The obituaries for Lady Bird Johnson last week focused mainly on her advocacy for highway beautification, largely failing to note that nearly all of the 200 laws related to the environment during the Johnson administration had her stamp on them, including the Wilderness Act of 1964, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund and many additions to the national parks system. She worked to protect the redwoods and block the damming of the Grand Canyon.
The environmental movement was just being born — Rachel Carson had published “Silent Spring
” the year before Johnson took office — but it found in Lady Bird its most effective advocate. She hoped to leave the country more beautiful than she found it, and there is no doubt that she did so — beginning with her efforts at cleaning up the slums of the nation’s capital to the creation of the National Wildflower Research Center here in Austin.
At the Conference on Natural Beauty that was held in the White House in 1966, Lady Bird Johnson asked a question:
“Can a great, democratic society generate the drive to plan, and having planned, execute projects of great natural beauty?”
The answer to her question so far, unfortunately, is evident.