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Conservation In Mind – Environmental visionaries to remember

By Frances Lamberts

The year now coming to a close took from us three persons whose inspiring work, for appreciative insights and protection of our natural heritage, are worth celebrating and remembering.

There was Republican William Ruckelshaus, serving in several capacities under three Republican administrations, who died in November. Democrat John Dingell, the all-time, longest-serving member of the House of Representatives championed the nation’s most important environmental laws to protect the air we breathe, our water and wildlife. His passing came in February. Poet Mary Oliver, winner of prestigious national literary awards, was a “singer of nature” whose poems sparkle with flowers and birds in the countryside, evoking awe and hope through nature’s perennial revival. She passed in January.

Ruckelshaus might now be remembered mostly for his poignant stance in an earlier impeachment process, when he refused President Nixon’s order to fire the special prosecutor and torpedo the impeachment investigation. However, protecting America’s natural resources was the primary concern of his long life. As deputy attorney general, soon after law school at Harvard, he helped Indiana write its first air pollution laws. When the EPA was founded in 1970, he laid the foundations of its regulatory framework, as the first administrator, later being called back to lead it again, by President Ronald Reagan.

The EPA represents our political system “listening and responding to the American people,” Ruckelshaus said in the New York Times, in March 2017. As it did in the 1970s when a worried and outraged public demanded action it must continue in the Trump Administration to protect our health and “the previous environment.”

Dingell, an avid hunter all his life, had been a park ranger for the National Park Service before joining Congress. There, among other environmental laws, he shepherded the Endangered Species Act to passage with nearly unparalleled margins – unanimous in the Senate, 309-12 votes in the House – in 1973.

Our country had resolved, he said, “to put an end to the decades – indeed centuries – of neglect. If it were possible to avoid causing the extinction of another species, we resolved to do that.” The people of the United States, he judged, “would no longer be indifferent to the destruction of nature’s bounty.”

Oliver lets the world be created for us “every morning” in her poems. These make us marvel at the bounty of creatures, flowers, trees in the ordinary places around us, letting these become our “invitation to happiness” and our “earthly delight.”