Holiday Book Review: “Wildlands Philanthropy: The Great American Tradition”

SAN RAFAEL, California, December 15, 2008 (ENS) - A sturdy coffee-table is a must for exploring the glorious new in-depth book of essays and photos on America's wonderful places preserved in their natural state by dedicated philanthropists.

"Wildlands Philanthropy: The Great American Tradition," features essays by Tom Butler with photos by Antonio Vizcaino in a large format coffee-table book with an accompanying DVD that tell the stories of generous people who have given of their wealth and energy to save wild places.

In his Forward, broadcaster Tom Brokaw says, "In this book you will come to know the priceless gifts of the visionaries who came before and showed the way with land-based philanthropy. We honor them by recognizing their selfless contributions and, most of all, by continuing their honorable ways."

The stories of these philanthropists and the lands they have saved are told in chronological order. They begin with the tale of how William Kent outmaneuvered a private water utility to turn 295 acres on California's Mount Tamalpais into the Muir Woods National Monument with the help of President Theodore Roosevelt.

Some of the stories illuminate the lives of little-known philanthropists such as 3M heiress Katharine Ordway, who used her wealth to fund Nature Conservancy purchases of prairie grasslands in Minnesota, Missouri, and Kansas, such as the 13 square mile Konza Prairie.

Butler writes, "The great fortune she inherited came from converting the earth's natural capital into products for the marketplace. It was not her choice to be born into wealth, but when a passion for the prairie sank deep roots in her, she chose to reinvest in the land."

Some of the stories recount the achievements of better-known philanthropists such as Richard Goldman, the San Francisco insurance executive who has used his fortune to fund the annual Goldman Environmental Prize.

Goldman's donation of $5 million in 2001 has underwritten Alaska land conservation projects from Cape Bingham on Yakobi Island to an addition to the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, where the world's largest concentratioin of bald eagles gathers each year.

Butler writes, "On Yakobi Island, the hemlocks lining Soapstone Creek stretch high into a foggy sky. A man from California who has never seen these trees has accorded them the primary wish of all living things - to live and die a natural death."

The book ends with the story of Valer and Josiah Austin, who over the past 25 years have preserved a trans-border swath of of the Sonora desert where southern Arizona and New Mexico meet the Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua.

The Austins' first acquisition in Mexico was of a watershed that sheltered native fish species. They bought several ruined ranches, removed the livestock and nursed the land back to health. In 2006, the Austins established a private foundation to carry on their conservation work in the borderlands.

"The more land we bought for conservation and the more we learned, the more we realized that we needed to buy more land," Valer Austin told Butler in an interview for this book.

In his introduction to the book, Butler writes about the frustrations and triumphs of a legacy of private conservation that he says could happen only in America.

"Whenever I spoke to individuals working to protect natural areas, their stories spilled out - of interactions with wildlife, of obstacles overcome, of chance encounters that led to a major gift. The people and the land intersect in ways that enrich both, that suggest a kind of reciprocity between humans and natural that modern peoples have mostly lost."

"There is no other way to say it: These stories give me hope," writes Butler.

Butler, of Huntington, Vermont, is the former long-time editor of "Wild Earth" journal. He is a founding board member of the Northeast Wilderness Trust, and the editorial projects director of the Foundation for Deep Ecology, online at: The Foundation for Deep Ecology is offering a free copy of the book to land conservation organizations across the country.

Antonio Vizcaino of Mexico is a professional nature photographer, editor and conservationist, who has published 20 books of photography and is co-founder of the conservation organization America Natural, online at:

"Wildlands Philanthropy: The Great American Tradition," is published by Earth Aware Editions, online at:

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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