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

January 1
NEPA Enacted (1970)
January 2
Bob Marshall Born (1901)
January 3
Canaveral National Seashore Created (1975)
January 4
The Real James Bond Born (1900)
January 5
National Bird Day
January 6
Wild Kingdom First Airs (1963)
January 7
Gerald Durrell Born (1925)
January 8
Alfred Russel Wallace Born (1823)
January 9
Muir Woods National Monument Created (1908)
January 10
National Houseplant Appreciation Day
January 11
Aldo Leopold Born (1887)
January 12
National Trust of England Established (1895)
January 13
MaVynee Betsch, the Beach Lady, Born (1935)
January 14
Martin Holdgate Born (1931)
January 15
British Museum Opened (1795)
January 16
Dian Fossey Born (1932)
January 17
Benjamin Franklin, America’s First Environmentalist, Born (1706)
January 18
White Sands National Monument Created (1933)
January 19
Yul Choi, Korean Environmentalist, Born (1949)
January 19
Acadia National Park Established (1929)
January 20
Penguin Appreciation Day
January 21
The Wilderness Society Founded (1935)
January 22
Iraq Sabotages Kuwaiti Oil Fields (1991)
January 23
Sweden Bans CFCs in Aerosols (1978)
January 24
Baden-Powell Publishes “Scouting for Boys” (1908)
January 25
Badlands National Park Established (1939)
January 26
Benjamin Franklin Disses the Bald Eagle (1784)
January 27
National Geographic Society Incorporated (1888)
January 28
Bermuda Petrel, Thought Extinct for 300 Years, Re-discovered (1951)
January 29
Edward Abbey, author of “Desert Solitaire,” Born (1927)
January 30
England Claims Antarctica (1820)
January 31
Stewart Udall, Secretary of Interior, Born (1920)
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