- By Dave Livermore
Seventeen years ago, on June 1, 1991, Wallace Stegner, Norma Matheson, Wayne Owens, John Sawhill, Cecil Andrus, and other civic leaders, gathered on the outskirts of Moab to help dedicate the Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve. It was a time I will always remember; a very special moment in our Utah Chapter’s history.
The day dawned crystal clear, one of those breathless spring mornings in Utah’s canyon country that make winter seem a distant memory. Just before noon, over 400 supporters and friends came together on the edge of the Preserve to hear Wally’s dedicatory remarks.
“The Matheson Preserve is a symbol of hope,” he told us. “A symbol that our race is actually human and can learn from its mistakes.” For all of us gathered in awe and reverence that day, Wallace Stegner did not disappoint. It was his last visit to Utah before his death, but far from the last time his voice would be heard in defense of Utah’s wild places. Wally’s memory lives on in the work we do in Utah and around the world today.
Wallace Stegner, Wendell Berry, Terry Tempest Williams, Steve Trimble, Bill McKibben, Rick Bass, Ivan Doig, Aldo Leopold, John Muir and so many others…why have writers had such a profound impact on the conservation movement? I think it’s because they speak from the heart. The Conservancy speaks from the mind, which is good. We are justifiably proud of our science and our strategic plans. But the mind can only take us so far. It is the heart that keeps us going and picks us up
when times are tough—like they are now.
This is why the Conservancy, along with Governor Huntsman, the Stegner Center and other organizations, is taking time this winter to celebrate Wallace Stegner’s 100th birthday.Wally was a legendary writer. He was a gifted teacher. But for many of us, it was Wallace Stegner’s conservation voice that mattered most. Wally selflessly took time from his literary pursuits to give back to the Utah landscapes he loved. He lifted us up through the power of his written words; through the inspiration of his Wilderness Letter and “The Geography of Hope,” planting the seeds of a Utah conservation movement that lasts to this day.
Wallace Stegner also brought disparate worlds together. Like the Conservancy, he was always seeking common ground. West and East, boomer and settler, rural and urban, the academy and the public square, Mormon and non-Mormon—this last pairing was especially significant in Utah. More than any politician, theologian or academic since, Wallace Stegner helped us bridge the cultural divide.
So here’s to you Dr. Stegner! Throughout the West you loved, the Conservancy has established scores of new preserves and we’ve expanded our vision to act globally, as well as locally. This is what comes, you would tell us, when we listen to our hearts and work to build “a civilization to match our scenery.” The conservation battles you fought and won have enriched all of our lives. Your written words have inspired a generation of conservation leaders. Thank you, Wally, and Happy 100th Birthday from us all.