I’ve roamed many of the lands Muir set aside for us and have also taught about the American environmental movement and John Muir for a number of years.
And I know that 21st-century America presents deep challenges to Muir’s legacy.
The pioneering environmentalist John Muir was no great fan of cities.
In 1868, he hightailed it out of San Francisco as fast as he could for the Sierra Nevada.
A good start, but these are urban areas with a combined total population of more than 20 million people.
Clearly more needs to be done to engage people with the natural world they are part of—even in the midst of the city. Williams Anise Swallowtail at Pier 70 feeding on nectar of mallow flower, May 2015 Photo: Lisa Ruth Elliott Red Admiral on Potrero Hill Photo: Margo Bors Mylitta Crescent spot in Glen Canyon. Photo: Margo Bors needs ID Photo: Chris Carlsson Anise Swallowtail on Twin Peaks, August 2007 Photo: Chris Carlsson As early as the mid-1870s, entomologists and amateur naturalists in San Francisco began to lament the loss of native plant habitat and its effect on butterfly abundance and diversity. In 1914, federal debt stood at 4 percent of gross domestic product. The capacity of the federal government to acquire and manage wilderness lands is diminishing and there seems little chance of a reversal.Since 2000, the portion of the federal budget allocated to the National Park Service declined by about 40 percent relative to other programs.This has been done incrementally over a 36-year period and costs are shared between the partners.Thanks to these efforts, mountain lions are again roaming the hills above Hollywood.Muir preached to an overwhelmingly white elite that had the means to disengage from the cities when they desired, who worked the levers of power to save his beloved wild lands.Today, 95 percent of Californians now live in urban areas and whites have made up a minority of our state’s population since 1999. And some projections suggest that visitor numbers in general will decline despite a rise in total population over the next century.The numbers of visitors to our National Parks who are African-American or Latino are far underrepresented relative to their proportion of the U. Membership in environmental advocacy groups such as the Sierra Club (which was founded by Muir) and the Nature Conservancy—which some hope can rescue park lands—is overwhelmingly white and aging.In the case of the Nature Conservancy, the current average age of new members is 62.