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Robert Marshall

1901 – 1939

Bob Marshall believed that the human spirit needed periodic renewal. He felt that the best way to recharge the spirit was to get away from the sights, sounds and smells of the modern world, to immerse yourself in wilderness. In 1935, he joined with Aldo Leopold and others to found The Wilderness Society. Their aim was to save, “that extremely minor fraction of outdoor America which yet remains free from mechanical sights and sounds and smell.”

At the time, Marshall was chief of recreation and lands for the U.S. Forest Service. But he recognized the need for a national organization that could lobby the government to act to protect the few remaining places big enough for his standard – a five-day camping trip in the wilderness. The Wilderness Society became one of the main promotional groups that not only encouraged individuals to (in Muir’s words), “Climb the mountains and get their good tiding,” but also lobbied Congress, actively and incessantly, to provide places where this coulod be done.

Born into prominant New York family, Marshall gave up a wealthy lifestyle to become involved in saving America’s wild lands. He graduated from the Ethical Cultural School in New York City in1919 and spent a year at Columbia University before attending New York State College of Forestry at Syracuse University from 1920 to 1924. He went on to get a Mastery of Forestry degree in 1925. Still later, he received a Ph.D in plant physiology from Johns Hopkins University after completing an extensive experiment with evergreen seedlings and the effects on these seedlings when their soil is dried out. In later research, he demonstrated that poor growth in trees could be detected from the tree’s rings.

Although he had a weak heart, he climbed all 46 peaks in the Adirondack Mountains that were over 4,000 feet (1,219 meter) high. He also inventoried and rated all ponds and lakes in the Cranberry Lake Region near the Adirondacks.

Marshall believed you couldn’t live in the city continuously without decaying morally, mentally, and physically. He believed that forests, mountains, and other wilderness areas should be preserved for recreation and inspiration and brought this view into public debate.

He wrote two books and numberous conservations articles. His first book, “Arctic Village” (1933) told the story of his travels in Alaska and his encounters with the native peoples there. Another book on the arctic, “Arctic Wilderness” was published posthumously in 1956. It includes a preface by Ernest Callenbach, author of the Ecotopia and other books on ecology (including “Ecology, A Pocket Guide”). His second book, “The People’s Forests” (1933) called for the socialization of the wilderness to assure its protection from the greed of private industry. His most important conservation article, published in February of1930, expressed for the first time the idea that wilderness has an aesthetic beauty and suggested that there should be an organization for people who wanted to unite for the preservation of the the forests.

As Director of the Indian Forest Service (c.1934) he improved quality of life for Native Americans and worked to restore some of their pride and culture.Thanks to him, some land was set aside for Native Americans and some timberlands were reacquired from logging interests as a source of income for native peoples.

Marshall was a great hiker with Olympian ability to continue at high speed from early dawn to late at night. He sometimes hiked up to 50 miles (80 km.) in one day. No wonder he supported the establishment of the 2,160 mile (3,476 km.) Applachian Trail.

Between 1935-1937 he worked on the Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park trying to preserve the forests and create fewer roads through these areas.

He returned to the U.S. Forest Service (1937).One of the programs he tried to sponsor was a subsidizing of transportation so low income people could visit National Parks.
He disagreed with using planes to reduce the elk population because he was afraid it would set a bad precedent if hunting was allowed from planes.

Marshall was active in combatting racial/ religious discrimination. During the 1930′s some resorts on National Park land openly discriminated against Blacks and Jews. He protested, claiming the national parks and the wilderness were for everybody.

Bob Marshall died (1939) on a train enroute from Washington, D.C. to New York City.The police listed the cause of death as “myelogenous leukemia” and “coronary arteriosclerosis”. He was 39 years old.

He has been honored in many ways. But perhaps his greatest honor, and the one he would have appreciated the most, was the creationg in 19 of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. This million-acre (400,000 hectare) preserve in northwest Montana is home to some of the last grizzly bears in the Lower 48 United States as well as dozen of other species of plants and animals found only in “that extremely minor fraction of outdoor America which yet remains free from mechanical sights and sounds and smell.”

Web Links

We’ve found very little on the web about Bob Marshall himself. The best web page, by far, is an extended biographical essay at Prof. Larry Spencer’s extensive website. The Wilderness Society has a brief biographical note and the National Wildlife Federation has an entry for him as a memeber of their Conservation Hall of Fame.

Most of the information for this page was contributed by Steve Gosden