Building an Alliance

Text by Ben East, a member of the Michigan Conservation Hall of Fame and legendary outdoor writer for Outdoor Life. 

Building an Alliance

Text by Ben East, a member of the Michigan Conservation Hall of Fame and legendary outdoor writer for Outdoor Life.

How to preserve the old growth forest in the Porkies? I chewed on the problem for a minute or two. As outdoor writer for a group of Michigan newspapers, I had seen a couple of somewhat similar campaigns carried to a successful conclusion, including one that culminated in the establishment of the Isle Royale National Park in upper Lake Superior.

“What you need is outside help,” I suggested. “We realize that,” Dick agreed, “but how do we go about it?”

There was another long, thoughtful pause. Then somebody came up with a suggestion. “Why not organize a Save-the-Porcupines Association, nationwide?”

I could see the idea catching on in Ray Dick, starting to burn like the lightning of a slow fuse on a powder keg. None of us guessed it at the time, but what we were witnessing that night was the turning point in the long and uphill battle to keep the wilderness of the Porcupines untouched.

Ray Dick's first step was to carry out the suggestion of organizing a national Save-the-Porcupines Association. He started with local people. Ed Johnson, the Ironwood newspaperman who had sat beside the fire that spring night at the mouth of the Carp, was chosen president. Ray kept for himself the work-horse job of secretary. The letters he wrote before the campaign was finished ran well into the thousands.

Then, as we had foreseen when the plan was born, the pleas to preserve the biggest tract of virgin hardwood left in the country began to fire the imagination and win the support of conservationists everywhere.

Members joined from a dozen states, as far away as Georgia and Kansas, California and New York. The membership list read like a “Who’s Who of American Conservationists.” It included such prominent names as those of Vice President Henry Wallace; Chase S. Osborn, former Governor of Michigan; Aldo Leopold of the University of Wisconsin; Newton B. Drury, director of the National Park Service; William Allen White, renowned Kansas editor; Willard Van Name of the American Museum of Natural History; Jay Price, regional forester of the United States Forest Service, and Mrs. Edward LaBudde of the Women’s Conservation League of America.

Conservation groups from coast to coast offered their help. The Wisconsin Conservation League, with 200,000 members, threw its weight into the fight, as did the Izaak Walton League of America, the National Wildlife Federation, the American Forestry Association, the Federated Garden Clubs of America, the Emergency Conservation Committee, the National Parks Association, the National Federation of Women’s Clubs, the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, the Upper Peninsula Development Bureau, the Northern Michigan Sportsman’s Association and other influential outfits.

Money started to come in in sums adequate to finance the battle. Ray Dick himself, all but knocked off his feet by the country-wide response, gathered his forces and drove ahead harder than ever.

Writers and photographers loosed a flood of publicity. Stories and pictures of the Porcupine wilderness appeared in newspapers in Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Boston, Cleveland and other cities and in national magazines. An exciting description of the wild beauty of the region even made its way into the Congressional Record. Sportsmen in cities a thousand miles distant came to know almost as much about the Porcupines as they knew about their favorite rabbit swales, 10 miles from home.

World War II came on, and the attention of the nation, even of its conservationists, was diverted to other problems. Less and less thought went to saving our natural wealth, more and more to using it to buy the victory we had to have. But Ray Dick wouldn’t give up. He still refused to stand by and see the wilderness he loved converted into a denuded, fire-blackened wasteland. Peace would come back some day, he argued, and when that happened, the country was going to need places like the Porcupines again for their wilderness and beauty, their forests and fish and game. And across the country members of the association that he had fathered and spark-plugged never stopped preaching the same doctrine.

They kept hammering away, harping at their pet idea, not letting the crusade lag. And at last they won a powerful ally in P.J. Hoffmaster, director of the Michigan Department of Conservation.

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