In Praise of Public Lands

In the U.S., we celebrate the fourth Saturday of September as National Public Lands Day.  It is a day designated for volunteers to come out to help spruce up their favorite places.  It has been a rousing success since it began in 1994; in the most recent year, more than 100,000 people put in half a million hours of free labor (learn more about National Public Lands Day here).

Of course, it is difficult to call it labor when we get to spend the day in nature, even if we are carrying a shovel or trash bag along with our binoculars.  In the U.S. especially, but around the world, we are blessed with lands that belong to all of us and are accessible to all of us.  This conservation calendar tells the story of 45 special places that were created on various dates of the year, along with many other events that relate to those special places.  

But several September dates hold special significance for public lands.  Perhaps the most consequential is September 5, when in 1978 the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated the first set of World Heritage Sites.  On that date, the first dozen sites were selected, including two in the U.S.—Yellowstone and Mesa Verde National Parks.  From those first few, the World Heritage list has grown to nearly 1100 properties around the world chosen for either their natural or cultural heritage, or both (learn more about UNESCO here).

In the U.S., the Wilderness Act became law on September 3, 1964 (learn more here).  Although the idea of “wilderness” had been around for a long time (Aldo Leopold was the first to propose the idea), this law assured that much of the remaining undeveloped federal lands would be set aside for that purpose only—being undeveloped.  And one of the leaders in accomplishing the Wilderness Act, Edgar Wayburn, was born on September 17 (more about him here).

September also holds the birthdays for several individual areas that illustrate the length and breadth of our great public public lands.  In the West, Canyonlands National Parks was established on September 12, 1964 (learn more here).  And one year later and on the other side of the continent Assateague Island National Seashore was established (September 21, 1965) (learn more here).

The novelist Wallace Stegner perhaps said it best when he declared that our national parks were “America’s Best Idea.”  But truly, our great national parks are only one part of the range of public lands—from city parks to distant wilderness areas to marine sanctuaries, all these make our lives so much better.  On public lands day and every other day.

This Month in Conservation

September 1
Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon, Died (1914)
September 2
President Roosevelt Dedicated Great Smoky National Park (1940)
September 3
Wilderness Act passed (1964)
September 4
Fort Bragg, Home of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, Established (1918)
September 5
UNESCO Established First World Heritage Sites (1978)
September 6
Alcide d’Orbigny, French Naturalist, Born (1802)
September 7
Edward Birge, Father of Limnology, born (1851)
September 8
UN Millennium Declaration ratified (2000)
September 9
First “Bug” Found in Computer (1945)
September 10
Henry Hardtner, Father of Southern Forestry, Born (1870)
September 11
World Wildlife Fund Began Operations (1961)
September 12
Canyonlands National Park Established (1964)
September 13
Walter Reed born (1851)
September 14
Marc Reisner, Author of Cadillac Desert (1948)
September 15
Darwin reaches the Galapagos Islands (1835)
September 16
Ed Begley Jr., Environmental Advocate, born (1949)
September 17
Edgar Wayburn, Wilderness Advocate, Born (1906)
September 18
Grey Owl, Pioneering Conservationist in Canada, Born (1888)
September 19
Urmas Tartes, Estonian Nature Photographer, born (1963)
September 20
AAAS Founded (1848)
September 21
Assateague Island National Seashore Created (1965)
September 22
Peace Corps becomes law (1961)
September 23
Rose Selected as U.S. National Flower (1986)
September 24
President Kennedy Dedicated Pinchot Institute (1963)
September 25
Pope Francis Addressed the UN on the Environment (2015)
September 26
Johnny Appleseed Born (1774)
September 27
“Silent Spring” Published (1962)
September 28
National Public Lands Day
September 29
Steinhart Aquarium opens (1923)
September 30
Hoover Dam Dedicated (1935)
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