Environment & Public Lands
5:17 pm
Wed May 14, 2014

Remembrance: Missile, Conservation Activist Cecil Garland

Cecil Garland in Callao, with the Deep Creek Mountains in the background. Garland was known for his straight-talking and incisive observations. He fought the placement of MX missiles in the Great Basin and, more recently, to conserve underground water along the Utah-Nevada line.
Credit WGBH Boston

The West lost a legendary figure over the weekend, when Cecil Garland died.

Garland was a Callao rancher known for his passion to conserve the land he loved and for being plainspoken and eloquent at the same time. In Montana, he led the fight for the nation’s first citizen’s wilderness area, the Scapegoat Wilderness.

Then he grew hay and raised cattle in the tiny Utah town in the long shadow of the Deep Creek Mountains. And that’s where he fought a Pentagon proposal to stage MX missiles in the Great Basin desert. Garland put it this way in a 1987 public television interview.

“I just threw my statistics away,” He recalled. “And I just said, ‘It seems to me that this discussion is degenerated into how we should deploy the missile of the three modes. The land mode, the air mode, the sea mode.’ I said, ‘I'd like to suggest the fourth mode, which is the commode’.”

Garland won that battle and went on to fight what some call the Las Vegas Water Grab. Ranchers on the Utah-Nevada border rely on those aquifers, and he said the thirsty city had to learn the limits to growth. He told NPR in 2007 that Las Vegas is about “gluttony, glitter, girls and gambling.”

"What it's all about here is children, cattle, country and church,” said Garland. “Seems to me there’s a categorical opposition to the whole basic philosophy of life. Would it be crops or craps that we use our water for?"

Steve Erickson of the Great Basin Water Network battled alongside Garland for more than three decades. He says Garland was practical and a brilliant strategist.

“Cecil had many friends,” Erickson said. “It was a privilege to be his friend, and I will miss him dearly. We know that he lived well and left much behind him that we can all cherish.”

Garland died of pneumonia on Mother’s Day. He leaves his wife, Annette, four daughters, 10 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren. A celebration of his life is planned in September, around the time he would have turned 89.