Not content to limit their focus to the high Teton range, Olaus and Mardy also began getting involved in the nation's developing environmental movement. With the words, "We want no straddlers," the Wilderness Society was launched in 1935 by Robert Marshall and seven other deeply committed conservationists, including naturalist writer Aldo Leopold (A Sand County Almanac). The aim of the society was to preserve wilderness areas for the benefit of current and future generations.
Olaus was soon sought out for various leadership roles in this fledgling organization, and he and Mardy would eventually tie their careers to the uniquely American idea of wilderness. Together, the Muries plunged into environmental politics. "It seemed then that our lives just blossomed," wrote Mardy. "We were suddenly working with a group who found time in addition to their professional lives to give joyously to a cause they really loved. They were lawyers, professors, foresters, engineers, regional planners, accountants, business executives. What made our response to them so joyous was their true unselfishness, their hard work--seasoned with fun and laughter and respect and love for one another. One of the early members said to me years ago, 'Once you get into this, you can never get out.' How true! But how sustaining, too." A key aim of the Wilderness Society was to help enact legislation protecting the crucial caribou breeding ground on the north slope of Alaska. At a critical juncture, Olaus recruited Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas to help persuade President Eisenhower to go along with the plan. When he received word of the refuge's establishment in 1960, Olaus wept openly. Olaus would live three more years, a few months short of the passage of legislation to create a national wilderness preservation system.
The Wilderness Act, which was signed in 1964, initially established 9.1 million acres of wilderness areas in the national forests. Mardy was invited to witness President Lyndon Johnson sign the bill into law in the White House rose garden. At this time, she was a member of the governing council of the Wilderness Society, a post she held through the 1970s. Today, she is an honorary member of the governing council.
Margaret Murie photo courtesy of Alaska and Polar Regions Archives, Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks.