For Dr. Richard Latterell conservation of wilderness has long been an enduring aspiration. For some seventy-five years, from youth through college, career and retirement, enjoyment and preservation of the natural world has been his major preoccupation.
While growing up in the rural environs of central Minnesota, Dr. Latterell and his friends spent much of their free time hiking and playing in local remnants of the Eastern Deciduous Forest Biome which had once blanketed the region. "We were just kids, products of small towns, family farms, and an agrarian economy. Still we resented the deforestation which had effected the replacement of woodlands by farmlands, and we shared a sense of loss regarding the forest that we had never known. From my college years - when I first committed to a career as a biologist - to the present, I have become increasingly aware of and dismayed by the magnitude and diversity of environmental problems afflicting planet earth which are consequent on progressive displacement of natural ecosystems by those of human design."
Now retired from a thirty-four year career which combined teaching and research Dr. Latterell resides on the 120 acre farm in historic, and still mainly rural, Jefferson County, West Virginia, which has been his home for the past 41 years. There he oversees an increasingly sustainable farming operation which builds topsoil, minimizes use of chemical fertilizer and biosides, and seeks to establish a modest deciduous forest comprising native vegetation. The entire farm has been placed under conservation easement so that it may remain a permanent component of the life-support system of Jefferson County. Little if any bona fide wilderness remains in the County. Regardless, Dr. Latterell feels compelled to advocate for preservation, restoration and expansion of the patches of second-growth deciduous forest which persist in riparian corridors and on non-arable slopes within the jurisdiction. "What I'm confronting here is the malady of 'urbanization' which afflicts vast areas of the nation and has already gone too far locally. The syndrome develops from the importing of excessive numbers of new residents into a rural area and the paving over of that area with impervious surfaces, houses, and pavements, to accommodate them. Progressive over-loading affects the community as a cancer affects any living system. By persistently degrading and eventually destroying the life-supporting capability thereof, until in the case of human communities, what remains is a chronically dysfunctional system at best, or at worst an asphalt and concrete wasteland. This is why I placed my farm under conservation easement, to protect it from the cancer of urbanization by keeping the system viable and life supporting. And to persuade other landowners to do the same with lands in their custody."
Dr. Latterell supports an impressive array of conservation organizations but The Wilderness Society (TWS) holds a special place among them as the first group he joined when he committed to environmental activism. He became a Life Member of TWS in ca. 1970. Dr. Latterell has employed a number of devices in attempting to contribute significantly to wilderness preservation despite constraints imposed by his modest income as an educator with heavy mortgage payments. Initially he was able to divert a major fraction of proceeds from a recreational cave on his farm to TWS. (This gained him the appellation of "the cave man" in the Development Office of TWS). As his fortunes improved he was able to fund a series of annual Gift Annuities. Recently he designated TWS as a beneficiary in his will. "I hope that by my support of The Wilderness Society I will have made a useful, albeit modest and indirect, contribution to the preservation of what remains of the natural ecosystems of North America. These preserves may prove to be our last line of defense, and ultimate hope of recovery, from the ravages which modern society inflicts on its own life-support system."
Thoreau stated the case concisely when he declared that "In wildness is the preservation of the world." His prescience was intuitive but modern ecological science provides ample support for his assertion. Accordingly, contemporary wilderness must be understood and valued for what it is, and for what it does, that is, as remnants of undisturbed, uncontaminated, fully functional natural ecosystems, which comprise the life support systems of planet earth. If wilderness areas of all types are preserved on adequate scale deficiencies of human ecosystems could be compensated and thereby made more sustainable. That is, if wilderness areas are adequately valued, preserved and understood they could serve as models and provide rationale and resources for development of sustainable human societies. Those who find cogency in the foregoing arguments will also find compelling reasons to support The Wilderness Society in the fulfillment of its mission. The urgent need for present and future generations of Americans to preserve wilderness and develop societies which can emulate natural ecosystems cannot be overstated."
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