Howard Zahniser Deserves a place in National Garden of American Heroes

Howard Zahniser Deserves Higher Regard and Increased Recognition in the Pantheon of Great Americans

Without a doubt, Tionesta, Pennsylvania native, The Wilderness Society Executive Director, and Wilderness Act of 1964 author Howard Zahniser (ZON-i-ser) should be included in the new National Garden of American Heroes, slated to be open by July 4th, 2026 — the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

As the human population in this country continues to grow, sprawl continues its expansion into open spaces, and natural settings become more scarce, by the law of supply and demand untrammeled wilderness is going to take on greater significance to Americans for many important reasons.

I believe Howard Zahniser’s Wilderness Act, already considered by many to be the most poetic yet precise legislation ever enacted, will become the singly most important and appreciated work completed by any American. Howard Zahniser has given us an invaluable gift, the full import of which may never be truly known.

In my estimation Zahniser can be thought of as a latter-day Founding Father with the enduring import and quality of his magnanimous efforts, his intellectual and philosophical capacity, and his acute aptitude with and love for the English language. His drafting of the Wilderness Act, shepherding of it through 66 rewrites and 19 public hearings before Congress over a period of eight years, and tireless advocacy for wilderness with all who would listen is unparalleled.

The community of Tionesta and all residents of the Commonwealth have reason to be very proud. Howard Zahniser deserves higher regard and increased recognition not only in the pantheon of great American conservationists, but in the pantheon of great Americans.

Kirk Johnson is Executive Director, Friends of Allegheny Wilderness.