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Winton Weydemeyer

Throughout his childhood and adolescence Winton Weydemeyer grew up in the shadow of Whitefish range, Montana, and became connected to the land, the wildlife, and wonders of such a wild and majestic landscape. During his lifetime he tried in many ways to preserve Whitefish Range's landscape by making it a legally protected area but was unsuccessful. His pursuit has been carried on by the Weydemeyer Wilderness steering committee, which is currently leading the effort to protect 171,000 acres of land.

Winton Weydemeyer was born in Cass City, Michigan, on March 19, 1903 to Harry and Margaret Weydemeyer. When he was just an infant, his family moved to a farm just six miles north of Fortine, Montana where Winton grew up. He graduated from the eighth grade at a local one-room school, after having skipped two grades, and then went on to graduate from Eureka High School in 1919. He then worked on his family farm for two years before attending Montana State College (now Montana State University) in Bozeman, majoring in agriculture.

After graduating from college, Weydemeyer spent a year and a half as director of the Moccasin Experiment Station in the Judith Basin before returning to the family farm that he loved in the Tobacco Valley. In 1920, Aldo Leopold, at the time a forester on the Gila National Forest in New Mexico, wrote an article in American Forests and Forest Life, the Magazine of the American Forestry Association (AFS), proposing to set aside land simply for intrinsic purposes. The essay, “A Plea for the Preservation of a Few Primitive Forests, Untouched by Motor Cars and Tourists Camps, Where Canoe and Pack Trips into Back Country May Still Be Enjoyed by Lovers of the Wild,” was read by Weydemeyer and had a profound effect on him. He wrote a passionate follow-up letter which was published in the AFS. This began a correspondence between Weydemeyer and Leopold and gave direction to Weydemeyer's thinking.

In 1939 Weydemeyer co-founded the Tobacco Valley Grange and was active in it the rest of his life. The Grange movement, founded in 1867 by Oliver H. Kelly, was initially an apolitical educational organization promoting reading and information for small farmers. It later adopted a progressive political agenda, promoting cheap rail transportation for agricultural products, cheap public power, rural electrification, soil conservation and other farmer friendly goals.

In 1950, Weydemeyer ran for and won the State Senate Seat for his district serving 1951 to 1953. While in the senate he advocated for the conservation of Montana's natural resources and co-sponsored a bill to set up conservation education programs in local schools. Weydemeyer went on to become a founding member of the Montana Conservation Council and was active on the Montana Water Pollution Council. After forming the Montana Wilderness Association (MWA) in 1958 to take on the problem of rapidly disappearing natural lands the group worked for six years to achieve the National Wilderness Preservation Act, Signed by President Johnson in 1964. Although this was a monumental act to preserve vast areas of wilderness, Weydemeyers own Whitefish Range was not included by Congress.

Weydemeyer was a conservationist, community leader, Granger, ornithologist and photographer. He published numerous articles on Montana's birds and published more than 300 of his own photographs (many developed in his bathtub) in local and regional papers. Winton Weydemeyer died February 4, 1993.

To learn more about Winton Weydemeyer please visit: Weydemeyer Wilderness Campaign, Guide to Winton Weydemeyer papers

 

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