One of the architects of the modern wilderness movement died this weekend at his home in western Montana’s Bitterroot Valley. Friends and colleagues remember the life and legacy of Stewart Brandborg.
Conservationist Matthew Koehler interviewed Brandborg back in the spring of 2010. Koehler’s first question to the man who helped usher in the Wilderness Act of 1964: 'What does wilderness mean to you?'
"[It] Means the relief that one feels, the spiritual rejuvenation that you get when you’re in the high-country, or in the wide expanses of the desert," Brandborg answered.
Brandborg also pointed out in this archived tape courtesy of the University of Montana Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library, that these swaths of undisturbed land should also prompt an, "overwhelming recognition that it’s ours to protect and defend in perpetuity."
The Brandborg family moved from Idaho to Montana in 1935. Brandborg’s father, Guy, served as the forest supervisor on the Bitterroot National Forest for 20 years.
Stewart Brandborg was a trained wildlife biologist who earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Montana.
He joined the Wilderness Society staff in 1960 as a special assistant to that group’s executive director, Howard Zahniser.
Zahniser wrote the 1964 Wilderness Bill which protects almost 10 million acres of federal land from coast to coast. He died, however, just months before President Johnson signed it into law.
Wilderness Society spokesman Michael Reinemer says Brandborg stepped in to usher the Act across the finish line.
"It was a very critical time for the wilderness bill and for the conservation movement."
Reinemer describes Brandborg as a good friend with a larger-than-life and magnetic personality.
"Which was one of the reasons he was so successful at enlisting and mentoring other activists who could come to understand the importance of wild places and why we would want to protect them for future generations," he says.
During Brandborg’s tenure as executive director at The Wilderness Society from 1964 to 1976, Congress approved more than 70 new wilderness areas in 31 states.
He passed away at 93 years old.