Documentary Chronology of Selected Events in the Development of the American Conservation Movement, 1847-1920

1847-1871 | 1872-1889 | 1890-1900 | 1901-1907 | 1908-1911 | 1912-1920

Image: caption follows
[Elk with velvet on its antlers, lying down, Yellowstone National Park], William Henry Jackson, [1871]. LC-USZ62-61817

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The Governors' Conference on the Conservation of Natural Resources, organized by Gifford Pinchot and his associate "WJ" (as he preferred to style himself) McGee, whom Pinchot called "the scientific brains of the new [conservation] movement," and largely financed by Pinchot himself, is held May 13-15 at the White House, propelling conservation issues into the forefront of public consciousness and stimulating a large number of private and state-level conservation initiatives. The Conference's Proceedings are published in 1909. A second such Conference is held at the end of the year to receive the recommendations of the National Conservation Commission.

The National Conservation Commission, appointed in June by President Roosevelt and composed of representatives of Congress and relevant executive agencies with Gifford Pinchot as chairman, compiles an inventory of U.S. natural resources and presents Pinchot's concepts of resource management as a comprehensive policy recommendation in a three-volume Report submitted to Congress at the beginning of 1909.

An article by Robert Underwood Johnson in Century magazine, "A High Price to Pay for Water," helps bring the Hetch Hetchy controversy to national attention.

Congress begins several years of hearings and debate on the Hetch Hetchy question; the transcript of a Hearing held before the Committee on the Public Lands of the House of Representatives, December 16, 1908 suggests the scope of public concerns.

President Roosevelt issues Proclamations establishing Muir Woods National Monument, California, on land donated to the Federal government for that purpose by civic reformer and future Congressman William Kent; Grand Canyon National Monument, Arizona; Pinnacles National Monument, California; Jewel Cave National Monument, South Dakota; Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah; Lewis and Clark Cavern National Monument, Montana; and Wheeler National Monument, Colorado.

The Land Classification Board is established within the U.S. Geological Survey to classify natural resources systematically so as to determine their best use.

Dallas Lore Sharp publishes The Lay of the Land, a particularly fine example of the way in which the era's nature essayists brought the American romance with pastoral nature into the dooryards of the nation's burgeoning suburbs, sustaining an appreciation for wild things in an ever-more-urban people.

With financial support from the Russell Sage Foundation, and reflecting renewed concern for the value of rural life in an increasingly urban nation, President Roosevelt appoints a Commission on Country Life, headed by Liberty Hyde Bailey and including Gifford Pinchot, to study problems of rural life and recommend measures to ameliorate them; the Commission's Report, published in 1909, deals chiefly with social and economic issues, but also draws attention to such conservation problems as soil depletion and deforestation.
President Roosevelt convenes the North American Conservation Conference, held in Washington and attended by representatives of Canada, Newfoundland, Mexico, and the United States.

Outlook magazine becomes a chief organ in the national campaign to save Hetch Hetchy, publishing two editorials on the subject by its editor, Lyman Abbott.

The First National Conservation Congress is convened by the Washington (State) Conservation Association; its Proceedings underscore the importance of private conservation activity, including that of women's groups, at this time, and highlight the energetic public response to the 1908 Governors' Conference. Until 1915, these Congresses serve as annual forums for discussion and debate among public and private conservation leaders, though they are eventually undermined by internal squabbling.

Congress passes "An Act To create the Calaveras Bigtree National Forest," authorizing the acquisition of lands in California to protect stands of Sequoia washingtoniana.

President Roosevelt issues a Proclamation establishing Mount Olympus National Monument, Washington.

President Taft issues Proclamations establishing Oregon Caves National Monument, Oregon, Mukuntuweap National Monument, Utah, and Shoshone Cavern National Monument, Wyoming.

Under the influence of the work of the Inland Waterways Commission, Herbert Quick publishes American Inland Waterways: Their Relation to Railway Transportation and to the National Welfare; Their Creation, Restoration and Maintenance, a broad overview which well illustrates how policymakers in this era understood waterways development as an aspect of conservation.

For the next several years, conservationists appointed by Roosevelt turn to the general public for support of their policies in the face of conflict with Congress and appointees of President Taft; as a result, conservation gains greater national attention, even as policy debates also increasingly involve those more anxious to preserve natural resources for aesthetic/spiritual reasons than to put them to practical use.
Having publicly levelled charges of official impropriety against Secretary of the Interior Richard A. Ballinger, Gifford Pinchot is dismissed from government service by President Taft and turns to pressing for implementation of his policies through the National Conservation Association, which he had founded the previous year (it in turn had developed out of the Conservation League of America, which Pinchot had founded in 1908); Pinchot serves as the Association's President from 1910 until it dissolves in the 1920s (its official periodical, American Conservation, is published only from February to August of 1911, before folding for lack of subscribers).

In this same year, Pinchot publishes The Fight for Conservation, a summary of his beliefs about the nature and importance of the conservation movement. "Conservation means the greatest good to the greatest number for the longest time," Pinchot writes (p. 48); "it demands the complete and orderly development of all our resources for the benefit of all the people, instead of the partial exploitation of them for the benefit of a few. It recognizes fully the right of the present generation to use what it needs and all it needs of the natural resources now available, but it recognizes equally our obligation so to use what we need that our descendants shall not be deprived of what they need" (p. 80).

Between January and April, following a Joint Congressional Resolution, a Joint Committee of the Senate and the House holds hearings on the Ballinger-Pinchot controversy, investigating the activities of both the Department of Interior and the Forest Service; though dominated by politics, these investigations--which eventually fill some thirteen printed volumes--are also, in historian Samuel Hays's words, "a gold mine of information about resource affairs" in this era.

In the legislation known as the Withdrawal Act, Congress authorizes the President to withdraw public lands from entry and reserve them for "water-power sites, irrigation, classification of lands, or other public purposes," but reaffirms its ban on the creation or enlargement of national forests in six Western states.

Congress passes a bill establishing Glacier National Park, Montana.

President Taft issues a Proclamation establishing Rainbow Bridge National Monument, Utah.

In an early attempt to come to grips with the growing problem of large-scale urban water pollution, Congress passes "An Act To prevent the dumping of refuse materials in Lake Michigan at or near Chicago".

Reflecting the surge of popular interest in conservationism in the wake of events such as the 1908 Governors' Conference, several books published in this period offer an overview of conservation issues for the general public; the most notable of these include Charles Richard Van Hise's authoritative Conservation of Natural Resources in the United States, published this year; Mary Huston Gregory's broader-based Checking the Waste: A Study in Conservation, published in 1911; Rudolf Cronau's 1908 jeremiad, Our Wasteful Nation: The Story of American Prodigality and the Abuse of Our National Resources; and Thomas Herbert Russell's Natural Resources and National Wealth (also 1911), which includes a chapter on irrigation by Reclamation Service Director F.H. Newell, and is particularly directed at businessmen.

John Burroughs, nearing the end of his long career as the preeminent interpreter of nature to the American public, publishes In the Catskills: Selections from the Writings of John Burroughs, a volume of nature-essays about his home region originally published across four decades; it epitomizes the literary and philosophical stance which sustained his popularity for nearly half a century and influenced the work of a host of other nature-essayists in an era when Americans were redefining their relationship with the natural world.

By this time, conservationists primarily interested in nature as an aesthetic, spiritual, or recreational resource join with sportsmen, railroads, travel agencies, and highway associations to begin calling for the creation of a Park Bureau in the Department of Interior to take charge of national parks.
The American Game Protective and Propagation Association (usually referred to as the American Game Protective Association) is founded by sportsmen-conservationists with financial backing from gun and ammunition companies; it advocates conservation for the purposes of sustainable hunting, and reaffirms the role of sportsmen in the conservation movement.

Congress passes the legislation known as the Weeks Act, which (among other provisions) authorizes interstate compacts for water and forest conservation and Federal acquisition of land for the purpose of protecting watersheds; it also places large amounts of Eastern forest land under Federal jurisdiction for the first time; and provides financial aid to efforts to protect timberlands at the heads of navigable streams from fire.

President Taft issues Proclamations establishing Colorado National Monument, Colorado, and Devil Postpile National Monument, California.

John Muir publishes My First Summer in the Sierra, a reflective memoir embodying his mature vision of nature's divine beauty and integrity, inviting modern man to redemptive re-integration in a relationship of reverent love: "No Sierra landscape that I have seen holds anything truly dead or dull... This quick, inevitable interest attaching to everything seems marvelous until the hand of God becomes visible; then it seems reasonable that what interests Him may well interest us. When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. One fancies a heart like our own must be beating in every crystal and cell, and we feel like stopping to speak to the plants and animals as friendly fellow-mountaineers" (p. 211).

The first of four important National Parks Conferences convenes at Yellowstone National Park to explore the need for a National Park Service (the others are held in 1912, 1915, and 1917); participants include officials of the Interior Department and Forest Service, railroad representatives, and the owners of park hotels and camps; the printed Proceedings of the National Park Conference Held at the Yellowstone National Park (1912) reveal much about the parks' evolving identity, public expectations about them, the pressures on them, and the issues and dilemmas confronting them in this formative era.

Increasing concern for what became known as "human conservation," the impact of environmental factors (especially in urban areas) on human health and well-being, is reflected in the work of socially-concerned engineers and scientists such as chemist Ellen H. Richards; in this year, she publishes Conservation by Sanitation: Air and Water Supply; Disposal of Waste, a work which is particularly concerned with the management of water pollution and its effect on human health.

Former President Roosevelt's leadership in efforts to irrigate the West is recognized at the dedication of the Roosevelt Dam on the Salt River in Arizona; the contemporary importance of projects like the Roosevelt Dam is later documented in film footage of the dam and its impact.

1847-1871 | 1872-1889 | 1890-1900 | 1901-1907 | 1908-1911 | 1912-1920

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