Howard Zahniser

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Howard Zahniser was the legendary leader of The Wilderness Society who authored the original Wilderness Act.  

Zahniser led The Wilderness Society through two decades of wilderness battles and landmark accomplishments. Due in large part to Zahniser's sheer persistence, this was the period of time in which the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the political maturing of The Wilderness Society occurred.

Early life

Howard Zahniser, born the son of a Pennsylvania minister in 1906, became a member of the Junior Audubon Club in the fifth grade. In time, he developed a deep love for the Adirondack Mountains. At heart an intellectual, he preferred to admire the wild country from afar and to ponder its inherent goodness from a philosophical standpoint.


Equal to Zahniser's respect for nature was his affinity for the written word. Trained as a journalist, Zahniser worked as a book reviewer for Nature Magazine and as an editor for the U.S. Biological Survey. In 1945, he joined The Wilderness Society, first serving as executive secretary and editor of the organization’s magazine The Living Wilderness, and later as the organization’s executive director. 

Zahniser came to realize the urgent need for a federal wilderness law during the early 1950s. He knew that unless federal legislation was enacted to permanently safeguard millions of acres of wild lands under the jurisdictions of the National Forest and National Park Services, conservationists would be destined to fight for protection on a reactionary, piecemeal basis.


Although his health was failing, Zahniser wrote 66 drafts of the Wilderness Act between 1956 and 1964 and steered it through 18 hearings. Its passage in 1964 stands in testament to the dedication and perseverance of this man who deeply felt the worth of wilderness. The Wilderness Act established the National Wilderness Preservation System, which now encompasses more than 109 million acres.