Michigan and the Great Lakes

Ruin and Recovery

Michigan's Rise as a Conservation Leader
Dave Dempsey
Foreword by Former Governor William G. Milliken
A history of Michigan's conservation efforts


Ruin and Recovery tells the story of Michigan's cycles of resource exploitation and conservation from the early days of statehood in 1837 to the present day. Drawing from a large number of resources, including archival records and reminiscences, official documents and individual interviews, Ruin and Recovery charts the development of a conservation ethic in Michigan and chronicles the major battles for environmental protection since the late 1800s.

Michigan has faced two turning points in its conservation history. One came at the end of the nineteenth century when its logging era ended, only to be followed by raging forest fires that left millions of acres of land denuded. Ruin and Recovery 's discussion of this first turning point is from historical records and the later recollections of survivors of the ruinous 1908 Metz forest fire in northeastern Lower Michigan. The second turning point came in the late 1960s, when water and air pollution prompted public outrage. This controversy is brought to life through interviews with local residents, scientists, and agency officials who observed the Kalamazoo River to be the most polluted in Michigan. Both turning points set the stage for the historic eras of rebuilding that followed.

Dave Dempsey serves as Communications Director for Conservation Minnesota and consults for other environmental and conservation organizations across Minnesota and Michigan. He is author of William G. Milliken: Michigan's Passionate Moderate and Ruin and Recovery: Michigan's Rise as a Conservation Leader.

Praise / Awards

  • "No matter what state one lives in, studying Michigan's conservation can serve as a case study on many aspects of conservation. The story presented here also provides information on a national perspective, such as the detailed account of the reckless hunting of passenger pigeons to extinction. Throughout, the vivid detail not only helps paint a startling description of the ruin, but it also helps readers appreciate how the recovery efforts staggered on with some successes and many failures. . . . Ruin and Recovery . . . is vital to anyone researching environmental protection and conservation biology history."
    —P. Rillero, Arizona State University West, Choice, September 2002

  • "Anyone who claims to care about this state's natural resources and environmental health should read this book. Not only does it provide a superb grounding about the wretched excesses of the past, it offers guidance about what we should be doing now to insure that we leave something for the future."
    —Eric Sharp, Detroit Free Press, August 27, 2001

  • "Now rides forth a Paul Revere of the Great Lakes—an environmental patriot and craftsman sounding alarms about 21st century threats to our majestic ecosystem. . . . Dave Dempsey chronicles current battles with skillfully crated books that draw on the past for lessons to be heeded by today's politicians."
    —George Weeks, Detroit News and Free Press

  • "Dave Dempsey has done for conservation was what Bruce Catton did for the Civil War—deftly chronicle the battles and profile the heroes. . . . [The book's] emphasis, and enormous value for future generations, is its sweeping account of the 19th century and subsequent plundering of Michigan's natural resources, and of how public-spirited citizens prodded for recovery."
    —George Weeks, Escanaba Press; Ironwood Globe, May 23, 2001; May 22, 2001

  • "[A] meticulously researched book about Michigan's roller-coaster conservation history. . . . Stretching from 1837, when Michigan achieved statehood, to the present, Dempsey's book explores many of the headline-raising environmental issues with which Michigan struggled, as well as the famous, and infamous, individuals who dedicated their lives and careers to conservation. . . . Dempsey's narrative is highly readable, and Michiganians will appreciate knowing in greater detail 'what really happened.' . . . Ruin and Recovery is an important contribution to the state's history and leaves the reader wanting to know even more about Michigan's mercurial past."
    —Sara Dant Ewert, Weber State University, Michigan Historical Review

  • ". . . a complete and quite balanced study of the people and forces behind the maturing of a conservation ethic in the state, including Michigan United Conservation Clubs and several of its leaders."
    —Dennis Knickerbocker, Michigan Out-of-Doors, September 2001

  • ". . . both sobering and thought-provoking. The book traces both the sins and the solutions to some of Michigan's worst environmental practices beginning with the days of lumbering. . . . There is a lot of history in here and Dempsey doesn't try to sugarcoat it. It's an unflinching look at what went wrong, what is going wrong and what has and is being done to right wrongs. . . . For those wishing to truly understand the long-term interaction and history of environmental degradation, restoration, preservation and non-stop pressures, Dempsey's book is a must read. It will provide fuel for thought, fodder for debate and a meaningful perspective on how Michigan environment-wise came to be where it is at [sic] today."
    —Steve Begnoche, News (Ludington MI), April 18, 2002

  • "It is only a short stretch to conclude that Ruin & Recovery makes Dave Dempsey to Michigan conservation history what Bruce Catton is to the Civil war. . . . Dempsey's prowl through the archives produced a staggering, yet intriguing and enticing, array of historical facts and quotes. He splices it all together so that at times it reads like an action novel. . . . Ruin & Recoveryshould be a must for every North Woods Call reader, their kids and grandkids. Michigan schools should weave it into their curriculum."
    North Woods Call, June 27, 2001

  • "Dempsey provides not only a lamp, but a detailed road map to anyone who cares or may yet come to care about what happens to Michigan's natural beauty and natural resources. A compelling writer and storyteller, Dempsey deftly weaves his phenomenal research of newspapers, government documents, diaries and reports of early settlers and surveyers and government documents into a fascinating account of the many forces over the last 150 years that led to the environmental devastation of Michigan. . . . [S]hould be a must-read for state and local policy makers, journalists, business and environmental leaders, high school and college history students."
    —Loraine Anderson, Record-Eagle (Traverse City)

  • ". . . A generally relaxed narrative fulll of anecdotes and color."
    —Judy McGovern, The Ann Arbor News, March 2002

  • "In his brilliant new book, Ruin and Recovery: Michigan's Rise as a Conservation Leader . . . We get a dose of optimism, encouragement and inspiration. . . . Rather than presenting an arid chronology of Michigan's history, Dempsey brings the past to vivid life with his storytelling magic. . . . Like in a fast paced novel. . . Dempsey brings the project a rare spirit who heeds the call to enlighten and enrich ours."
    --Sherry Hayden, The Mackinac Quarterly, August-October 2001
  • Selected for the 2002 Read Michigan List by the State of Michigan

  • 2009 Michigan Author Award

Look Inside

Copyright © 2001, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

News, Reviews, Interviews

Dave Dempsey reflects on the book's 20th Anniversary | FLOW For Love of Water | December 20, 2021 | Link to Read

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 368pp.
  • 20 photographs.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2001
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-06779-4

Add to Cart
  • $20.95 U.S.