Updated: Dec 11, 2020
Bill Hodge, Executive Director
Dinner was cooking in our pot, and we were in heaven. Our camp was in the Olympic Wilderness, near Hole-In-The-Wall Rock along Rialto Beach. The pounding surf, the stunning views, and the ‘pick-up truck sized’ driftwood had already made the day magical. Then came the scream from above.
For a moment I thought it was just a seagull. With a quick turn of the head there it was the symbol of our country in the form of a Bald Eagle perched directly over our backcountry kitchen. WOW. We spent the next twenty minutes enjoying the elation of the perfect ending of the perfect day. I had time to snap a few pictures and to point out the massive bird to a few hikers passing by before the Eagle moved further down the coast in search of carrion.
Like the Eagle, the idea of Wilderness only became a priority when we were faced with the idea of losing it forever. Through the early part of the 20th Century, a handful of passionate ‘keepers of the wild’ sounded the alarm – the wildness that helped define us as a country was being lost to reckless and unfettered development, even on public lands. That alarm bell was answered finally with the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964. The alarm continues to be answered to this day as we pass more designations – saying as a country we value what is wild and natural.
The Bald Eagle was on the brink of extinction, but like with the passage of the Wilderness Act, as a country, we rallied around an idea, and soon with the passage of the Endangered Species Act, we were on a path to save this symbol of our nation along with countless other endangered birds, reptiles and mammals.
It was incredibly fitting to sit on that shore, surrounded by Wilderness, to witness the beauty of such an amazing creature. It was in no small part the loss of habitat that almost brought down the Bald Eagle – and with it a symbol of our unique culture as a nation. In the Pacific Northwest that unfettered development so many warned of during the early decades of the 20th century, that race to harvest every stick of timber closed out the home range of the Bald Eagle – and if not for the Wilderness Act and subsequent Endangered Species Act the great bird could be relegated to our museums like the Passenger Pigeon.
A moment I will never forget on a coast far from home – made possible by those with a vision of Wilderness and Wild Creatures a century ago.