Michigan's Environmental History

In 1999, the Michigan Environmental Council launched an environmental history project to chronicle efforts by citizens to restore and protect Michigan’s natural resources and environment over the last 170 years, communicating this inspiring story to current and future generations.

Author Dave Dempsey, formerly senior policy advisor for the Michigan Environmental Council, has recorded Michigan’s environmental history in three books, some of their content stemming from an MEC-funded sabbatical:

  • Ruin and Recovery: Michigan’s Rise as a Conservation Leader, traces the evolution of the public movement to conserve Michigan’s forests, fish and wildlife in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the environmental movement that demanded cleanup of the state’s air and water in the 1960s and 1970s. Both movements put Michigan on the nation’s map as a leader in environmental protection.

  • On the Brink: The Great Lakes in the 21st Century details the history of individuals and societies in the U.S. and Canada over the last 150 years coming to terms with the significance of the Great Lakes and the opportunity they represent for another kind of greatness. It looks forward to their most challenging century, one in which that opportunity can, at last, be met.

  • William G. Milliken: Michigan’s Passionate Moderate is a biography of Michigan’s longest-serving governor. It explores how the "web of politics and cultural values determines the way societies choose to interact with their environments."

Dempsey's work has also expanded has written word and into the pressed word. Through an Americana grant, Dempsey and other MEC staff coordinated the creation of a series markers documenting historical moments and people in Michigan's conservation. The latest MEC-supported installment of the Heritage Conservation Trail honors state park activist E. Genevieve Gillette at P.J. Hoffmaster State Park. Read about Dempsey's work, the markers and Michigan's long history of activist-driven conservation protections here.