In the annals of American conservation, Stewart Udall stood as tall as one of the giant sequoias that are still standing today thanks in large measure to his efforts.
His impressive legacy includes not only the preservation of millions of acres of America’s most important natural assets, but landmark legislation that provided the nation with some of its most important protections from water, land and air pollution.
First elected to Congress from his home state of Arizona in 1954, Mr. Udall was an early voice in the modern American environmental movement, writing about the dangers of pollution and other threats to natural resources in his 1963 book, “The Quiet Crisis,” which helped to bring these issues to the forefront of the national agenda.
As Interior Secretary under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, Mr. Udall oversaw a major expansion of the national park system, including the Redwood National Park in California. By the end of his tenure, the U.S. had added four new national parks, six national monuments, nine national recreation areas, eight national seashores and 50 wildlife refuges, with nearly 4 million acres of American lands newly protected. He is credited with defeating efforts in the 1960s to build dams on the Colorado River that would have flooded significant portions of the Grand Canyon.
“Stewart Udall, more than any other single person, was responsible for reviving the national commitment to conservation and environmental preservation,” former WWF Chairman Bruce Babbitt was quoted as saying in 2006.
As the environmentalist John C. Sawhill once put it, “In the end, our society will be defined not only by what we create, but by what we refuse to destroy.”
By that measure, Stewart Udall was among America's great heroes.
The people of WWF join with the rest of the nation in mourning Stewart Udall even as we celebrate his amazing conservation legacy which will be enjoyed and appreciated for many generations to come.