As a child, Zahniser had a teacher who encouraged students to join the National Audubon Society. From his interest in birds, young Zahniser saw the need to protect migratory pathways. His concern for the environment grew steadily, and eventually he went to Washington D.C. to work for the Department of Commerce and to serve at the Bureau of Biological Survey as publicist and editor. His work was influenced by the highly respected naturalist Edward Preble, for whom Zahniser’s new son was named, and by Olaus Murie, well known for his efforts to protect caribou and other migratory animals in Alaska during the 1930s.
In 1945 Zahniser left D.C. and went to work for the fledgling Wilderness Society where he edited the Living Wilderness magazine. One of his colleagues was Aldo Leopold, today considered one of the founders of the modern ecological movement. Leopold believed that the value of outdoor recreation is in its contrast to our daily lives (peace, quiet, natural beauty, wildlife).
Keeping in mind his prophetic 1946 hike in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks, Zahniser began to build interest in Congress for a wilderness bill. In 1949 he produced an inventory of federal wilderness lands, which generated interest from Congress for each member’s own state wilderness areas. By February 1956 Zahniser composed his first draft of the bill, in longhand, at his dining room table. In the summer of that year it was first presented to the Senate and the House of Representatives.
After a few more years of roadblocks, the bill was signed into law by President Johnson in 1964. Although Howard Zahniser died in May 1964 before the signing, he died knowing that the bill would be voted upon successfully. It passed in the Senate 78 – 12 and in the House 373 – 1.