Alfred A. Knopf
Cornelius Amory Pugsley National Medal Award, 1959
As a conservationist, he has traveled in all parts of the United States, especially in the West, and studied problems of the public domain, forests, river systems, and mountain areas. He has given special attention to national parks and monuments, and has served for six years as a member of the advisory board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings and Monuments, by appointment of the Secretary of Interior. He was chairman of the board for five years. He is a director of the Council of Conservationists, the Trustees for Conservation, and the Citizens' Committee for Conservation.
His interest in history has brought him honors and memberships on commissions and boards of trustees, notably the Council of the Institute of Early American History and Culture and our own American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society.
Dear Mr. Swearington,
I write as a stockholder -- more than a nominal one -- in the company of which you are president to express my sadness at seeing a great corporation like Standard Oil of Indiana oppose the Wilderness Bill, as you do in the summer issue of your quarterly magazine. Whoever wrote the article simply doesn't understand conservation at its best, and I think it truly disgraceful that Standard should have put its imprimatur on what he has written.
Senator Keating of Mississippi in a response to one of Knopf's forthright advocacy missives remarked, "Whether I agree or disagree in a particular instance, I must admit that your views are always stated with frankness and color."
Knopf was a parks purist. He believed in the primary mission of preservation, opposed man-made intrusions into them, and opposed the extension of the NPS mission into the urban areas. These positions caused him to rail against Conrad Wirth's Mission 66 program and to exhort the preservationist philosophy of Newton Drury with whom he had developed an especially close friendship while supporting Drury's efforts as executive director of the Save the Redwoods Leauge in California.
Given this perspective, it was natural for him to become a member of the Sierra Club Foundation's National Advisory Council. His purist perspective was evident in a 1972 letter which he wrote to the National Observer stating: "I am glad that when I saw Rainbow Arch I had at least a good, tough 12 mile hike to get there and back to camp. Now you simply float under it in a motorboat, near a marina equipped with chemical toilets and gasoline pumps."
After he was reappointed to the NPS Advisory Board in 1964 as a "collaborator" he was invited by NPS director George Hartzog to a meeting of the board at Glen Canyon. Knopf declined, writing "I must be honest with you and repeat that visiting again Glen Canyon and Lake Powell would make me absolutely ill. The less I see of such places, the less likely I am to lose my enthusiasm for the conservation efforts of the Federal Government."
His opposition to the proposal to construct a dam on the Colorado in Dinosaur National Monument was unrelenting. It was the most contentious issue of his tenure on the Advisory Board. As a Republican at the time of a Republican Administration which was proposing the dam, he used all his influence in an effort to defeat the proposal. He later recalled, "I took on an awful lot of work." His behind-the-scenes lobbying and voluminous letter writing efforts were complemented by the publication of a book, This is Dinosaur, which was developed by the Sierra Club. Unusually, as well as publishing the book, Knopf contributed a chapter to it on "The National Park Idea." He argued that the dam proposal in the monument was a breach of trust since the mandate of the 1916 National Park Act requires the parks and resources be left unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. He wrote, "The key word is 'unimpaired' and the dictionary defines it as 'not to diminish in quality, value, or strength; not to injure or weaken or make worse; not to harm, hurt, mar or spoil.' It is an important point to remember."
He was frustrated by the fragmentation of the conservation movement. He believed "conservationists are a powerful political force," but noted "the ability of the conservationists, when they get together, to win a battle, though we never seem able to win a war." He attributed that to the fragmentation of the movement into numerous small groups, few of which had the substantial resources needed to be effective. His exasperation was evident in a letter to David Brower, executive director of the Sierra Club:
I am struck for the umpteenth time by the fragmentation of conservationists. So many -- and such little -- financially speaking -- organizations...I have always felt that what the country needs is one big and reasonably rich organization.He remained active in his later years. In the 1970s Knopf was especially prominent in lobbying for Big Thicket National Preserve and Redwoods National Park. He was active in lobbying Governor Nelson Rockefeller in the 1972 fight to protect Adirondack Park in his home state of New York from extensive lot development when Horizon Corporation explored the potential of extensive development there. When the Forest Service made a policy judgment in 1972 that no area in the east could possibly qualify as wilderness under the Wilderness Act, Knopf lobbied the Forest Service chief describing the decision as "This narrow, self-serving interpretation of the Act" charging it was a "misinterpretation" of the act.
When the curmudgeon received the Pugsley Medal he reflected, "I was awarded the Cornelius Amory Pugsley Medal, an honor which pleased me greatly." His contributions were summarized in a resolution passed by the NPS Advisory Board at the end of his term in 1956. It classified his contributions into four categories.