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Wildflower is published quarterly by the Wildflower Center. Its content is national in scope with articles about the conservation and use of native plants as well as news from the Wildflower Center. A subscription is provided to Wildflower Center members as a benefit of membership.

Letter from the Executive Director - Summer 2003

In a May, 1965, message to the United States Congress, President Lyndon B. Johnson called for a White House Conference on Natural Beauty and outlined the reasons why America should be concerned with the condition of our natural environment.

He noted the increasing urbanization of the American landscape and how, with the growth of cities and suburbs, people were "being cut off from nature." He described the destruction of streams, trees, and meadows along with the expansion of highways, and he observed that "people move out of the city to get closer to nature only to find that nature has moved farther from them." In short, he was describing what we now call "sprawl."

Echoing the alarm of Rachel Carson's seminal book "Silent Spring," President Johnson also took note of the "darker side" of industrial progress. He called for an end to uncontrolled waste products and the degradation of the nation's water, soil, and wildlife by "poisons and chemicals which are the byproducts of technology and industry."

To address these problems, President Johnson called for a "new conservation" that went beyond protecting the landscape from destruction. He called for a "conservation of restoration and innovation" [emphasis added] that dealt with the "total relation between man and the world around him." Under this "new conservation" Johnson painted a vision where the beauty of our landscape would evolve from being "a holiday treat" into being an inherent "part of our daily life."

Johnson's "new conservation" message called for more than the improvement of the environment. It called for the restoration of natural beauty as something essential to "the dignity of the man's spirit." This summons to protect and restore the natural beauty of our nation's landscapes and to make contact with nature and beauty an inherent part of life's experience was regarded by President Johnson as a fundamentally important initiative for his administration and for the people of America.

How is it that we find one of the most powerful political leaders of the modern age speaking insightfully and forcefully, 40 years ago, about the importance of our connection to the natural world, and yet today, when this relationship is still in great peril, we find no major political leadership on this issue? Was Lyndon Johnson ahead of his time in placing our relationship with the natural world on the national agenda? If so, it is imperative that we now catch up with him. Although many strides were made toward this "new conservation" in the decade following the Johnson Administration - in both Republican and Democratic administrations - threats to our nation's natural beauty, to the health of our landscape, and to America's biological diversity remain with us, demanding awareness and action. Yet today we seem to be turning away from our commitment to the beauty and quality of our natural environment.

Those of us who work at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center believe that a strong economy is compatible with strong protection of our natural landscape. Indeed, we believe that a healthy and beautiful land is a prerequisite for a healthy society and a healthy economy. The very air we breathe, the water we drink, the formation of soil, and the insects that pollinate many of our food crops are all dependent on healthy native-plant communities. If we become a population of citizens cut off from the beauty of the natural world, if we continue to lose the healthy native-plant communities that comprise the foundation of a healthy environment, then we will diminish not only our human spirits but also the very basis of our prosperity.

There is a unity of vision between President Johnson's quest for a "new conservation" of "restoration and innovation" and the articulated appeal of our founder, Lady Bird Johnson, for a nation that protects and celebrates its natural beauty. We must rebuild the bipartisan consensus on environmental protection that grew out of President and Mrs. Johnson's initiatives. We must help our fellow citizens forge a new partnership with nature. We must build our human communities in such a way that integrates the human community into the wider community of life and in a way that protects the diversity of nature and the ecological processes upon which life depends.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is heir to this unity of vision. Just as our programs in landscape restoration, plant conservation, use of green building technologies, "green gardening" techniques, and environmental education strive to make this vision a reality, so too must we strive to win back an elevated place on the national agenda for the beauty and health of our landscape.

Dr. Robert Breunig

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