberry Wilderness Area received its official designation in 1983.
Consisting of more than 12,000 acres, Laurel Fork Wilderness Area was once a profitable source of lumber at the beginning of the century. Laurel Fork has since been preserved and is a source of the Cheat River. Designated in 1983, Laurel Fork Wilderness has a wide blend of wildlife and foliage special to Appalachia. Among the Birch, Beech, and Maple trees which grow in the area, live the native species of West Virginia such as white-tail deer, wild turkey, bobcat, and even black bear.
I might note that perhaps one of the most majestic of wildlife species protected by these wilderness areas throughout the U.S. is the bald eagle. Symbolizing America's freedom and strength, the bald eagle, in fact, has been recently removed from the endangered species list, and will continue to soar for future generations of Americans.
The Wilderness Act of 1964 enabled West Virginians to preserve the natural beauty of their State for themselves and for the nation * * * now and forever. I believe that Senator Anderson summarized it best when he said:
Deep down Inside of most Americans Is a love of the out-of-doors. * * * It is an effort to protect and preserve, unspoiled, just a little bit of the vast wilderness which stretched ocean to ocean on this continent less than 300 years ago, so that this love of the great, unspoiled, out-of-doors which to a part of us can be gratified.
I would like to take a moment to recognize a number of former colleagues who -took a leadership role in passing the Wilderness Act of 1964. Many of them were fairly close friends of mine. There was Senator Anderson, whose name I have spoken earlier, Thomas Kuchel, Hubert Humphrey, Henry Jackson, Frank Church, Frank Lausche, Paul Douglas, Harrison Williams, Jennings Randolph-my former colleague from West Virginia-Joseph Clark, William Proxmire, Maurine Neuberger, Lee Metcalf, George McGovern, David Nelson-they took a leadership role in guiding this piece of legislation through the Senate. The Senate has considered many thousands of pieces of legislation on a myriad of topics over the last several years. I am proud to stand here today and say that this piece of legislation, the Wilderness Act of 1964, stands as a great example of what this body can accomplish when it sets its collective mind to it. These were the sponsors of the Wilderness Act in the 88th Congress.
In closing, I want to welcome my colleagues back from the prairies and the plains, the mountains and the hollows and the hills, the broad valleys. We have much work to do in these coming weeks and we can learn much from the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the dedication and commitment of those Senators who worked to fulfill their vision by enacting that great piece of legislation, their vision of a future continent which would be preserved for the men and women who would come after them.
Far too often these days, we get caught up in the partisan wranglings of tax cuts, educational needs, national security demands, Social Security changes, health care reform, and much, much more-all of which subjects are extremely important. The public has become concerned about what it is that we actually do in this Chamber. In reflecting upon the Wilderness Act of 1964, I find a great example of what this body can achieve when it puts its whole mind and its whole spirit into it. Again I thank my colleague for his kindness in inviting me to participate here this afternoon in recalling our footsteps down the long hall of memories.
In closing, I am reminded of the words of one of America's foremost conservationists, and outdoorsman, John Muir-
Oh, these vast, calm, measureless moun- tain days, inciting at once to work and rest! Days in whose light everything seems equal- ly divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God. Nevermore, however weary, should one faint by the way who gains the blessing of one mountain day: whatever his fate, long life, short life, stormy or calm, he is rich forever. . . . I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was going in. One touch of nature ... maker, all the world kin.
I yield the floor