Bob Marshall was a hero for wilderness, especially Alaskan wilderness. As an early head of Recreation Management with the Forest Service in the 1930s, Marshall was one of the first to suggest that primitive and unconfined lands needed to be protected for the future. Along with other fathers of conservation like Aldo Leopold, he helped found the Wilderness Society, which worked to create the 1964 Wilderness Act.
The Bob Marshall Award for Champions of Wilderness is one of the Forest Service’s highest honors given to organizations and individuals who, like Marshall himself, make bold and creative moves to preserve our nation’s unique and vital wilderness resource. This year, ACF grantee Sitka Conservation Society (SCS) received the award. SCS was founded in 1967 to protect portions of the Tongass National Forest, the nation’s largest national forest containing nearly half of the world’s remaining intact coastal temperate rainforest.
Two of SCS’s founders, Chuck and Alice Johnstone, now in their 80s, attended the award ceremony to accept the prestigious award. “We’re thrilled. It is wonderful milestone in Sitka and within the Forest Service,” said Alice Johnstone. “Forty years ago when we started our work we never dreamed we’d see a day like this, when the Forest Service and our group would be standing together to celebrate the beauty and wilderness of the Tongass National Forest.”
The award is a very important benchmark for conservation on the Tongass National Forest and serves to demonstrate how the efforts of SCS are changing social values and norms around Wilderness conservation in Alaska. At the time that SCS was founded in the sixties, the Tongass was ruled by the politics of the pulp industry. Inspired by the recent passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act, a group of Sitkans made the unpopular decision to draft Alaska’s first citizen-initiated Wilderness Proposal to preserve the islands, muskegs and mountains they loved. They succeeded, despite vehement opposition by powerful interests, including the Forest Service. The result was the West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness Area.
Since the designation of West Chichag of Wilderness and near-by South Baranof Wilderness, SCS has focused on continuing the tradition of wilderness stewardship pioneered by our founders with projects like the Community Wilderness Stewardship Project, which connects citizens with their wilderness to collect baseline ecological and solitude data; Echoes of the Tongass, a wilderness focused film sponsored by SCS; and a City resolution recognizing the economic value of wilderness to Sitka.