OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

New book by OSU Press examines environmentalism of William O. Douglas

04/06/2009

CORVALLIS, Ore. – In his judicial opinions and in his popular books, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas was a passionate advocate for conservation of wilderness and its importance to the American people.

Now a new book by the Oregon State University Press explores how Douglas’s passion for nature helped define the modern environmental movement.

Written by Adam M. Sowards, “The Environmental Justice: William O. Douglas and American Conservation,” is available at bookstores or can be ordered by calling 1-800-426-3797. It also is available online at http://oregonstate.edu/dept/press/e-f/EnvironJustice.html.

Sowards is a professor of history at the University of Idaho. His book, a decade in the making, began as a doctoral dissertation and blossomed into a full book after a lengthy research process. There was no shortage of background with which to work.

Douglas’s lengthy career, his combination of personal and professional writings, and the transformation of the country’s “conservation politics” movement from the late 1940s to the mid-1970s provides a rich source of material. Ironically, Douglas almost wasn’t around to lead that movement. In the opening chapter, Sowards describes how Douglas and a childhood friend were on a horseback trip near Mount Rainier in 1949, when the horse reared, throwing Douglas down the steep hillside.

He rolled some 30 yards down a shale embankment and looked up to see his horse, Kendall, tumbling down the same path. The horse landed squarely on Douglas, breaking 23 of his 24 ribs, leaving him in agony.

Wrote Douglas: “First I feared I would die. Then, as the pain continued unabated from the broken ribs, I feared I would not.”

With 38 fractures in those 23 broken ribs, it took weeks of recuperation before Douglas could return to his career. But that vignette, Sowards notes, is emblematic of Douglas’s career – reflecting his connection to the outdoors, his toughness, and his struggles to overcome personal challenges.

Douglas was inspired by his youthful experiences hiking in the Pacific Northwest and later would use his influence to reshape American conservation thought, politics and law. He personally led public protests in favor of wilderness, and worked fervently to secure stronger legal protections for the environment.

Sowards is the author of a previous book, “United States West Coast: An Environmental History.”

The OSU Press also offers a related book, “Nature’s Justice: Writings of William O. Douglas,” which can be found online at: http://oregonstate.edu/dept/press/m-n/NatJust.html. Newly available in paperback, the book is a collection of Douglas’s varied writings that represent his wide range of interests. It was edited by James O’Fallon of the University of Oregon. The volume is part of the OSU Press’s Northwest Readers Series, edited by Robert Frank of Oregon State.