Zahniser, Howard C. (Deceased)
Howard was born on February 25, 1906, in Franklin, Pennsylvania, but grew up in Tionesta, Pennsylvania. Howard was educated at Greenville (Illinois) College and later studied for a master’s degree at George Washington University, but did not write the degree thesis. He received an honorary Doctor of Letters from his alma mater in 1959. Howard was known as Zahnie among his associates and had many close friends especially in the Wilderness Society. Zahnie began his career as a newspaperman and high school teacher. He later served as editor of the Bureau of Biological Survey (later the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) and then as information director of the Bureau of Plant Industry in the Department of Agriculture (1942-45). He directed publicity for the World War II Victory Gardens effort. Zahnie wrote a monthly book review column in Nature Magazine for 25 years beginning in 1935. For many years he also wrote the annual "Conservation" entry for the Encyclopedia Britannica Annual Yearbook and contributed conservation topics to the Agriculture Yearbooks of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He also had a regular radio program about natural resources for several years. Zahnie was a book collector and life-long student of the Book of Job, Dante Alighieri, William Blake, and Henry Thoreau as well as the pantheon of nature writers, whose work he chronicled in Nature Magazine. In 1945, he was approached by The Wilderness Society to serve as executive secretary and editor of its magazine, The Living Wilderness. At the time, his wife Alice was expecting their fourth child. Despite reduced pay and no benefits, Zahnie accepted the job because of his devotion to the cause. He grew to become the strength of the organization, of which he had been a charter member from its founding in 1935, and long served as the entire Washington office. He later became executive director. Zahnie proposed a national system of wilderness preservation, and giving the idea shape and substance was his first challenge. It was Zahnie who answered the hard questions and formulated the language that later became the Wilderness Act. It was also Zahnie who held together the coalition of conservation groups and conservation cooperators that pursued the legislation. Some of his colleagues tried to get him to change the word “untrammeled” to “undisturbed” or another more modern word, but Zahnie was persistent and forceful and defined untrammeled as “not being subject to human controls and manipulations that hamper the free play of natural forces.” The National Wilderness Preservation System, when created by the 1964 Wilderness Act, embraced 54 areas and nine million acres. Today the Wilderness System contains more than 105 million acres of federal public lands. He served on the boards of several conservation organizations, helped with the early organization of The Nature Conservancy, advised the Secretary of the Interior on conservation matters, and served as president of the Thoreau Society for the 1956-57 term. Zahnie married Alice Bernita Hayden in 1936. The couple had four children: Alison Howard Mathias, Esther B., Karen Elizabeth, and Edward D. Zahnie was elected to the Washington Biologists’ Field Club in 1946 and remained a member until his death of a heart attack on May 5, 1964. Zahnie's widow, Alice, attended the signing of the Wilderness Act by President Lyndon B. Johnson on September 3, 1964. He is buried right above the Allegheny River in Riverside Cemetery in Tionesta, Pennsylvania, which he considered his home town. A Pennsylvania state historical marker for Zahnie and his work for wilderness was dedicated nearby on August 13, 2001. Environmental historian Mark Harvey wrote a biography, Wilderness Forever: Howard Zahniser andd the path to the Wilderness Act, published by the University of Washington Press in 2005.