Bruce Babbitt and Hansjorg Wyss receive top Wilderness Society awards

If you agree that the grand landscapes of the Old West are worth sharing with  future generations, then you would have joined in the applause recently at the National Museum of the American Indian.

The Wilderness Society presented its two highest honors to Bruce Babbitt and Hansjorg Wyss on June 11. Babbitt, who was President Clinton’s interior secretary, received the Ansel Adams Award, which goes to a public official who has shown exceptional commitment to conservation and the fostering of an American land ethic. Wyss took home the Robert Marshall Award, given to a private citizen who has played a major role in conserving America’s lands. (Marshall was a giant in the wilderness movement in the first half of the 20th century and co-founded The Wilderness Society.)

You’ve probably heard of Babbitt, a former Arizona governor who once ran for president. He is a son of the West, a third-generation Arizonan.

In contrast, Wyss grew up in Switzerland and fell in love with the West as a young man while working one summer in Colorado. He went on to become the president and chairman of Synthes USA, a hugely successful Pennsylvania producer of medical devices recently bought by Johnson & Johnson. Individually and through the Wyss Foundation, he has made enormous contributions to protection of the lands that belong to all Americans.

Like the giants whose names are on these two awards, Babbitt and Wyss are visionaries. If something just cannot be done, they will find a way to do it. Babbitt invented the National Landscape Conservation System, which contains the most spectacular places overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Fortunately, Wyss cared enough about the health of this acreage to provide funding to help build effective public support for strengthening the management of this new system.

Besides the ability to think big, these two leaders think strategically. They can see how the pieces to a complicated puzzle fit together. Babbitt also displayed those skills in devising the nation’s leading groundwater protection act as governor of Arizona. Wyss and the Wyss Foundation made it possible to assemble the breathtaking Crown of the Continent conservation and restoration plan in Montana.

These conservation heroes’ innovation, generosity, and determination have made this a better country and will pay dividends far into the future. Like Ansel Adams and Bob Marshall before them, they have proved the power of the individual.