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Otis Pike: an advocate for wilderness

By Posted in - General News on June 10th, 2014 Rep. Otis Pike welcomes CIA Director William E Colby to a hearing

Revisiting Otis Pike: 50 years of wilderness in America

Later this year we’ll reach an important milestone in the history of environmental conservation: the fiftieth anniversary of the Wilderness  Act (PL 88-577). Signed into law September 3rd, 1964, this signature legislation created, in the words of it’s authors, “[an] area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain”. And while this achievement will be celebrated around the country, in New York State it holds special significance. Earlier this year, Otis Pike, the nine-term congressman who penned the legislation that added over 1300 acres of Fire Island sea shore to the original act, passed away. Today, the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness holds the distinction as the only Federally designated wilderness area in New York State.

Representing the 1st congressional district in New York from 1961 through 1979, Otis Pike was an unusual political figure. A democrat in an overwhelmingly republican district, Pike deftly served the interests of his moderate constituents while delivering on a decidedly progressive, liberal agenda. This ethos was on full display during the later phase of his political life when he chaired the Congressional Special Select Committee on Intelligence—a committee he founded  to investigate the extra-judicial machinations of the CIA in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. And while his contributions to increasing congressional oversight of the CIA and other intelligence agencies has done untold good for this country, his efforts to rein in state secrecy have largely eclipsed his work as an environmental advocate.

The fiftieth anniversary of the Wilderness Act provides the right opportunity to revisit the Otis Pike who championed environmental protection and a vision for an expansive Fire Island wilderness of rolling dunes and eel grass untouched by development or degradation.

Photo Credit: James K. W. Atherton

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