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NJ Senate Environment Committee Chairman Flat Out Wrong About John Muir

Ideas are important.

I really can’t let something as serious as this go unchallenged, so let me start this by saying that I like Senator Bob Smith. He’s bright, hard working, a nice guy, and he cares.

I first testified before him as Chairman of the Assembly Labor Committee 20 years ago, and he has served as a leader on many environmental issues in the NJ Legislature since then.

But someone must be whispering terrible lies in the Senator’s ear, because he has some very mistaken and warped ideas about John Muir and Muir’s notorious philosophical differences with Gifford Pinchot.

The simplified conventional wisdom sees Muir as the founder of the “preservation” movement and Pinchot as the founder of the “conservation” or “wise use” movement.

But Smith seems to have twisted this debate and the ideas of Muir.

Smith’s warped ideas about Muir seemed to have surfaced initially during the heated debates on Smith’s “Forest Stewardship” bill, that died in the last legislative session.

Smith used those warped ideas to dismiss critics of his pro-logging bill as some kind of extreme preservationists who didn’t want NJ’s forests touched by man. Smith invoked Pinchot’s legacy of wise use as the framework of his bill.

A few weeks ago, Smith went back to that poisoned well in sponsoring what I called crazy legislation that would allow 10 year olds to walk in the woods with guns, see:

I fear that these mistaken views will influence the upcoming debate on open space funding, particularly on funding the new “stewardship” program.

So, here’s the rub. Today, Blue Jersey posted a video interview of Smith (watch it here).

At the end of an otherwise friendly interview, with general softball questions and good hits on Gov. Christie, Smith was asked about his 10 year old gun bill, a characterization that clearly irked Smith who immediately pushed back and called the characterization  “harsh”.

But, in defending his pro-gun bill, Smith went back to the Muir-Pinchot well, and actually spouted this incredible falsehood:

John Muir believed that you set aside land and nobody should ever visit it.

I have no idea where Smith got that, but I can guess it.

Here is what John Muir actually wrote on that set of issues – just the opposite of what Smith seems to think:

The tendency nowadays to wander in the wilderness is delightful to see. Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life. Awakening from the stupefying effects of the vice of over-industry and the deadly apathy of luxury, they are trying as best they can to mix and match their own little ongoings with those of Nature, and to get rid of rust and disease. Briskly venturing and roaming, some are washing off sins and cobweb cares of the devil’s spinning in all-day storms on mountains; sauntering in rosiny pinewoods or gentian meadows, brushing through chaparral, bending down and parting sweet, flowery sprays; tracing rivers to their sources, getting in touch with the nerves of Mother Earth, jumping from rock to rock, feeling the life of them, learning the sounds of them, panting in whole-souled exercise, and rejoicing in deep, long-drawn breaths of pure wildness. This is fine and natural and full of promise. So also is the growing interest in the care and preservation of forests and wild places in general, and in the half-wild parks and gardens of towns. Even the scenery habit in its most artificial forms… even that is encouraging and may well be regarded as a hopeful sign of the times. ~~~  The Wild Parks and Forest Reservations of the West (1901)

End Note: I manually transcribed the above quote from my Library of America volume on Muir’s “Nature Writings” but have since found an on line version of the complete essay posted by Sierra Club.

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