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Famous Environmental Quotations
Below are several quotations that relate to the environment and rivers, from some famous and some not so famous persons. Many are profound and stir the emotion or imagination, but they all have something to say about our environment, our perspective of, and our relationship to it. If you know of a quotation relating to the environment that you think might be appropriate to include on our website, please let us know by sending it and/or its source to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The quotations below are organized and listed alphabetically by author. If you are looking for a specific author, you can click on that author's name in the table below to link to their section of this page.
In addition to the quotations listed here, you may also be interested in numerous others listed on the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System website.
Let us place for ourselves a trail broad and straight through the great world of opportunity... the great prizes of the world are reserved for the enterprising, for those who have the courage to dare and the will to do. Let our principles be as our granite, our aspirations like our mountains, and our sympathy swift and far reaching as our rivers.
- The Nashua (NH) Telegraph, June 21, 1913
Ansel Adams - Photographer
Once destroyed, nature’s beauty cannot be repurchased at any price.
AristotleIn all things of nature, there is something of the marvelous.
George Atiyeh, Conservationist/Activist
You may never see a Rembrandt or the Sistine Chapel, but aren't you glad as a human being they are still there? Probably the only thing that separates us from other creatures is that we aren't limited by our basic needs, like food and water; we have this sense of the whole.
Sir David Attenborough
No one will protect what they don't care about; and no one will care about what they have never experiened.
Banyacya, Hopi Indian Elder
We made a sacred covenant to follow the Creator's life plan at all times, which includes the responsibility of taking care of this land and life for His divine purpose. We have never made treaties with any foreign nation, including the United States, but for many centuries we have honored this Sacred Agreement. Our goals are not to gain political control, monetary wealth nor military power, but rather to pray and to promote the welfare of all living beings and to preserve the world in a natural way.
- Hopi Elder Banyacya addresses the UN, 1992
Bill Belleville, Florida Author/Environmental Writer
Florida's Rivers Wind Through Time and Touch the SoulStory by Bill Belleville, Photographs by Jeff Ripple
Excerpted from "Forum", Winter 2005, a publication of the Florida Humanities Council
"Like everything else in Florida, our rivers resemble few others back on the continent. Indeed, in various stages of our wet-dry seasons, they don't even resemble themselves. Gravity makes them work, of course, but it's a distinctly Florida-driven gravity that pushes water across barely perceptible gradients on the landscape. Its source is not glaciers or snowmelt of the mountains, but the superheated hydrological cycle of our water-bound peninsula. The liquid driving our rivers falls from the sky in extraordinary amounts. Then, it either gathers up into swamps and marshes, or seeps downward into the soft limerock of our crust. Great wetlands like the Green Swamp brim and overflow, driving our rivers outward from it. Or the bone-white karst underfoot does likewise, its own underground rivers pushed to the surface by the unseen alchemy of hydrostatic pressure from the uplands."
"Sometimes, I would go out on a river alone, shouldering my kayak to the edge of the water at the ocher light just before dusk, and paddle until it was well after dark. Dipping my paddle sparingly to steer, I would drift downstream with the slight current, not unlike a patch of floating hyacinths. Alone in the river darkness, I would breathe slowly and imagine myself as nearly invisible. Wading birds would screech from the dense riverine forest, fish would smack the surface to feed, and alligators would begin their slow patient survey of the dark primal water, reclaiming the river as completely as the night itself. Without the noise of my clumsy modern ego to drown everything out, the river would regain its preeminence and grace; and when I had the courage to allow it, it would rise up to touch my soul. If I was lucky I could reach a singular place nurtured by the full emotional sway of bliss, of respect, of fear. It was an experience beyond the safeguard of intellect."
For more information about Bill Belleville, visit his website at www.billbelleville.com.
For more information on the Florida Humanities Council, please visit their website at: www.flahum.org.
Wendell Berry, Novelist/Poet/Environmental Activist
When despair for the world grows in me
- The Peace of Wild Things, 1968
Alan Bible, Senator, Nevada
We labor long and earnestly for peace, because war threatens the survival of man. It is time we labored with equal passion to defend our environment. A polluted stream can be as lethal as a bullet.
Hal Boyle, Author
What makes a river so restful to people is that it doesn't have any doubt it is sure to get where it is going, and it doesn't want to go anywhere else.
David Brown, Photographer/Videographer
Water should never be treated as a nonrenewable resource; it should always be treated with the respect it deserves as the foundation of life on the planet.
The song of the river ends not at her banks, but in the hearts of those who have loved her.
Dr. Archie Carr
For most of the wild things on earth, the future must depend on the conscience of mankind.
Marjorie Harris Carr, Environmental Activist
"I am an optimist," she said. "I also believe that Floridians care about their environment. If they are educated about its perils, if the are never lied to, they will become stewards of the wild places that are left."
- It Happened in Florida: Remarkable Events That Shaped History, E. Lynn Wright, 2009
Rachel Carson, Author, Biologist, Conservationist
If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child on the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life.
- Sense of Wonder, 1965
Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.
- Silent Spring, 1962
Conservation is a cause that has no end. There is no point at which we will say "our work is finished."
- "Distinguished Service" award acceptance speech, National Audubon Sociey, New York City, December 3, 1963
The mark of a successful man is one that has spent an entire day on the bank of a river without feeling guilty about it.
Christopher Cokinos, Author
...I read, for the first time, of the Carolina Parakeet--a North American parakeet whose green, yellow and reddish-orange plumage appeared vivacious and altogether quite wonderful. As stunning as I found the hawk-chased conures, this bird astounded me even more. That the Carolina Parakeet was extinct simply added to my amazement.
That I had never heard of such a bird did not surprise me.... But others more experienced also did not know of the Carolina Parakeet. The more I spoke of the bird, the more it seemed that, somehow, its existence had been a chimera. Admittedly, my survey was small and unscientific, but intelligent people who could reel off the names of various dinosaurs and identify sparrows at epic distances could not name the forgotten parakeet. I realized, forcefully, what I suppose I knew abstractly: Histories, like species, can go extinct.
Later, I learned that our forgetting of the parakeet had begun even before the species was extinct.
- Hope Is the Thing with Feathers, 2000
The quote above is from Cokinos' book on the modern-day extinction of several bird species. This topic was the feature of the Pelican Island Audubon Society/Friends of St. Sebastian River presentation of the film "The Lost Bird Project" at our November 10, 2014 joint meeting. One of the birds featured in the film is the Carolina Parakeet, of which, one of its last know locations in the wild was on the banks of the St. Sebastian River, in the late 1800s. For more information about the Carolina Parakeet and its presence in our area, visit the PIAS website.
Jacques Cousteau, Explorer/Oceanographer
We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one.
Michael Crowfoot, Permaculturist
Not only are ecologies more complex than we imagine, they are more complex than we can imagine. (this quote has been attributed to a number of people -ed.)
We Floridians have always assumed an arrogant mastery over our natural environment. And we have always presumed ourselves capable of obliging the water that is all around us to behave itself.
And so we straightened out the Kissimmee River because we found its twists and turns inconvenient. We ditched and drained the Everglades because all that useless water offended progress. We gouged the mighty Apalachicola River to make a superhighway for barges that really didn’t need one. We drowned the Ocklawaha for cross-state shipping that never arrived.
We did it because we could.
- Ocala StarBanner, September 22, 2013
Leonardo da Vinci
When you put your hand in a flowing stream, you touch the last that has gone before and the first of what is still to come.
Herman E. Daly, Economist, World Bank
There is something fundamentally wrong in treating the earth as if it were a business in liquidation.
Gretel Ehrlich, Author
To trace the history of a river or a raindrop...is also to trace the history of the soul, the history of the mind descending and arising in the body. In both, we constantly seek and stumble upon divinity, which like feeding the lake, and the spring becoming a waterfall, feeds, spills, falls, and feeds itself all over again.
- Islands, The Universe, Home, 1991
Jack E. Davis, Author and Professor of History, University of Florida
The first step that's absolutely necessary is to rethink this age-old idea that humans have to control nature. Sometimes you just have to back off and let nature take its course. The natural environment gives us more gifts when we leave it alone then when we try to manage it or improve it.
- The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea, 2017
Today's problems cannot be solved if we still think the way we thought when we created them.
Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. - 1951
Loren Eiseley, Anthropologist, Philosopher, Writer
If there is magic on the planet, it is contained in water.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
Who looks upon a river in a meditative hour, and is not reminded of the flux of all things?
- Nature, 1836
He who knows the most, he who knows what sweets and virtues are in the ground, the waters, the plants, the heavens, and how to come at these enchantments, is the rich and royal man.
- Nature, 1836
Florida Wildflower Foundation
By immersing ourselves in nature, by sitting quietly and just observing as (Aldo) Leopold often did, we can discover much about the natural world - and even more about ourselves. When we take our place as fellow-members, as caretakers and not conquerors of the land, we, too, will begin to see the natural world "as a comunity to which we belong."
Laura Gilpin, Photographer
A river seems a magic thing. A magic, moving, living part of the very earth itself.
- The Rio Grande: River of Destiny, 1949
Jane Goodall, Primatologist, Anthropologist
"It would be absolutely useless for any of us to work to save wildlife without working to educate the next generation of conservationists."
Kenneth Grahame, Author
"So this is a River!"
"The River," corrected the Rat.
"And you really live by the river? What a jolly life!"
"By it and with it and on it and in it," said the Rat. "It's brother and sister to me, and aunts, and company, and food and drink, and (naturally) washing. It's my world, and I don't want any other. What it hasn't got is not worth having, and what it doesn't know is not worth knowing. Lord! The times we've had together..."
- The Wind in the Willows, 1908
Roderick Haig-Brown, Conservationist, Writer
I have never seen a river that I could not love. Moving water...has a fascinating vitality. It has power and grace and associations. It has a thousand colors and a thousand shapes, yet it follows laws so definite that the tiniest streamlet is an exact replica of a great river.
Mark Helprin, Author
A good river is nature's life work in song.
- Freddy & Fredericka, 2005
Heraclitus of Ephesus, Greek Philosopher
You could not step twice into the same rivers; for other waters are ever flowing on to you.
Hermann Hesse, Poet, Novelist, Painter
The river has taught me to listen; you will learn from it, too. The river knows everything; one can learn everything from it. You have already learned from the river that it is good to strive downwards, to sink, to seek the depths.
- Siddharta, 1922
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Supreme Court Justice
A river is more than an amenity.... It is a treasure. It offers a necessity of life that must be rationed among those who have power over it.
- New Jersey v. New York, 4 May 1931
Gerard Manley Hopkins, Poet
What would the world be, once bereft of wet and wildness? Let them be left, O let them be left, wildness and wet; Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
Lady Bird Johnson
The environment is where we all meet, where all have a mutual interest; it is the one thing all of us share. It is not only a mirror of ourselves, but a focusing lens on what we can become.
- Lady Bird Johnson, 1967
Lyndon B. Johnson
If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them something more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.
Once our natural splendor is destroyed, it can never be recaptured. And once man can no longer walk with beauty or wonder at nature, his spirit will wither and his sustenance be wasted.
- President Lyndon B. Johnson, on the signing of the Wilderness Act of 1964
We must not only protect the countryside and save it from destruction, we must restore what has been destroyed and salvage the beauty and charm of our cities.
... the time has also come to identify and preserve free flowing stretches of our great rivers before growth and development make the beauty of the unspoiled waterway a memory.
- President Lyndon Johnson's "Special Message to the Congress on Conservation and Restoration of Natural Beauty," February 8, 1965
John M. Kauffmann, Author
Rivers have what man most respects and longs for in his own life and thoughta capacity for renewal and replenishment, continual energy, creativity, cleansing.
- EPA Journal. May 1981
Ban Ki-Moon, U.N. Secretary-General(Ahmad Alhendawi, U.N. Secretary-General Envoy on Youth also contributed to this quote)
The current consumption of natural resources and misuse of our earth is not sustainable. We might have a plan B, but we do not have a planet B.
Rivers run through our history and folklore, and link us as a people…. We are a nation rich in rivers.
- Charles Kuralt, American Rivers Board Member
I started out thinking of America as highways and state lines. As I got to know it better, I began to think of it as rivers.
- The Magic of Rivers
Rivers run through our history and folklore, and link us as a people. They nourish and refresh us and provide a home for dazzling varieties of fish and wildlife and trees and plants of every sort. We are a nation rich in rivers.
D.H. Lawrence, author
...we are bleeding at the roots because we are cut off from the earth and sun and stars.
Aldo Leopold, Author, Forester, Environmentalist
The good life on any river may...depend on the perception of its music, and the preservation of some music to perceive.
A river or stream is a cycle of energy from sun to plants to insects to fish. It is a continuum broken only by humans.
The outstanding scientific discovery of the twentieth century is not television, or radio, but rather the complexity of the land organism. Only those who know the most about it can appreciate how little we know about it. The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: "What good is it?" If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.
- A Sand County Almanac, 1948
We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.
- Foreward to A Sand County Almanac, 1948
Luna Leopold, Geomorphologist, Hydrologist
Water is the most critical resource issue of our lifetime and our children's lifetime. The health of our waters is the principal measure of how we live on the land.
Alan Levere, Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection
A river is the report card for its watershed.
Barry Lopez, Author
To put your hands in a river is to feel the chords that bind the earth together.
Richard Louv, author
Time in nature is not leisure time; it's an essential investment in our chidlren's health....
- Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder
Ernie Lyons, Journalist/Environmentalist
The moods of a river change from hour to hour and day to day. It can be still and serene as a glassy mirror, reflecting the clouds that pass over it and the trees on its banks. Or, when a light breeze springs up, the surface of the river may be broken into little diamond lights reflecting the distant sun.
Ernie Lyons was a beloved environmentalist and former Stuart News editor who led the charge to save the Indian River Lagoon more than 60 years ago. You can read more comments from Lyons at www.tcpalm.com/indian-river-lagoon.
Norman Maclean, Author
Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops under the rocks are the words and some of the words are theirs.
- A River Runs Through It
Charles Mann, Author
It is terrible to suppose that we could get so many things right and get this one [the environment] wrong. To have the imagination to see our potential end, but not have the imagination to avoid it. To send humankind to the moon but fail to pay attention to the Earth."
- The Wizard and the Prophet, Knopf, 2018
Bob Marshall, Forester, Conservationist
Swift or smooth, broad as the Hudson or narrow enough to scrape your gunwales, every river is a world of its own, unique in pattern and personality. Each mile on a river will take you further from home than a hundred miles on a road.
Heidi McCree, Audubon Florida Board of Directors
I can feel it the moment I step into a natural place. The trees whisper in the breeze, birds chirp with excitement, the calming hum of life surrounds you. These are the places we must protect. They are part of who we are.
Thomas Merton, Author
What a thing it is to sit absolutely alone, in the forest, at night, cherished by this wonderful, unintelligible, perfectly innocent speech, the most comforting speech in the world, the talk that rain makes by itself all over the ridges, and the talk of the watercourses everywhere in the hollows! Nobody started it, nobody is going to stop it. It will talk as long as it wants this rain. As long as it talks I am going to listen.
- Raids on the Unspeakable, 1966
A. A. Milne, Author
Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.
Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.
- Pooh's Little Instruction Book
We let a river shower its banks with a spirit that invades the people living there, and we protect that river, knowing that without its blessings the people have no source of soul.
A river sings a holy song conveying the mysterious truth that we are a river, and if we are ignorant of this natural law, we are lost.
- Re-enchantment of Everyday Life
John Muir, Author, Conservationist
In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.
When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.
The Sun shines not on us but in us. The Rivers flow not past, but through us.
Gaylord Nelson, Senator
Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures.
- Late U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, Founder of Earth Day and Counselors of The Wilderness Society
What a strange creature is man that he fouls his own nest.
(President Richard Nixon helped establish the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, signed into law the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and legislation creating the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.)
Lynn Noel, Author
The river moves from land to water to land, in and out of organisms, reminding us what native peoples have never forgotten: that you cannot separate the land from the water, or the people from the land.
The first river you paddle runs through the rest of your life. It bubbles up in pools and eddies to remind you who you are.
- Voyages: Canada's Heritage Rivers
Alvin O'Konski, Congressman, Wisconsin
Our precious heritage of natural and unspoiled beauty and unpolluted streams, once exhausted and destroyed, can never be replaced.
Alanis Obomsawin, Native American, Abenaki
When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.
Tim Palmer, Author
Streams represent constant rebirth. The water flows in, forever new, yet forever the same; they complete a journey from beginning to end, and then they embark on the journey again.
The river is the center of the land, the place where the waters, and much more, come together. Here is the home of wildlife, the route of explorers, and recreation paradise. . . . Only fragments of our inheritance remain unexploited, but these streams are more valuable than ever.
Rivers are magnets for the imagination, for conscious pondering and subconscious dreams, thrills and fears. People stare into the moving water, captivated, as they are when gazing into a fire. What is it that draws and holds us? The rivers' reflections of our lives and experiences are endless. The water calls up our own ambitions of flowing with ease, of navigating the unknown. Streams represent constant rebirth. The waters flow in, forever new, yet forever the same; they complete a journey from beginning to end, and then they embark on the journey again.
- Lifelines: The Case For River Conservation
Can we afford clean water? Can we afford rivers and lakes and streams and oceans which continue to make possible life on this planet? Can we afford life itself? Those questions were never asked as we destroyed the waters of our nation, and they deserve no answers as we finally move to restore and renew them. These questions answer themselves. Our planet is beset with a cancer which threatens our very existence and which will not respond to the kind of treatment that has been prescribed in the past. The cancer of water pollution was engendered by our abuse of our lakes, streams, rivers, and oceans; it has thrived on our halfhearted attempts to control it; and like any other disease, it can kill us. We have ignored this cancer for so long that the romance of environmental concern is already fading in the shadow of the grim realities of lakes, rivers and bays where all forms of life have been smothered by untreated wastes, and oceans which no longer provide us with food.
When we save a river, we save a major part of an ecosystem, and we save ourselves as well because of our dependence physical, economic, spiritual, on the water and its community of life.
- The Wild and Scenic Rivers of America
Gifford Pinchot, first Chief of the U.S. Forest Service
The vast possibilities of our great future will only become realities if we make ourselves responsible for that future.
John Wesley Powell, explorer of the American West
I wish to make it clear to you, there is not sufficient water to irrigate all the lands which could be irrigated, and only a small portion can be irrigated....I tell you, gentlemen, you are piling up a heritage of conflict!
- John Wesley Powell, Speech, Los Angeles International Irrigation Conference, 1893
Plutarch, Greek Historian
Water is the principle, or the element, of things. All things are water.
The division of labor has given us many of the blessings of civilization. Specialization is undeniably a powerful social and economic force. And yet it is also debilitating. It breeds helplessness, dependence, and ignorance and, eventually, it undermines any sense of responsibility.
Virtually all our needs and desires we delegate to specialists of one kind or another—our meals to the food industry, our health to the medical profession, entertainment to Hollywood and the media, mental health to the therapist or the drug company, caring for nature to the environmentalist, political action to the politician, and on and on it goes.
One problem with the division of labor in our complex economy is how it obscures the lines of connection, and therefore of responsibility, between our everyday acts and their real-world consequences. Specialization makes it easy to forget about the filth of the coal-fired power plant, the backbreaking labor it took to pick the strawberries for my cereal, or the misery of the hog that lived and died so I could enjoy my bacon. Specialization neatly hides our implication in all that is done on our behalf by unknown other specialists half a world away.
Perhaps what most commends cooking to me is that it offers a powerful corrective to this way of being in the world—a corrective that is still available to all of us. To butcher a pork shoulder is to be forcibly reminded that this is the shoulder of a large mammal, made up of distinct groups of muscles with a purpose quite apart from feeding me. The work itself gives me a keener interest in the story of the hog: where it came from and how it found its way to my kitchen. In my hands its fl esh feels a little less like the product of industry than of nature; indeed, less like a product at all. Likewise, to grow the greens I’m serving with this pork, greens that in late spring seem to grow back almost as fast as I can cut them, is a daily reminder of nature’s abundance, the everyday miracle by which photons of light are turned into delicious things to eat.
Handling these plants and animals, taking back the production and the preparation of even just some part of our food, has the salutary effect of making visible again many of the lines of connection that the supermarket and the “home-meal replacement” have succeeded in obscuring, yet of course never actually eliminated. To do so is to take back a measure of responsibility, too, to become, at the very least, a little less glib in one’s pronouncements.
Especially one’s pronouncements about “the environment,” which suddenly begins to seem a little less “out there” and a lot closer to home. For what is the environmental crisis if not a crisis of the way we live? The Big Problem is nothing more or less than the sum total of countless little everyday choices, most of them made by us (consumer spending represents nearly three-quarters of the U.S. economy) and the rest of them made by others in the name of our needs and desires. If the environmental crisis is ultimately a crisis of character, as Wendell Berry told us way back in the 1970s, then sooner or later it will have to be addressed at that level—at home, as it were. In our yards and kitchens and minds.
Changing the world will always require action and participation in the public realm, but in our time that will no longer be suffi cient. We’ll have to change the way we live, too. What that means is that the sites of our everyday engagement with nature—our kitchens, gardens, houses, cars—matter to the fate of the world in a way they never have before.
To cook or not to cook thus becomes a consequential question... to cook a few more nights a week than you already do, or to devote a Sunday to making a few meals for the week, or perhaps to try every now and again to make something you only ever expected to buy—even these modest acts will constitute a kind of a vote. A vote... against specialization—against the total rationalization of life. Against the infiltration of commercial interests into every last cranny of our lives. To cook for the pleasure of it, to devote a portion of our leisure to it, is to declare our independence from the corporations seeking to organize our every waking moment into yet another occasion for consumption. It is to reject the debilitating notion that, at least while we’re at home, production is work best done by someone else, and the only legitimate form of leisure is consumption. This dependence marketers call “freedom.”
- excerpts from the introduction to Michael Pollan's recent book, Cooked
Sandra Postel, Author
For many of us, water simply flows from a faucet, and we think little about it beyond this point of contact. We have lost a sense of respect for the wild river, for the complex workings of a wetland, for the intricate web of life that water supports. We have been quick to assume rights to use water but slow to recognize obligations to preserve and protect it... In short, we need a water ethica guide to right conduct in the face of complex decisions about natural systems we do not and cannot fully understand.
- Last Oasis: Facing Water Scarcity
Jeff Rennicke, Author
There is no rushing a river. When you go there, you go at the pace of the water and that pace ties you into a flow that is older than life on this planet. Acceptance of that pace, even for a day, changes us, reminds us of other rhythms beyond the sound of our own heartbeats.
- River Days: Travels on Western Rivers
Edwin Arlington Robinson, Poet
I like rivers
- Roman Bartholomew, 1923
Franklin D. Roosevelt
I see an America whose rivers and valleys and lakes hills and streams and plains the mountains over our land and nature's wealth deep under the earth are protected as the rightful heritage of all the people.
When the bluebirds were so nearly destroyed by the severe winter a few seasons ago, the loss was like the loss of an old friend, or at least like the burning down of a familiar and dearly loved house. The destruction of the wild pigeon [passenger pigeon] and the Carolina paraquet [sic] has meant a loss as severe as if the Catskills or the Palisades were taken away. When I hear of the destruction of a species I feel just as if all the works of some great writer had perished; as if we had lost all instead of only part of Polybius or Livy.
Theodore Roosevelt to Frank Chapman, February 16, 1899
The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem, it will avail us little to solve all others.
The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired in value.
We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.
The public must retain control of the great waterways. It is essential that any permit to obstruct them for reasons and on conditions that seem good at the moment should be subject to revision when changed conditions demand.
...they (Army Corps of Engineers) have failed to grasp the great underlying fact that every stream is a unit from its source to its mouth, and that all its uses are interdependent. Prominent officers of the Engineer Corps have recently even gone so far as to assert in print that waterways are not dependent upon the conservation of the forests about their headwaters. This position is opposed to all the recent work of the scientific bureaus of the Government and to the general experience of mankind. A physician who disbelieved in vaccination would not be the right man to handle an epidemic of smallpox.... So with the improvement of our rivers; it is no longer wise or safe to leave this great work in the hands of men who fail to grasp the essential relations between navigation and general development and to assimilate and use the central facts about our streams.
- "Eighth Annual Message", December 8, 1908
No portion of or country is going to show a greater rate of development, and only one or two small portions of it are growing at the same rate of development, as the South will show in the course of the next thirty or forty years. I ask you to profit by the mistakes that have been made elsewhere and to see that this marvelous development, this extraordinary growth of the new South, takes place in such fashion that it shall represent not a mere exploitation of territory, not a mere feverish growth in wealth and luxuriousness on a honeycomb foundation of morality and good judgement, but that it represents a solid and abiding and enduring prosperity and growth which shall not only be great but permanent; a growth in business, which shall mean that hand in hand with the increase in business energy goes a growth of business morality; and a growth in the use of natural resources which shall mean that, while you get all possible use out of them in the present, you so handle them that you will leave your land as a heritage to your children, increased and not impaired in permanent value.
- "Conservation" from the viewpoint of a former president of the United States, Southern Conservation Congress, October 8, 1910
Anything else you're interested in is not going to happen if you can't breathe the air and drink the water. Don't sit this one out. Do something. You are by accident of fate alive at an absolutely critical moment in the history of our planet.
If all the insects were to disappear from the Earth, within fifty years all life on Earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the Earth, within fifty years all forms of life would flourish.
John Sawhill, President, The Nature Conservancy
A society is defined not only by what it creates, but by what it refuses to destroy.
Brian Sharp, Biologist, US Fish & Wildlife Service
There are no Dusky Seaside Sparrows left in nature. (the last remaining died in 1989)
It has been suggested that you might not be missed. It is like thinking that a necklace would never miss one of its pearls, or a song one of its notes. It is written that not a sparrow falls unnoticed. This epitaphs is our noticing. Neither this spring, no ever again, will your exuberant perforances appear on nature’s stage. Your passing is a tribute to progress, a measure of our own inordinate if temporary success as a species. But our success is also our loss, and your loss is our world and ourselves diminished.
- "Epitaph for the Duscky Seaside Sparrow", 1989, www.ecologicalperspectives.com/stories/dusky-seaside-sparrow
Tanako Shozo, Japanese Conservationist
The care of rivers is not a question of rivers, but of the human heart.
Bob Shuster, Congressman
Clean water is not an expenditure of Federal funds; clean water is an investment in the future of our country.
- Washington Post, January 9, 1987
Gus Speth, former dean of forestry and environmental studies, Yale
I used to think that top global environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed, and apathy, and to deal with these we need a spiritual and cultural transformation.
I gave my heart to the mountains the minute I stood beside this river with its spray in my face and watched it thunder into foam, smooth to green glass over sunken rocks, shatter to foam again. I was fascinated by how it sped by and yet was always there; its roar shook both the earth and me.
Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed; if we permit the last virgin forests to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette cases; if we drive the few remaining members of the wild species into zoos or to extinction; if we pollute the last clear air and dirty the last clean streams and push our paved roads through the last of the silence, so that never again will Americans be free in their own country from the noise, the exhausts, the stinks of human and automotive waste. And so that never again can we have the chance to see ourselves single, separate, vertical and individual in the world, part of the environment of trees and rocks and soil, brother to the other animals, part of the natural world and competent to belong in it.
- Wilderness Letter, written to the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission, 1960
We have to behave as though everything we do matters — because sometimes it does.
My Life on the Road, Gloria Steinem, 2015
Edwin Way Teale
To the lost man, to the pioneer penetrating a new country, to the naturalist who wishes to see the wild land at its wildest, the advice is always the same follow a river. The river is the original forest highway. It is nature's own Wilderness Road.
Alfred Lord Tennyson
I chatter, chatter as I flow to join the brimming river, for men may come and men may go, but I go on forever.
- The Brook, 1887
Henry David Thoreau
Many go fishing all their lives without knowing it is not fish they are after.
What is the use of a House if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on?
... in Wildness is the preservation of the world.
Thoreau essay "Walking", published in The Atlantic, June 1862, a month after Thoreau's death
Rivers must have been the guides which conducted the footsteps of the first travelers. They are the constant lure, when they flow by our doors, to distant enterprise and adventure, and, by a natural impulse, the dwellers on their banks will at length accompany their currents to the lowlands of the globe, or explore at their invitation the interior of continents.
Rivers are places that renew our spirit, connect us with our past, and link us directly with the flow and rhythm of the natural world.
Is a society a success if it creates conditions that impair its finest minds and make a wasteland of its finest landscapes?
Each generation has its own rendezvous with the land, for despite fee titles and claims of ownership, we are all but brief tenants on this planet.
We can misuse the land... or we can create a world in which physical affluence and affluence of the spirit go hand in hand.
We must develop a land conscience that will inspire those daily acts of stewardship which will make America a more pleasant and more productive land. If enough people care enough about the world outside their door to join in the fight for a balanced conservation program, communities will flourish, and this generation can proudly put its signature on the land.
- The Quiet Crisis, 1963
Alice Walker, novelist, poet
In nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect.
T. H. Watkins, Historian, Writer
Love is a powerful tool, and maybe, just maybe, before the last little town is corrupted and the last of the unroaded and undeveloped wildness is given over to dreams of profit, maybe it will be love, finally, love for the land for its own sake and for what it holds of beauty and joy and spiritual redemption that will make wilderness not a battlefield but a revelation.
– Redrock Chronicles: Saving Wild Utah, 2000
Terry Tempest Williams, author, conservationist
Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.
- testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Forest & Public Lands Management regarding the Utah Public Lands Management Act of 1995 (Washington, D.C., 13 July 1995)
E. O. Wilson, Biologist, Naturalist, Author
In amnesiac reverie it is also easy to overlook the services the ecosystems provide humanity. They enrich the soil and create the very air we breathe. Without these amenities, the remaining tenure of the human race would be nasty and brief.
- The Diversity of Life
Frank Lloyd Wright, architect
I got to nature every day for inspiration in the day's work.