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Gaylord Nelson, "Father of Earth Day," Receives Honorary Degree from SUNY-ESF

Conferred during convocation, Saturday, May 14, 2005

SYRACUSE, N.Y.—A former U. S. senator known as the father of Earth Day will receive an honorary degree from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) during convocation Saturday, May 14.

Sen. Gaylord Nelson, who was a leading environmentalist during his 18 years in the Senate, initiated the first Earth Day observance April 22, 1970. The celebration he established became a nationwide observation thathas expanded in some locations to include a week's worth of activities and educational efforts.

The honorary Doctor of Science degree will be presented during ESF?s convocation at 1 p.m. May 14 at the Landmark Theatre in downtown Syracuse."Gaylord Nelson embodies the spirit and mission of ESF," said CollegePresident Cornelius B. Murphy, Jr. "Few Americans have been as influential as Gaylord Nelson in protecting and enhancing our environment.

"Our promotional slogan is ?Before Earth Day, there was ESF," Murphyadded. "We mark our existence by what he created and its impact on American and global expectations for the human relationship with thenatural world. Our evolution into the 21st century's researchers, policyanalysts, teachers, and community practitioners in environmental science's integration of biophysical science, social science, and humanities isinextricably linked to Gaylord Nelson's convictions and actions." The first Earth Day was April 22, 1970. Some 20 million people participated. American Heritage magazine described the event years later as "one of the most remarkable happenings in the history of democracy."

Nelson began his public service in 1948 as a Wisconsin state senator. He was re-elected three times, holding his Dane County seat for ten years. In 1958, he was elected to the first of his two terms as governor of Wisconsin. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1962 and served for 18 years. Nelson championed landmark laws including the Wilderness Act, the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, and the Alaska Lands Act.

As an elected leader, his achievements include legislation to preserve the 2,000-mile Appalachian Trail , mandate fuel efficiency standards in automobiles, control strip mining , ban the use of DDT and the defoliant commonly known as agent orange, and create the St. Croix Wild and Scenic Riverway and the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. He also co-sponsored the National Environmental Education Act and wrote legislation to create the Upper Great Lakes Regional Commission and Operation Mainstream/Green Thumb, which employed the elderly in conservation projects.

Since leaving the Senate, Nelson has become a sought-after public speaker who calls for environmentally sustainable development and advocates protecting America?s national forests, national parks, and other public lands from harmful development. Nelson has served as counselor to The Wilderness Society since 1981. In that role, he has focused on protecting America's national forests, national parks, and other public lands. His most recent work concentrates on the United States? population issues and sustainability.

Nelson previously received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Council for Science & the Environment, and the United Nations Only One Earth Award in 1992. In 1990 he received the Ansel Adams Conservation Award, bestowed upon a federal official who has shown exceptional commitment to the cause of conservation and the fostering of an American land ethic.

He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in1995. The proclamation from President Bill Clinton stated: "As the father of Earth Day, he is the grandfather of all that grew out of that event: the Environmental Protection Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act."

Nelson was born June 4, 1916, in Clear Lake, Wisc. He received hisbachelor's degree in 1939 from San Jose State College in California and his law degree at the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1942. He was in the U.S. Army during World War II for 46 months, serving as first lieutenant during the Okinawa campaign. Returning to Madison, Wisc., Nelson practiced law from 1946 to 1958. He lives with his wife, Carrie Lee, in Kensington, Md., and has three children.


Release No. 39, May 9, 2005

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