American voters put a high priority on protecting our environment in the late 1960s and 1970s. It was an important and popular issue, and in 1968, the year the St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers were included in the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, it showed up in the above campaign ad for Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin.
Having grown up 10 miles east of the St. Croix, and spending his childhood exploring the Namekagon, Wolf and other wild Wisconsin rivers, he had long made conservation a priority. He was called the “Conservation Governor” in the early 1960s, and had been a driving force behind passage of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
The commercial features scenes of Nelson canoeing down rocky rivers, but it’s not stated if it’s the St. Croix, Namekagon, Wolf, or some other water.
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President Lyndon Johnson signed the Act on October 2, just a month before Election Day. Because the commercial refers to Johnson signing it, the ad must have aired late in the campaign season.
Nelson was running for his second six-year term in the Senate, and clearly saw conservation and outdoor recreation as a winning issue. Below is a transcription of the narration:
Thanks to Senator Nelson, the beautiful St. Croix River in northwestern Wisconsin with towering bluffs and clear cool water is going to be saved from the pollution and commercialization which have spoiled most of America’s great rivers.
The wild and rushing Wolf River in northeastern Wisconsin is also going to be saved, thanks to Senator Nelson.
Senator Nelson got the Congress to include more than 200 miles of these priceless Wisconsin rivers in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act just signed by the president.
Wisconsin is the only state east of the Mississippi included in the bill. We got three of the nine rivers in the bill and $12 million of the $17 million in authorized funds.
This is the largest national conservation progress in the history of our state. It was conceived and accomplished by our great senator, Gaylord Nelson.
Something worked, because Nelson won reelection that fall by 14 percentage points against his Republican opponent, Jerris Leonard of Wisconsin. Two years later, he founded Earth Day, and continued serving in the Senate until he was narrowly defeated in 1980.
The ad was published on YouTube by The Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center at the University of Oklahoma as part of a large collection of historical Congressional campaign commercials.