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

February 1
Afobaka Dam and Operation Gwamba (1964)
February 2
Groundhog Day
February 3
George Adamson, African Lion Rehabilitator, Born (1906)
February 4
Congress Overrides President Reagan’s Veto of Clean Water Act (1987)
February 5
National Wildlife Federation Created (1936)
February 6
Colin Murdoch, Inventor of the Tranquilizer Gun, Born (1929)
February 7
Karl August Mobius, Ecology Pioneer, Born (1825)
February 8
President Johnson Addresses Congress about Conservation (1965)
February 8
Lisa Perez Jackson, Environmental Leader, Born (1982)
February 9
U.S. Fish Commission Created (1871)
February 10
Frances Moore Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet, born (1944)
February 11
International Day of Women and Girls in Science
February 12
Judge Boldt Affirms Native American Fishing Rights (1974)
February 13
Thomas Malthus Born (1766)
February 14
Nature’s Faithful Lovers
February 15
Complete Human Genome Published (2001)
February 16
Kyoto Protocol, Controlling Greenhouse-Gas Emissions, Begins (2005)
February 16
Alvaro Uglade, Father of Costa Rica’s National Parks, Born (1946)
February 17
Sombath Somphone, Laotian Environmentalist, Born (1952)
February 17
R. A. Fischer, Statistician, Born (1890)
February 18
Julia Butterfly Hill, Tree-Sitter, Born (1974)
February 18
World Pangolin Day
February 19
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial Established (1962)
February 20
Ansel Adams, Nature Photographer, Born (1902)
February 21
Carolina Parakeet Goes Extinct (1918)
February 22
Nile Day
February 23
Italy’s Largest Inland Oil Spill (2010)
February 24
Joseph Banks, British Botanist, Born (1743)
February 25
First Federal Timber Act Passed (1799)
February 26
Four National Parks Established (1917-1929)
February 27
International Polar Bear Day
February 28
Watson and Crick Discover The Double Helix (1953)
February 29
Nature’s Famous Leapers
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