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
Sierra San Juan, William Henry Jackson, [ca. 1872]. LC-D4-11786

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Congress begins several years of debate and hearings on the question of whether or not to create a National Park Service.

Congress passes legislation to amend the Withdrawal Act, opening withdrawn lands to mining of "metalliferous minerals" and adding California to the list of states where National Forests may not be created or enlarged without Congressional approval.

John Muir publishes The Yosemite, an eloquent and loving portrait which concludes with an impassioned plea for the preservation of Hetch Hetchy.

Concern for "human conservation" and early attempts by American cities to cope with the growing problem of urban air pollution are reflected in the material compiled by Samuel B. Flagg for a U.S. Bureau of Mines publication, City Smoke Ordinances and Smoke Abatement.

Public interest in conservation issues is reflected in the publication of two valuable bibliographies: the Library of Congress's Select List of References on the Conservation of Natural Resources in the United States, and the Department of the Interior's List of National Park Publications.
Debate over the fate of Hetch Hetchy continues in the national press throughout the year, along with intensive campaigning to save Hetch Hetchy on the part of conservation and nature-related organizations (such as the Sierra Club and the Appalachian Mountain Club) and concerned individuals throughout the country; the arguments made by the opposing sides in the campaign are exemplified by such works as John Muir's pamphlet "Let Everyone Help to Save the Famous Hetch Hetchy Valley and Stop the Commercial Destruction Which Threatens Our National Parks" (1911), Isaac Branson's pamphlet "Yosemite Against Corporation Greed; Shall Half of Yosemite National Park Be Destroyed by San Francisco?" (1909), and Martin Vilas's pamphlet "Water and Power for San Francisco from Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park" (1915). On September 3 and December 6, the House and Senate, respectively, pass the Raker Act, granting San Francisco permission to dam Hetch Hetchy, and President Woodrow Wilson signs the bill into law on December 19; though a defeat for preservation-minded conservationists, the controversy has brought the preservationist movement to a new level of maturity, and the conservation movement as a whole to a new level of importance and awareness in national life; the loss of Hetch Hetchy now galvanizes the campaign to create an independent Federal bureau to protect and care for the national parks.

William Temple Hornaday, now head of the New York Zoological Park, publishes Our Vanishing Wild Life: Its Extermination and Preservation, "one of the first books wholly devoted to endangered wild animals" (in the words of historian Stephen Fox); the book is written to accompany Hornaday's founding of the Permanent Wildlife Protection Fund, an organization devoted to campaigning for wildlife protection throughout the nation.

Congress passes what is known as the Migratory Bird Act or Weeks-McLean Act, declaring all migratory and insectivorous birds to be within the custody and protection of the Federal government; this is eventually superseded by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

Congress passes a provision of the Federal Tariff Act prohibiting the importation of many kinds of wild bird feathers, which had been extensively used for women's hats; this measure is the result of a long public campaign by many conservationists, especially the nation's Audubon Societies, against the use of wild bird plumage in the millinery trade.

The National Conservation Exposition is held in Knoxville, Tennessee, in September and October, with the support of local and national business and political leaders, including Gifford Pinchot and WJ McGee, both of whom serve as advisors; though regional in emphasis, this is the major public effort in conservation education in this era, an ambitious attempt to educate the public into an understanding of conservation issues, and especially "to teach farmers and timber-land owners the necessity for general co-operation if we are to preserve the forests, streams, and soils of the country," in the words of the Exposition's chronicler; the Exposition reveals how thoroughly conservationism was construed as an issue of civic and even religious virtue in this era, and the sometimes uneasy alliance of business, civic, governmental, and religious leadership which gave early conservationism its remarkable breadth of support. A descriptive commemorative album, The First Exposition of Conservation and its Builders: An Official History of the National Conservation Exposition..., edited by W.M. Goodman, is published in 1914.

Joseph Knowles publishes his best-selling Alone in the Wilderness, an account of his probably fraudulent experience living "as Adam lived" off the Maine wilderness; its popularity reflects Americans' turn-of-the-century preoccupation with the relationship of wilderness to human nature and the American character; while Knowles's almost formulaic references to the importance of wilderness as a resource for human health, spirituality, and art reveal how completely many of the essential ingredients of the conservation ethos have permeated American popular culture.
President Wilson issues a Proclamation establishing Papago Saguaro National Monument, Arizona.

John Muir dies in California at the age of 76.
Congress passes a bill establishing Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

President Wilson issues a Proclamation establishing Dinosaur National Monument, Utah.

Cornell horticulture professor Liberty Hyde Bailey, already well known for his efforts in the nature-study and country-life movements, publishes The Holy Earth, a pioneering attempt to establish an ethic for the man/nature relationship which directly influences Aldo Leopold's development of an ecologically-based "land ethic" in the 1930s and '40s.

Overriding the longstanding opposition of Gifford Pinchot and many of his associates in the utilitarian wing of the conservation movement, the New York Board of Trade and Transportation (which was concerned about loss of water for the Erie Canal) and the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks (which was dominated by wealthy landowners in the Park region) succeed in having a permanent prohibition on timber cutting in the Adirondack Park incorporated into the new New York State constitution of this year.

Under pressure from livestock owners' associations, Congress appropriates $125,000 to enable the Bureau of Biological Survey to begin large-scale killing of predator animals, such as wolves and coyotes, regarded as injurious to sheep and cattle.

The Ecological Society of America is founded "for the purpose of giving unity to the study of organisms in relation to environment, as a means of furthering intercourse between persons who are approaching widely different groups of organisms from closely related points of view, for the stimulation of ecological research, and to assist the development of the utilities which may be served by ecological principles."
Congress passes the National Park Service Act, creating the National Park Service within the Department of the Interior with the support of Interior Secretary Franklin K. Lane; Stephen T. Mather is its first Director.

Congress passes a bill establishing Hawaii National Park, Hawaii, and a bill establishing Lassen Volcanic National Park, California.

President Wilson issues a Proclamation establishing Sieur de Monts National Monument on Mount Desert Island, Maine, on lands conveyed to the United States by a private citizens' group, the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations; and a Proclamation establishing Capulin Mountain National Monument, New Mexico.

Frederic E. Clements publishes Plant Succession: An Analysis of the Development of Vegetation, a seminal work of ecological science, establishing a dynamic model of species succession toward an eventual "climax" equilibrium under the influence of climate and other factors in a given habitat; this work has profound implications for the future development of conservationist thought.

John Charles Van Dyke publishes The Mountain: Renewed Studies in Impressions and Appearances, one of his series of books exploring and celebrating the distinctive aesthetic properties of various wild landscapes in elegant and perceptive detail; Van Dyke's work illuminates Americans' increasingly sophisticated pleasure in scenic beauty in an era when the preservationist dimension of conservationism achieved permanent importance.
Congress passes a bill establishing Mount McKinley National Park, Alaska.

The last and widest-ranging of the series of four National Parks Conferences meets in Washington to explore the role of the parks in American life and the complex challenges facing the new National Park Service; the conference's Proceedings, rich in implication for the parks' cultural, economic, and scientific history, are published later in the year.
Congress approves the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which implements a 1916 Convention (between the U.S. and Britain, acting for Canada) for the Protection of Migratory Birds, and establishes responsibility for international migratory bird protection.

President Wilson issues a Proclamation establishing Zion National Monument, Utah, incorporating Mukuntuweap National Monument, and a Proclamation establishing Katmai National Monument, Alaska.

Congress passes a bill establishing Lafayette National Park, Maine, superseding Sieur de Monts National Monument, as the first National Park east of the Mississippi; it is renamed Acadia National Park in 1929.

Congress passes a bill establishing Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, superseding Grand Canyon National Monument, and a bill establishing Zion National Park, Utah, superseding Zion National Monument.

President Wilson issues a Proclamation establishing Scotts Bluff National Monument, Nebraska.

Stephen A. Forbes, a biologist whose work on the ecology of freshwater ponds has important implications for the future of conservationist thought, and Robert Earle Richardson publish Some Recent Changes in Illinois River Biology, a brief study which raises disturbing questions about the complex impact of reclamation engineering projects and sewage disposal on riverine biology; this work anticipates the kinds of environmental issues which will increasingly preoccupy conservationists later in the century.

The National Parks Association (renamed the National Parks and Conservation Association in 1970) is founded in Washington, D.C. by a group of public officials, scientists, educational leaders, and other prominent citizens, under the leadership of retiring Park Service Education Division chief Robert Sterling Yard, and with the personal and financial support of Park Service Director Stephen T. Mather; the new organization's purpose is to educate the public about and through the national parks, to generate support for the parks' growth and protection, and to encourage their responsible enjoyment by greater numbers of visitors.
Congress passes the Federal Water Power Act, creating a Federal Power Commission with extensive authority over waterways and the construction and use of water power projects.

The Ecological Society of America begins publication of its quarterly journal, Ecology.

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

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