For those who think the trendy ecology movement began a few short years ago, tonight's "Wild by Law" will be an eye-opening, albeit often slow, history lesson.
This "American Experience" episode, airing at 9 p.m. on KCET Channel 28 and KPBS Channel 15, begins with the '20s and '30s, key decades in U.S. life that saw enormous changes--read progress and development--in our use of land. Ostensibly a look at the history of the country's Wilderness Act, "Wild by Law" touches many philosophical and spiritual issues.
It does so by focusing on three men: Robert Marshall, a Yale-educated millionaire socialist who founded the Wilderness Society in 1935; Aldo Leopold, widely acknowledged as the greatest of modern wilderness philosophers, and Howard Zahniser, a minister's son and career bureaucrat who became the society's master networker, skilled at working the congressional corridors of power.
Unfortunately, by taking this tack, producer-director-writers Lawrence Hott and Diane Garey get undermined by the strength of Leopold, who overshadows the others and could easily have been the subject of a full hour himself. Constant quoting from Leopold's masterwork, "A Sand County Almanac," an eloquent and thoughtful work, undercuts the segments on Marshall and Zahniser; their vital work pales in comparison.