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By Susan Morgan and John Miles

PollyDyerOn March 22, 2014 Polly Dyer received her honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA to recognize and celebrate her lifetime of conservation achievements.

Four years ago, after Polly’s 90th birthday party, The North Cascades Conservation Council reported that three hours of speakers stories hadn’t scratched the surface of her remarkable history. “The fruits of Polly’s leadership have blossomed wherever there is wilderness, from the Wilderness Act of 1964 through WA State’s three National Park Wilderness Areas and our various National Forest Wilderness Areas.”[i] Through six decades of championing wilderness, she has nurtured generations of wilderness supporters.

Polly would be the first to say that her life’s work began in 1945 when she met Johnny Dyer walking up a trail on Deer Mountain near Ketchikan AK. Sparks flew. They were engaged in six weeks and married four months later, and for the next 63 years, Johnny Dyer (“Climber, Sierra Club” pronounced the pin on his hat) fostered his wife’s activism and shared her passion for wilderness preservation.[ii]

The Dyers became a great team; no conservation task was too big or too small. Polly persuaded people to join the cause and served as mentor and model; the network she developed was vast and ranged from local activists to politicians, agency personnel and players on the national stage. She gained the respect of all and grew close to many.

Long-time wilderness advocate Karen Fant remembered going with Polly to the Mt. Rainier National Park Centennial. As they made their way to the car after the program, for more than two hours Polly joyously stopped to talk to dear old friends and associates with the Park Service, Forest Service, USFW, agency and conservation representatives. Karen concluded that she needed a leash or they would never get home. (Polly was driving.)[iii]

Though Washington became her home and center of operations, Polly’s scope is national. When she and Johnny lived for briefer times in the San Francisco area or on the East Coast, Polly organized Girls Scouts and together they started Sierra Club chapters and other organizations. Alaska remains one of her most treasured wild places. So moved by it’s natural beauty and scope, she called her life there “the basis for my whole life since.” In 1947, Johnny crafted leather saddlebags for her three-speed Schwinn, and Polly and friend Dixie shipped their bikes to Juneau where they picked them up and barged to Haines. As they biked toward Haines Junction, Canadian Mounties gave them a lift the last few miles into town. The Mounties also generously offered mattresses to the girls in a building that turned out to be the local jail. “There weren’t any hotels in those days,” Polly says. “Jail was easier than tent camping at that point. Then we biked on to Valdez to get more cash and finally to Anchorage.”[iv]

In 1953 the Dyers joined their friend David Brower and a host of conservation organizations in the historic fight against Echo Park Dam in Dinosaur National Monument. Wearing her hat as the conservation chair of the Mountaineers and another hat as a citizen activist, after a two-year skirmish, she and cooperators prevailed. Dinosaur was saved.

During that fight, Polly met Howard Zahniser, Executive Secretary of The Wilderness Society. Zahnie prepared the first draft of proposed wilderness legislation in 1956, and in 1957, Polly began working with Zahnie and other national, state, and local conservation groups. As they crafted language along the way, Polly suggested that Zahnie use the word untrammeled to “describe the character of the public lands that should be eligible for designation.”[v] After sixty-six versions, the act was finally passed in 1964 to establish the National Wilderness Preservation System and of course that little-used word was in it. Twenty years later she was at the center of the successful campaign to pass a Washington State Wilderness Act, which brought nineteen new wilderness areas into the national system.

In 1958 Polly organized a three-day hike along the coastline of the Olympic Peninsula with then U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas to increase public awareness about a planned portion of U.S. Highway 101. If constructed, the highway expansion would have destroyed what is now the 73-mile wilderness coastline of the Olympic National Forest. This successful hike now stand out in northwestern and National Park history.

Today, at 94, Polly moves more slowly but continues her work, primarily to “finish” North Cascades National Park. “I want to put my arms around wilderness” she says “and save it all.”[vi]

 

John Miles and Susan MorganIn 1967 Susan began her conservation career of twelve years with The Wilderness Society, and she subsequently worked with various conservation outfits (Earth First!, LightHawk, NM Environmental Coalition, Washington Wilderness Coalition, Forest Guardians, and others) that focused on wilderness, wildlands, and public lands conservation. Currently she is a copy editor and is president of The Rewilding Institute.

John is retiring after forty-six years as professor of environmental studies at Huxley College, Western Washington University. He is the author of several books on national park and wilderness history, and through these years in the Pacific Northwest has hiked, skied, and taught and studied the history of the North Cascades. He continues to write and plans much wilderness time in retirement.

 

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Read more about the word “untrammeled” and its inclusion in the Wilderness Act in Kevin Proescholdt’s essay, “Untrammeled,” by clicking here.

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[i] Olympic Park Associates, “Polly Dyer Chosen as Wilderness Hero,” Vol. 12, No. 1, Spring 2004

[ii] HistoryLink.org, The Seattle Times, August 7, 1974

[iii] Personal communication with Susan Morgan

[iv] Personal communication with Susan Morgan

[v] [v] Olympic Park Associates, “Polly Dyer Chosen as Wilderness Hero,” Vol 12, No. 1, Spring 2004, and personal communication with Susan Morgan

[vi] Personal communication with Susan Morgan

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Green Mountain 'Lookout', Glacier Peak Wilderness, WA

Wilderness Watch recently alerted its members to the U.S. Forest Service’s (FS) newly constructed Green Mountain “Lookout” in the Glacier Peak Wilderness in Washington’s North Cascades (and also mentioned a number of other outlaw projects we’re dealing with). It was built with freight helicopters and power tools along with a healthy dose of arrogance. It’s actually not intended to serve as a lookout: the last time a person manned a lookout in the area was the early 1970s. No, this was built to be a visitor center of sorts, complete with its resident ranger leading nature hikes, and directly contrary to the legal mandate that there be no structures or installations in Wilderness.

The agency would have gotten away with this egregious breach of wilderness ethics and law had not a Wilderness Watch member and former wilderness ranger discovered the project on his own. You see, Forest Service officials plotted it in private, avoiding public process or participation, thinking they might sneak their unlawful activities under the radar.

While the administrators who approved this structure may view it as a minor intrusion, the pictures alone demonstrate that it is anything but. This is a steel-reinforced human-built structure high atop a mountain ridge deep in Wilderness in clear violation of the letter and spirit of the law.

This isn’t the first lookout at this wilderness site. What follows is a brief history:

• The original lookout was constructed around 1933.

• By the late 1970’s the FS had determined it was no longer serving effectively as a fire detection lookout and it was abandoned.

• The Washington Wilderness Act of 1984 expanded the Glacier Peak Wilderness to include Green Mountain.

• The 1991 Forest Plan contained a standard that read, “Stabilize and preserve the Green Mtn. Lookout. Accept non-conforming structure (We’re guessing there wasn’t anyone paying attention to wilderness rules!).”

• In 1998, a brief decision memo was signed for use of motorized equipment for repair (reconstruction) of the lookout. With that decision in-hand, the FS used a grant from the White House Millennium Council’s Saving America’s Treasures program to construct a new foundation, catwalk, railings, siding, etc.

• In 2002, the whole structure was seriously damaged and was removed from the Wilderness. This was done with a helicopter, but without any public notification or analysis.

• In 2009, the new structure was built. Again, no public notice or environmental analysis. It was all done using helicopters to transport materials, and motorized equipment for the construction. It’s obvious from the photos that the materials used in the reconstruction are mostly new (A former ranger describes it as “95% new material including some re-used from the reconstruction ten years earlier.”).

What is it about the law’s mandate that there be “no structure or installation” built in Wilderness that the Forest Service doesn’t understand? We don’t intend to let them get away with this. And with your support, we’ll make sure they don’t.

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