Marc Reisner, Author of Cadillac Desert (1948)

Our understanding of the importance of water management in the West, including the pros and cons of massive water projects, began with the publication in 1986 of Cadillac Desert:  The American West and Its Disappearing Water.  The author was Marc Reisner, born on September 14, 1948.  He died at the early age of 51, from cancer, depriving the world of an effective spokesperson for common sense and common purpose in our use of the environment.

Reisner was born in Minneapolis and studied at Earlham College, earning his undergraduate degree in 1970.  He worked as a writer, mostly free-lance, for his career.  As a writer, he remained independent of the constraints of an agency job or the editorial board of a non-profit or other organization.  As one obituary stated, “he hustled to earn a living while saving fish and creating bird habitat.”

His seminal book, Cadillac Desert, was published in 1986 and became an instant classic in the field of environmental journalism.  The book is a combination of contemporaneous interviews and investigation, broad environmental history and an unapologetic viewpoint that the West is in danger from inappropriate use and waste of precious water.  The main culprits in the book are the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which built and operates dozens of irrigation dams and reservoirs in the western U.S., and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which controls the use of navigable waterways throughout the country. His research was supported by an Alicia Patterson Journalism Fellowship, which allowed Reisner to dig deep into the obscure files of the Bureau of Reclamation and interview many former employees.

Cadillac Desert was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1986.  It was the basis of an award-winning PBS documentary a decade later, and the inspiration for the major motion picture Chinatown.  The book is listed as one of the top 100 non-fiction English-language books of the 20th Century, praised for being both authoritative and readable.

Reisner published his second book, Game Wars:  The Undercover Pursuit of Wildlife Poachers, in 1991.  As with his first book, he researched extensively, following undercover game agents for five years.  The Los Angeles Times wrote of Games Wars,

”As in most books about the environment, there is a kind of pall of doom floating over the text, but unlike most such essays, this one has fights, busts — in short, action. This time the good guys strike back, and if the outcome of the war is in question, a few battles are won here and there.”

References:

Hertsgaard, Mark.  2015.  If You Only Read One Book About the Water Crisis: ‘Cadillac Desert.’  The Daily Beast, July 11, 2015.  Available at:  http://www.thedailybeast.com/if-you-only-read-one-book-about-the-water-crisis-cadillac-desert.  Accessed September 13, 2017.

Marston, Ed.  2000.  Farewell, Marc Reisner.  High Country News, August 14, 2000.  Available at:  http://www.hcn.org/issues/183/5929.  Accessed September 13, 2017.

Oliver, Myran.  2000.  Marc Reisner, Environment Writer, Dies.  Los Angeles Times, July 25, 2000.  Available at:  http://articles.latimes.com/2000/jul/25/news/mn-58530.  Accessed September 13, 2017.

Pace, Eric.  2000.  Marc Reisner, Author on the Environment, Dies at 51.  New York Times, July 25, 2000.  Available at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2000/07/25/arts/marc-reisner-author-on-the-environment-dies-at-51.html?mcubz=1.  Accessed September 13, 2017.

This Month in Conservation

March 1
Yellowstone National Park Established (1872)
March 2
Theodore Geisel, or Dr. Seuss, Born (1904)
March 3
World Wildlife Day and Creation of CITES (1973)
March 4
Hot Springs National Park Established (1921)
March 5
Lynn Margulis, Evolutionary Biologist, Born (1938)
March 6
Martha Burton Williamson, Pioneering Malacologist, Born (1843)
March 7
Luther Burbank Born (1849)
March 8
Everett Horton Patents the Telescoping Fishing Rod (1887)
March 9
The Turbot War Begins (1995)
March 10
Cape Lookout National Seashore Established (1966)
March 11
Save the Redwoods League Founded (1918)
March 12
Charles Young, First African-American National Park Superintendent, Born (1864)
March 12
Girl Scouts Founded (1912)
March 13
National Elephant Day, Thailand
March 14
First National Wildlife Refuge Created (1903)
March 15
Harold L. Ickes, Secretary of the Interior, Born (1874)
March 16
Amoco Cadiz Runs Aground (1978)
March 17
St. Patrick and Ireland’s Snakes
March 18
Nation’s First Wildlife Refuge Created (1870)
March 19
When the Swallows Return to Capistrano
March 20
“Our Common Future” Published (1987)
March 21
International Day of Forests
March 22
World Water Day
March 23
Sitka National Historical Park Created (1910)
March 24
John Wesley Powell, Western Explorer, Born (1834)
March 25
Norman Borlaug, Father of the Green Revolution, Born (1914)
March 26
Marjorie Harris Carr, Pioneering Florida Conservationist, Born (1915)
March 27
Trans-Alaska Pipeline Begun (1975)
March 28
Joseph Bazalgette, London’s Sewer King, Born (1819)
March 29
Niagara Falls Stops Flowing (1848)
March 30
The United States Buys Alaska (1867)
March 31
Al Gore, Environmental Activist and U.S. Vice President, Born (1948)
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