Huffman, Thomas R.
Protectors of the Land and Water: Environmentalism in Wisconsin, 1961-1968.
University of North Carolina Press
Chapel Hill
Original Date

Review by Christine Thomas, UW Stevens Point, in Environmental History Review. Vol. 19, #1, Spring 1995:

Only pages into this book, I feared that it would turn out to be a two hundred page tribute to Gaylord Nelson. While a tribute to the "father of Earth Day" may be in order, those interested in environmental history are usually looking for more. Thomas Huffman quelled my fears with an insightful, balanced look at Wisconsin environmental and conservation history in the decade of the 1960s.

Huffman details the evolution of political thought in Wisconsin from an early focus on outdoor recreation to a later focus on environmental protection. The piece contains many interesting photographs from the period. While the average reader will have only a passing interest in the meticulous reference to end notes, those with a special interest in Wisconsin will read each and every note. The index and bibliography are enhance the book's value to the historian.

Thomas Huffman has created an important reference for those interested in Wisconsin environmental history. The book sets events of the 1960s in the longer context of the two hundred year history of a state heavily influenced by Progressivism and citizen involvement in decision-making. While taking the long view into consideration, Huffman focuses his analysis on the specific events that led to the creation of water quality legislation.

The book should also be helpful to those whose interests are more national in scope. A thread that runs through the book is the political rivalry between Warren Knowles, a Republican governor and Gaylord Nelson, a Democratic U.S. Senator. The evolution on political events is played our against a backdrop of state and regional attitudes as well as national events and policies. The Knowles-Nelson interplay was the most interesting part of the book for me. Huffman provides a fascinating description of the political "dance" that shaped the agencies and policies that prevail today.

Huffman points out that while most analyses of the evolution of environmental policy describes [sic] events in the national arena, many states actually had agencies and policies in place before the 1970s. He also points out that in the case of Wisconsin, the impetus to do that may well have been part of the state-federal, liberal-conservative, Knowles-Nelson interplay. That interplay affected subsequent federal actions and actions in other states. The picture that emerges is more complex that a superficial conservative-liberal categorization of environmental views. While the controversy was undoubtedly heated at the time, the relationship turn out to be symbiotic in some ways. Each player's move provided the other an opportunity to become a "protector of the land and water."