Promoting, supporting and encouraging the study of the United States since 1955

British Association for American Studies


Peter Coates, In Nature’s Defence: Americans and Conservation


Peter Coates, In Nature’s Defence: Americans and Conservation

BAAS Pamphlet No. 26 (First Published 1993)

ISBN: 0 946488 16 9
  1. Chronology
  2. Introduction
  3. Conservation Before The Conservation Movement
    i. American Indian Antecedentsii. Colonial Precedentsiii. The Pioneers Of Nature Appreciation And Environmental Concern
  4. The Conservation Movement
    i. Pinchot, Forestry And Utilitarian Conservation
    ii. Sportsmen And Wildlife
    iii. Muir And Preservationism
    iv. The National Parks
    v. From The Twenties To The Fifties
  5. The Transition To Environmentalism
    i. Leopold And The Influx Of Ecologyii. The Nuclear Age
  6. Unfinished Business
  7. Guide To Further Reading
  8. Notes
British Association for American Studies All rights reserved. No part of this pamphlet may he reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review. The publication of a pamphlet by the British Association for American Studies does not necessarily imply the Association’s official approbation of the opinions expressed therein.

1. Chronology

1864: The Yosemite Grant creates a state park in California
1864: Man and Nature by George Perkins Marsh
1872: Yellowstone National Park established
1878: Report on the Lands of the Arid Region of the United States by John
Wesley Powell
1881: Division of Forestry set up within Department of Agriculture
1885: Adirondack Forest Preserve established in New York state
1888: Boone and Crockett Club founded
1890: Federal census announces the closing of the frontier
1891: Forest Reserve Act empowers the president to create reserves
1892: Sierra Club founded
1900: Lacey Act outlaws interstate shipment of game killed in violation
of state laws
1905: The Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service assumes control
of forest reserves
1906: Antiquities Act permits protection of objects of historical and
scientific interest on public land as national monuments
1908: White House conference of governors on conservation
1913: Hetch Hetchy Valley controversy resolved in favour of water
and power development
1916: National Park Service Act
1918: Save-the-Redwoods League established
1922: Izaak Walton League founded
1933: Civilian Conservation Corps founded
1933: Tennessee Valley Authority created
1935: Wilderness Society founded
1940: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service created
1949: Posthumous publication of Aldo Leopold’s A Sand
County Almanac

1956: Echo Park Dam controversy resolved in favour of wilderness
1962: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
1964: Wilderness Act establishes system of national wilderness areas
1968: National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act
Grand Canyon Dam proposals defeated
Redwood National Park created
1969: Friends of the Earth founded
1970: National Environmental Policy Act
First celebration of Earth Day, 22 April
1971: Greenpeace founded
1973: Endangered Species Act
1970-1973: Conservationist legal action blocks construction of
Trans­Alaska oil pipeline
1973: Trans-Alaska Pipeline authorized
1978: Supreme Court blocks construction of Tellico Dam (TVA) in
the interests of the snail darter fish on the basis of
Endangered Species Act
1980: Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act adds over
100 million acres to federal conservation systems
1980: Reagan’s presidency launches assault on conservationist
achievements since Theodore Roosevelt
1981: Earth First! (direct-action deep ecology group) founded
1983: Resignation of James Watt, the most controversial Interior
Secretary since Richard Ballinger
1989: Exxon Valdez oilspill in Prince William Sound, Alaska

2. Introduction

The dialogue between human civilization and the natural world is a fundamental and distinguishing feature of American history. In the post- Columbian American context, the process of environmental transformation was more compressed than ever in the past. Changes that took place over centuries in Europe often happened within a few generations in the New World. As one eighteenth-century commentator (proudly) remarked: we have done the most in the least time of any people on earth. From the beginnings of colonization to the perceived closing of the frontier in the late nineteenth-century, American treatment of the land and its creatures was conditioned by the ‘myth of superabundance’ and an antipathy toward untamed nature. Dazzled by a seemingly inexhaustible cornucopia, American society thrust west without thought or care, convinced of the righteousness of its mission to redeem the wilderness. Eventually, a minority began to count the cost of environmental destruction in material and cultural terms. Around the turn of the century the ideas and values of the earlier nineteenth-century pioneers of wild nature appreciation and environmental concern circulated in an increasingly hospitable climate and a diverse conservation movement emerged. For some—the utilitarian conservationists—the priority was more rational and equitable use of natural resources. Others—the ‘preservationists’ or aesthetic conservationists—rebelled against the very concept of resource exploitation, focusing on nature protection for purposes of recreation, patriotism, and spiritual uplift. With the advent of the atomic age, the natural world was pushed to its limits by post-war economic growth and the fallout from big science and new technologies. Ecological thinking began reshaping public attitudes and drawing attention to an increasingly vulnerable American earth. When Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published in 1962, the American environmental movement was about to dawn.

This account pays only cursory attention to well-known highlights such as the Hetch Hetchy and Echo Park dam controversies and the symbolic clash between John Muir and Gifford Pinchot. Nor is there space for details of seminal events like the creation of the first national park and the first national forests, or a list of legislative achievements. It also tries to avoid retelling the treasured stories of conservation folklore, such as the noble campfire discussion in the Yellowstone in 1870 that supposedly gave birth to the national park idea, and Pinchot’s ride on a horse named Jim in Rock Creek Park at twilight on a gloomy February day in 1907 when the rider apparently gave birth to Conservation. Instead, it looks at the cultural context that produced conservation and at how conservation became environmentalism.

Though conservation, whatever its hue, offered a weaker defence of nature than environmentalism would, its preservationist aspect promised the stiffest resistance by pre-environmentalist standards and provided the strongest link with the later environmentalism. So preservationism receives particular attention. While including some milestones and basic chronology, a more important concern is with how the modern US environmental movement has interpreted and utilized the history of conservation and its luminaries.

3. Conservation before the Conservation Movement

i. Native American Antecedents

Though this is a history of white conservation, the claim that conservation ideology and activity predate Euro-American history should be briefly addressed. During the 1960s and 1970s, environmental historians and environmentalists praised the original American in the same breath as chiding the Euro-American. Wilbur Jacobs was convinced that they were “America’s first ecologists.”[1] Stewart Udall, secretary of the interior (1960-68), agreed; modern conservation involved a return to Indian “land wisdom.”[2] Marshalled in support were features of Indian life such as animistic pantheism, a sense of community extending beyond humans, sustainable and reverential agricultural, hunting and gathering practices, restrained technology and population control devices. In 1971, the American public became acquainted with the Indian as conservator through the anti-pollution television advertisements starring the Cherokee actor, Iron Eyes Cody. (A tear runs down Cody’s cheek as urban garbage flows around his moccasins.)

Those who seek to knock the Indian off this saintly pedestal dismiss the ecologist/ conservator image as the latest repackaging of the noble savage myth. The detractor’s case can be stated thus: The relatively light imprint on the land prior to contact reflected comparatively sparse numbers, a limited capacity to inflict damage, and the absence of incentives to greater exploitation. The latter protective barrier fell easily in the face of tempting European trade items and the scale and enthusiasm of involvement in the fur trade in particular shows up the skin-depth of aboriginal eco-friendliness. To the extent that Indian conservation existed, it was pragmatic rather than a manifestation of a superior ethic. Archaeological evidence of Indian abuse of nature casts further doubt on their credentials and the notion of a golden age of man-nature relations in the Americas. Quantities of buffalo bones unearthed at ‘kill-sites’ indicates wholesale destruction. ‘Bison jump’ evidence is especially telling because of the stress on the buffalo hunter and consumer (with ‘nearly a hundred uses’) as the ultimate efficient resource user. The collapse of Anasazi civilization in twelfth-century Arizona and New Mexico through deforestation underscores the aboriginal capacity to upset the ecological balance.

The Indian’s champions have issued a rebuttal along these lines: Far from supporting uniformly sparse, unsophisticated populations, parts of North America were characterized by fairly dense concentrations practising intensive environmental management, especially the use of fire. Yet Natives worked with the land, frequently enhancing natural resource yield. Rather than being deficient, the state of Indian technology reveals a conscious decision not to evolve a damaging hardware. There is no contradiction between empirical and mythopoetic relations with nature. The evidence of wanton faunal despoliation is anecdotal and indicative of an alarming lack of perspective. Isolated and fairly modest instances of indigenous overkill are of far lesser historical significance than the systematic profligacy of white settlers. Condemnation of the Indian role in the fur trade—the only substantial example of Indian wastefulness and vindictiveness—is a blatant instance of blaming the victim. Moreover, even if an aboriginal role in large animal extinction 12,000 years ago is conceded, how is this relevant to the state of Native American environmental relations on the eve of European colonization? Even advocates of the ‘blitzkrieg’ theory acknowledge that there were no significant losses of animal species in America over the centuries prior to contact after these megafaunal losses. Change and adaptation were constant features of Native life before 1492 and the ecological ethic may have developed as a response to Pleistocene overhunting and deforestation in the Southwest. Any post-Columbian lapses from the carefully nurtured Indian worldview resulted from the wholesale disruption of Indian life via disease, trade, dispossession, removal and proselytization. What matters for present purposes, however, is that America’s white pioneers of conservation largely accepted the Indian-as-conservationist argument, though aboriginal attitudes were insignificant in shaping their own outlooks.

ii. Colonial Precedents

The natural bounty of the Atlantic colonies astounded the English (though what astonished them even more was the apparent failure of the indigenes to exploit it properly). Promotional tracts hailed Virginia as “earth’s only paradise.” For all the celebrations of cornucopia, however, shortages of natural resources can be identified from the earliest days of settlement. Intensive hunting to supply the fur trade meant beaver were growing scarce in coastal New England as early as 1640. At mid-century, they were also largely wiped out in what became New York state. By the turn of the century, the fur trade was in decline even in the interior of New England. The wild turkey, a prized food, was also rare by 1700 and even the passenger pigeon, quintessential symbol of New World superabundance, was dying out in the region after two centuries of colonization. The large mammals, such as elk, bear and lynx, had disappeared unmourned from most parts of New England by the early 1700s. The large-scale introduction of livestock sealed the fate of predators like wolves, who needed a fresh supply of food now that deer were increasingly scarce. Cows and sheep were easy pickings and the bounty system put a further price on the head of wildlife. Swamps were drained to eliminate wolf habitat. The forest was steadily stripped for agriculture and to supply domestic fuel, building materials, and a variety of needs ranging from barrels to ships timbers.

Appropriate action was sometimes taken. In 1626, just six years after its founding, Plymouth Colony began to regulate the cutting of timber. In 1681, William Penn laid down that for every five acres of forest cleared in Pennsylvania, one had to be left covered. The Massachusetts Bay Colony’s charter of 1691 reserved all trees over 24 inches in diameter for the British navy and protected other pines vital for naval stores—regulations subsequently extended to other English colonies. Game restrictions date from 1639, when the township of Newport, Rhode Island, imposed a six-month moratorium. America’s first game law, which regulated seasons and banned the export of game and hides, was enacted by Connecticut in 1677. By 1700, all other English colonies aside from Georgia had imposed closed seasons on deer.

Lone voices of concern can be detected from the start. But they were diffuse and often casual. None of it constituted a body of thought that can be labeled conservationist. The first to comment on environmental transformation were visiting Europeans. Accustomed to a continent largely devoid of primal nature, they were well placed to note the drastic shift from ‘savagery’ to ‘civilization.’ Scientists appreciated the New World’s value as a laboratory for observing environmental change, reinforcing hypotheses of climate change through deforestation. Peter Kalm, a Swedish naturalist touring America in the 1740s, admonished Americans sharply over their reckless use of timber: “We can hardly be more hostile toward our woods in Sweden and Finland than they are here; their eyes are fixed upon the present gain and they are blind to the future.”[3] The process accelerated after independence, an English traveler in New Jersey in the 1790s noting that “in order to save themselves the work of shaking or pulling off the nuts, [Americans] find it simpler to cut the tree and gather the nuts from it, as it lies on the ground.”[4]

Colonial Americans also noticed the negative side of the conversion of nature’s domain into human habitat. In the mid-eighteenth-century, John Bartram, the self-taught Philadelphia botanist, recorded the depletion of soil fertility resulting from the clearance of riverine lowlands. Before planting, the vegetation retained the debris brought down by streams in flood; the decay of this vegetal matter maintained the richness of the soil. Following clearance, floodwater passed over the land without depositing nutrients, transporting away the top layer of soil from the cultivated land. Apparently unlimited abundance encouraged bad practices. Jared Eliot, leading New England divine and physician, was no opponent of the civilizing process, but wrote in 1748: “When our forefathers settled here, they entered a Land which probably never had been Ploughed since the Creation; the Land being new they depended upon the natural fertility of the Ground, which served their purpose very well, and when they had worn out one piece, they cleared another, without any concern to amend their land … whereas in England they would think a man a bad Husband, if he should pretend to sow … without any Dressing.”[5] Most members of the Virginian colonial intelligentsia worried about topsoil erosion, a process aggravated by cash crop monoculture that produced high yields yet exhausted fertility within five years. The early eighteenth-century observations and warnings of planter- historian Robert Beverley were repeated by George Washington, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson. From the inventor of the fuel-economizing iron stove, fittingly, came another warning to intervene carefully when engaged in the “attempt to amend the scheme of Providence.” As a cautionary tale (1753), Benjamin Franklin cited the campaign to eradicate the blackbird in New England because of its predations on the corn crop. This backfired, for as the birds decreased, the numbers of a worm that preyed on grass escalated: “finding their loss in grass much greater than their saving in corn, they wished again for their blackbirds.”[6]

Forest devastation was the most visible and pressing drawback of colonization and attracted what little attention these matters received. President John Quincy Adams, in 1828, to discourage speculation on federal lands, tried to secure stricter controls on timber cutting but was rebuffed by an unsympathetic Congress. These eighteenth and early nineteenth-century antecedents of conservation might be seen to indicate that a rootedness promoting a more thoughtful attitude to the land was emerging in the settled east. But caution was entirely out of step with the nation’s restless, westering mood. Adams’s setting aside of a live-oak forest in Florida for naval use was overturned by his successor. “Sell cheap” was the motto of federal land policy from Jackson to the Civil War.

iii. The Pioneers of Nature Appreciation and Environmental Concern

Just as European thought shaped American antipathy to wilderness, Old World intellectual trends wrought a metamorphosis that invested untouched nature with almost paradisical qualities. Values expressing a mix of curiosity, love, admiration, respect and (sometimes) concern for untrammeled nature came to the fore during the first half of the nineteenth-century. Tocqueville, for example, brought his educated European sensibilities to America. As he commented during a trip to frontier Michigan in 1831, the object of which was to find somewhere (and someone) still immune from the torrent of European civilization: “To break through almost impenetrable forests … to sleep out in the damp woods—those are exertions that the American readily contemplates if it is a question of earning a guinea. But that one should do such things from curiosity is more than his mind can take in. Besides, living in the wilds, he only prizes the works of man. He will gladly send you off to see a road, a bridge, or a fine village. But that one should appreciate great trees and the beauties of solitude—that possibility completely passes him by.”

What Tocqueville characterized as “a quiet admiration, a gentle melancholy sense, and a vague distaste for civilised life, a sort of primitive instinct that makes one think with sadness that soon this delightful solitude will have changed its looks” was the stock bittersweet response of the romantic soul.[7]

It followed that the first Americans to view these changes in the European way hailed from the East and from the towns. Perhaps too much attention has been paid to the disaffected literary and artistic gents expressing dismay at the mean-spirited dealings with nature of the vast majority of their fellow-Americans from their comfortable vantage points. Nature appreciation often revealed discontent with industrial civilization rather than love of nature. Much of this was fashionable posturing betraying Wordsworth, Byron and Rousseau’s influence more than the impact of the American wilderness. Cooper’s Leatherstocking novels of the 1820s are riddled with disparaging references to the environmental consequences of frontier conquest. That doesn’t make Natty Bumppo (or Cooper) a pioneer environmen­talist, but does signal a spreading mood of ambivalence, a balancing of the cost of progress against the blessings that Cooper and the rest readily accepted. What they accomplished in a practical sense is miniscule. Historian Francis Parkman tried to persuade the state to buy private lands for a park in his beloved White Mountains and the artist Frederic Church got involved in the effort to establish Niagara international park (1885). The romantics are worth our time, however, because their eloquent questioning of the hegemonic western paradigm of environmental exploitation (to use politically correct language) inspired those of a later generation who did become activists.

A more distinctively American reappraisal of attitudes to wild nature was generated by the needs of cultural nationalism. The use of nature for this purpose stretches back at least as far as Thomas Jefferson’s rebuke to French zoologist Count Buffon in Notes on the State of Virginia (1785) that New World mammals were bigger and better than their European counterparts. References to the puniness of the European reindeer alongside a moose and barbs that Roman pillars were not only dwarfed but positively juvenile next to redwoods were a staple of early patriotic puffery. Still, pride in a new land and reverence for sublimity would only become potent forces for change within the context of the frontier’s perceived closing in the 1890s. Parkman’s increasingly gloomy and elegaic prefaces to later editions of The Oregon Trail (1872, 1892) chart the advance of the process by which the “Wild West” was “tamed” and the extent to which its “savage charms” had “withered.”[8]

If there was a Mount Rushmore for America’s green giants, chiselled into the rock would be the faces of Aldo Leopold, John Muir and Henry David Thoreau. Modern U.S. environmentalism’s search for heroes and intellectual pedigree has found its taproots in Thoreau and his Walden (1854). Unlike most of his countrymen, among whom a nineteenth-century English traveller noted “scarcely any such thing as local attachments—the love of a place because it is a man’s own . .. Speaking generally, every farm from Eastport in Maine to Buffalo on Lake Erie, is for sale,”[9] Thoreau found a sacred space and developed a sense of place. The significance of transcendentalism in promoting more tender feelings toward nature in the raw—in Thoreau’s case and in general—has been exaggerated. Unlike most Concord literati, Thoreau’s curiosity was tangible as well as intellectual. Thoreau, the one-time disciple, is embraced as the grandfather of environmentalism rather than Emerson, the one-time master and transcendentalist maestro. This is no quirk of history. The stoical Emerson never waded in a bog to commune with a seething mass of mating toads nor climbed a tree to feel the wind. For the orthodox transcendentalist, the study and appreciation of nature were essentially an extension of the study and appreciation of the human self. To rise above the physical to the spiritual realm required the stimulus of something awe-inspiring, such as wild nature. There was no demotion of the peerless human individual which lies at the core of ecological humility. The material world of nature was valuable to the extent that it served higher spiritual purposes. Nature had no autonomous, animate existence. Most who venerated nature for its symbolism were complacent about change, conceiving of nature as something eternal and immutable. How could mere humans destroy something divine?

Thoreau, by contrast, understood its vulnerability and left a scientific record of a period of intensified environmental impact, whose most striking agents were factories and railroads and of which the most dramatic manifestation was deforestation. Though he appreciated the need to use wood, advocating wise management, his attitude to trees was also shaped by a conviction that nature had rights. In 1857 he wrote in his journal after witnessing the removal of underbrush: “If some are prosecuted for abusing children, others deserve to be prosecuted for maltreating the face of nature committed to their care.”[10] Some have detected in his ranting against a dam on the Concord River (“Who hears the fishes when they cry? I for one am with thee, and who knows what may avail a crow-bar against that Billerica dam”[11]) not only an enlarged concept of community embracing non- humans but also the antecedents of 1980s ‘monkeywrenching’—direct action to liberate enslaved nature. Thoreau found inspiration for his “heathenism” in the Native American—not the degraded contemporary product but the undefiled aboriginal of the past and of the imagination. Contemporary deep ecologists, determined to extract maximum value from such pronouncements and positions, easily consolidate a variety of disparate utterances from different periods of his life into a coherent philosophy.

This imposed consistency overlooks the diversity, equivocality and messiness of his thinking. Proto-ecological elements in Thoreau’s make-up tend to be the result of transcending transcendentalism but he never managed to throw off its shackles entirely. Nor did he emancipate himself fully from the Puritanism transcendentalism rejected. No intellectual in New England’s Puritan heyday lapsed into the decadence of nature poetry, despite being surrounded by more breaktaking and intact wild beauty than remained for Thoreau to praise. Yet he could not liberate himself completely from this powerful heritage. Transcendentalism shared puritanism’s quest for a higher truth and moral code. The clash between Thoreau’s transcendentalist puritan and pagan selves is illustrated by his attraction to vegetarianism. In common with the zealots of Fruitlands, he believed man could rise above his baser animal instincts and residual wildness to a higher plane by avoiding flesh. Against this can be set the enthusiasm with which he caught fish as part of his subsistence economy at Walden Pond, and comments that on encountering a woodchuck he was “strongly tempted to seize and devour him raw.”[12]

Thoreau’s specific proposals were few and often expressed privately. He opined that each Massachusetts township “should have a park, or rather a primitive forest, of five hundred or a thousand acres, where a stick should never be cut for fuel, a common possession forever, for instruction and recreation.”[13] In 1858, inspired by the backwoods of northern Maine, writing in the Atlantic Monthly, he recommended the creation of “national preserves … in which the bear and panther, and some even of the hunter race, may still exist, and not be ‘civilized off the face of the earth.’”[14] Granted, there were no conservation organizations to join, but even had there been, he is unlikely to have joined let alone founded one. In the 1850s, there were far more pressing issues that occupied even his time. And yet, despite his abhorrence of slavery, he refused to join the local anti-slavery society and held reformers as a class in the greatest of contempt.

America’s mystical proto-ecologist has been better known in Britain (and the rest of the world) as a political dissident. Walden was cult reading for late Victorian radicals. Every early socialist intellectual who worshipped William Morris and Shelley as much as Marx and Engels is supposed to have carried a copy in his or her pocket, attracted by its critique of capitalism and materialism rather than its natural history. Robert Blatchford, the author of Merrie England (1893), claimed to have slept with Walden under his pillow. Though Thoreau never intended his paean to wild nature to be a blueprint, its value to the American environmental movement has been precisely the inspirational alternative path he pursued as well as preached. Not only Americans have marched to the beat of his green (as opposed to red) drum. The Victorian Englishman, Henry Salt, his first proper biographer, discovered Thoreau just as he was being converted to socialism, vegetarianism and the cause of animal rights. This lethal combination caused him to quit his teaching post at Eton in 1885 and retire (in semi-solitude—he had a wife) to a cottage in deepest Surrey where he tore up his gown and used the strips to tie his Thoreauvian beans to their poles.

Thoreau was relatively unknown in his lifetime outside Concord. Fellow New Englander and contemporary, George Perkins Marsh, did not suffer the same obscurity. The Marsh family had a secure position in the American intellectual aristocracy and George (1801-82) led a diverse career as lawyer, linguist, businessman, politician and diplomat. His interest in the deleterious role of human intervention in nature focused initially on deforestation in his native Vermont but eventually encompassed the globe. Marsh distilled his accumulated ideas and experiences into Man and Nature: or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action (1864). His great departure was to insist that man was an active and a free agent who shaped the earth more than it shaped him, and, moreover, frequently misshaped it. From his travels and studies, Marsh gleaned an arsenal of data to support his case for mismanagement. The deforested hills of the Mediterranean offered him an environmental explanation for the collapse of ancient civilizations. His American sections covered wildlife destruction but deforestation remained his central theme. The term ‘ecology’ did not yet exist but Marsh had a sound understanding of the proper workings of the natural system, the interrelatedness of parts, and the follies of human interference. He cited the vivid example of the massive destruction of pines by insects, concluding that “there is good reason to believe that man is the indirect cause of an evil for which he pays so heavy a penalty. Insects increase whenever the birds which feed upon them disappear. Hence, in the wanton destruction of insectivorous birds … man … is not only depriving his groves of their fairest ornament, but he is waging a treacherous warfare on his natural allies.”[15]

Many commentators have been unequivocal in their assessments of Marsh’s book. According to Michael Williams: “Here was the first stirrings of environmental awareness and the conservation movement, as it became known in the Western world.”[16] Man and Nature was the most comprehensive, synthetic and scholarly treatment of the relationship between man and nature over time to date. Walden had sold slowly, but Marsh’s first edition sold out within a few months and appeared in Italian editions in 1869 and 1872. A new English language edition, incorporating new material, was published in 1874 as The Earth as Modified by Human Action. Thoreau and Marsh addressed the same issue; proper use of the natural world—specifically use of trees. While Thoreau was short on practical suggestions, Marsh was replete with diagnoses and remedies such as the artificial propagation of fish. Yet he should not be read too narrowly as the precursor of the conservation later associated with Gifford Pinchot. Granted, he was primarily concerned with the dangers of man’s imprudent use of the earth for man himself “The earth is fast becoming an unfit home for its noblest inhabitant.” In the second edition, however, he called for the setting aside of land “in its primitive condition,” not only for education and recreation, but also as “an asylum where indigenous trees … plants … beasts may dwell and perpetuate their kind.” Current attitudes and behaviour were wrong as well as bad for people. “Man has too long forgotten that the earth was given to him for usufruct alone, not for consumption, still less for profligate waste.” He, too, found the American Indian an inspiration in the quest for a better, gentler creed, being particularly impressed by their way of extracting maple syrup, which released sap without damaging the tree.[17]

Another seminal work was John Wesley Powell’s Report on the Lands of the Arid Region of the United States (1878), hailed by Jacobs as “the first study of the land to call for a scientific and environmental understanding of the West.”[18] Powell, a one-armed veteran of the Civil War and explorer of the Colorado River, was chief of the infant U.S. Geological Survey. In the drier West, Powell believed the Jeffersonian homesteader vision bred of the humid, temperate, forested east had met its nemesis. Tossing out the sacred notion of 160 acres and the practise of arable farming, he warned that the West offered no scope for a massive settler influx and that a pastoral economy was the only kind attuned to the character of the land and suggested that 2,500 acres were the minimum required for a viable grazing operation. Powell’s sober views and his emphasis on the role of careful planning and government intervention were denounced as pessimistic and un-American. The report was shelved and the colonization of the ‘Great American Desert’ followed the established pattern.

4. The Conservation Movement

i. Pinchot, Forestry and Utilitarian Conservation

After the Civil War, in the trans-Mississippi West, the conquest of the continent culminated in what Vernon Parrington called the “huge barbecue … to which … all the important persons, leading bankers and promoters and business men, received invitations.”[19] Gilded Age governments remained loyal to the ingrained philosophy of ‘giveaway.’ Under the Timber and Stone Act of 1878, for example, any citizen could buy 160 acres of non- agricultural land for $2.5 an acre without having to live on it. The only requirement was that the buyer swore an oath that they would use the land themselves. Through an act granting swamp and overflow lands to the states, a good deal of prime forest land passed cheaply into corporate hands. In addition to blatant trespass and illegal appropriation, the lumber barons in particular perfected a series of devious methods to thwart the law. Trainloads of city folk were shipped out to a desirable piece of public domain, shepherded to the land office to file their individual timber-and-stone claims, where they paid with money provided by the barons and immediately sold to them. A favourite anecdote concerns the man who homesteaded a piece of prime timberland in Idaho. He swore he had cleared some of the land and planted a crop, cut timber, built a cabin, and eaten the potatoes he had raised. In fact he’d been hired to secure the land for a timber baron. He’d buried a sack of potatoes, built a minature house about four feet square, then dug up some of the potatoes and eaten them. Two days after entering his claim, he filled out the papers and secured ownership. [20]

The first flickers of a conservation conscience inside the federal government were a reaction to deforestation. Carl Schurz, Hayes’s secretary of the interior, was an immigrant who brought the more mature European perspective on natural resource management. In 1877, the reformer issued a report accusing the lumber barons of “not merely stealing trees, but whole forests.” Schurz managed to bring a few corporate culprits to heel and proposed federal forest reserves, reforestation and user fees. The reaction of congressmen from lumber states set the tone for parochial hostility to conservation over the next century. Conservation came out of the East but the major battleground was the ‘vest, which felt the same way about Washington’s proscriptions as colonial New Englanders did about London’s ‘broad arrow.’ Schurz’s conservation, like Powell’s recommendations, was un-American, a sinister bid to impose “Prussian methods.”[21] Wielding the financial axe as their handiest weapon, timber state and territorial politicians fought ‘internal colonialism’ by withdrawing funds for federal enforcement. The growth of saplings like Schurz was overshadowed and stunted by the towering timber barons during the 1870s and 1880s. Still, he had pointed the government toward stewardship, not least by bringing in a professional forester, Bernard Fernow (a fellow German immigrant), as the first chief of the new Division of Forestry. So far, though, there were no trees to look after. The first material success came in 1891 when President Harrison secured (through astonishing luck and duplicity) the Forest Reservation Act, which authorized the chief executive to carve reservations out of the public domain. Harrison withdrew 13 million acres within a month all of them west of the Mississippi. In 1897, Cleveland set aside another 21 million acres, also in the face of extreme congressional disapproval.

Now there were forests but no management policy. “Lock up,” the opposition’s term, suited those who wanted reservations to mean permanent non-use. Enter Gifford Pinchot, who took charge of the Division of Forestry in 1898. The Pinchot family fortune was partly based on logging profits and Gifford’s father, concerned over depletion, was eager for French methods to be introduced from the old country. There was nowhere in America to study forestry, so Pinchot was sent to the finest French and Swiss schools to study under Sir Dietrich Brandis, the German who founded forestry in British India. By the time Theodore Roosevelt assumed the presidency, Pinchot had added 40 million acres of forest reserve. In 1905 the (now) Bureau of Forestry became the U.S. Forest Service (of which Pinchot served as chief until 1911) and the reserves over which it had only recently won control from the Department of the Interior were redesignated as national forests. This institutional legacy was matched by an ideological legacy: the conservation-as-wise-use school, that coalesced around Pinchot. Though forestry was his first and remained his main love, he strove for a coordinated federal policy encompassing trees, soil, water and minerals. He claims to have coined the term ‘Conservation’—whose meaning had previously been restricted to the preservation of fruit and the keeping of bees—though he was aware of the British precedent in India, where government forests were called Conservancies and their foresters known as Conservators. The secret of his success was his intimate personal and professional relationship with Theodore Roosevelt, a rapport between agency chief and chief executive unique in U.S. history. By the 1980s, environmental awareness and consensus in Congress and the nation at large were sufficiently entrenched to frustrate a hostile executive branch. In the early 1900s, facing a legislature loath to fund federal initiatives, commissions and congresses, conservation was entirely dependent on presidential/federal leadership for its strength and momentum. T.R. and G.P. had boundless ambitions. In 1908, they organized a governor’s conference on conservation at the White House. The following year the president hosted a North American conservation conference attended by Canada, Newfoundland and Mexico. The first ‘Earth Summit’ convened in Rio, Brazil, in June 1992 but if T.R. and G.P. had had their way, it would have been held over seventy-five years ago. In contrast to Bush’s isolation in 1992, Roosevelt’s regime was in the vanguard of world conservation. During his administration’s dying days, he was planning a global conference. His successor, Taft, killed the initiative.

Pinchot’s policies were packaged for public consumption as a democratic crusade and the traditional view was that conservation typified the reformist, trust-busting nature of the Progressive era. Reassessments of Progressivism have directly affected interpretations of conservation. Samuel P. Hays rejected the liberal view, not to demonstrate that conservation was conservative, but to stress its essentially apolitical, modernizing character. Conservation, he argued, epitomized the managerial, efficiency, planning and generally technocratic goals of Progressivism, with its attempt to transfer decision-making from politicians to experts.[22] Opposition to unrestrained laissez-faire and haphazard exploitation did not make conservation anti- corporate. There is evidence that big business found it quite congenial. Curbs on production, avoidance of waste and reforestation met with the approval of businesses facing resource shortage in the long term and welcoming curbs on competition. The fiercest critics were often ‘the people’ not ‘the interests’.

For all the talk of ‘scientific management’ (which did not mean management on ecological principles), commercial gain remained the yardstick; in the national forests, grazing took precedence over watershed protection. There was obviously less difference between unregulated grazing and regulated grazing than between grazing of any kind and no grazing. It may have represented an advance over pioneer practise but involved much less of a break with the past in terms of attitudes to nature. The famous Alaska coal lands leasing dispute also obscured a high degree of ideological convergence between the warring parties. The controversy, after all, was over how, by who, and when the resource should be exploited, not over the principle of development. For Pinchot, non-use was as bad as wasteful use. Conservation was the solution to “the one great central problem of the use of the earth for the good of man.”[23] Utilitarian conservationists approached the natural world just as the sociologist, Lester ‘yard, approached society; bent on redesigning and improving. “The first great fact about conservation,” Pinchot reiterated, “is that it stands for development … The first principle of conservation is development.”[24]

Trees were a crop and forests were tree farms, so the forest service’s home in the agriculture department made sense. Pinchot fought efforts to create game reserves in national forest. He tried to bring existing national parks within his empire and, adamant that not an inch of land should be taken out of production, opposed all new ones. He preferred the company of lumber executives to that of neo-transcendentalists. Interestingly, he drew on the prudent husbandry of the American Indians—as opposed to their earth-worship—for support: “centuries before the Conservation policy was born, here was Conservation practice at its best.”[25]

The public, however, was less interested in utilitarian conservation than in preservation (‘aesthetic conservation’). The former emerged largely from within the federal government. The latter lacked a power base at the top and functioned more like a modern, grassroots environmental protest movement. Prominent at this local level were women—the fertile seedbed for a plethora of private reform initiatives in the late nineteenth-century. Women were among the earliest members of the Boston-based Appalachian Mountain Club (1876) and San Francisco’s Sierra Club (1892), and featured in more than a teamaking role. They spearheaded local campaigns to save New Jersey’s Palisades, California’s Calaveras Big Trees, and Colorado’s ancient cliff dwellings. The Daughters of the American Revolution, over 70,000 strong at the turn of the century, had a doughty conservation committee chaired by Mrs James Pinchot, Gifford’s mother, and the women’s conservation movement generally remained loyal to Pinchot until Hetch Hetchy. The General Federation of Women’s Clubs (1890) was another formidable instrument of persuasion, representing over three-quarters of a million women by the early twentieth-century. Mrs John Dickinson Sherman, chairwoman of the federation’s conservation committee, threw herself into the campaign for a national park service, writing 700 personal letters in 1916.[26] Birds, above all, attracted female attention. Women dominated early Audubon Society campaigns and, by 1915, counted for slightly over 50% of Auduboners. Women, through their hats, were large consumers of bird products. Their efforts (importation of wild bird feathers was banned in 1913) were assisted by the whims of fashion which, once again, came to the rescue of wildlife. Just as the shift to silk hats had saved the beaver, so the survival of certain birds was assured in the 1920s when large ungainly hats—often festooned with entire birds—largely became extinct; the bob provided no anchorage for a hatpin.

Contemporary feminists may cringe over women’s motivation. Conservation and preservation became magnets of righteousness attracting old stock Americans of both sexes unsettled by the forces of industrialization, urbanization, industrial conglomerations and ‘new’ immigration. Though opponents denounced the antics of ‘long-haired men and short-haired women,’ some women saw their involvement as an extension of the traditional female role as conservators of the home, the child, and the race. And for women like Mrs Matthew T. Scott, president general of the D.A.R., the values and racial purity of Anglo-America also needed protection. As she told the Second National Conservation Congress in 1910: “We … ancestresses of future generations, have a right to insist upon the conserving not only of our soil, forest, birds … fishes … but also upon the conserving of the supremacy of the Caucasian race in our land.”[27] Aesthetic conservation remains a supremely patriotic cause. Though shorn of its uglier overtones, love of the untamed American earth is a key facet of Americanism. As a bumper sticker issued by Earth First! exhorts: “American Wilderness: Love it or Leave it Alone.”

ii. Sportsmen and Wildlife

Wildlife provided the most numbing evidence of environmental despoliation. Buffalo and pigeon were the most blatant examples. John James Audubon, the first great American naturalist, demonstrates, though, that the sheer fact of mass destruction and disapproval thereof were insufficient to promote concern, let alone action. Audubon witnessed the wholesale slaughter of passenger pigeons in Kentucky in 1813, describing how “the authors of all this devastation began to move among the dead, the dying and the mangled, picking up the Pigeons and piling them in heaps. When each man had as many as he could possibly dispose of, hogs were let loose to feed on the remainder.” Yet he foresaw no long-term impact from the activities of “the tyrant of creation, man,” reflecting that though “persons unacquainted … might naturally conclude that such dreadful havoc would soon put an end to the species … I have satisfied myself by long observation that nothing but the gradual diminution of our forests can accomplish their decrease.”[28] 1813 was still the heyday of superabundance and the myth of inexhaustibility. Restrained estimates put the pre-Columbian pigeon population of the U.S. at between 3 and 5 billion and until the 1870s, despite the type of carnage Audubon witnessed, more pigeons hatched than were killed. The last wild pigeon was killed in 1899 and the last representative of the species, Martha, died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. In 1492 an estimated 60 million buffalo roamed North America. By the 1820s, the last specimen east of the Mississippi had been shot. A government survey in 1894 could only find about 80 wild animals and a further thousand or so in parks or ranches. The heyday of slaughter came in the 1870s, when buffalo were shot as a meat supply for railroad construction workers, to provide leather for the transmission belts of eastern industry and the boots of British soldiers, to supply robes for carriage rides, for trophies to adorn the study walls of eastern aristocrats, just for fun, and, not least, to starve out the last recalcitrant Indian tribes. This nearextermination provided the impetus for wildlife conservation.

John Reiger believes the role of wildlife and sportsmen has been neglected by historians of conservation. Distinguishing between two classes of hunter—those who shot for the market and the sportsmen who indulged in the chase for a variety of non-material reasons—the hunter-historian tries to show that love of nature and love of hunting were (and still are) compatible. The emergence of a professional ethic and group identity in the 1870s is seen in the mushrooming of mass circulation, national newspapers such as Forest and Stream and the proliferation of sportsmen’s clubs (over 300 by 1878). From the 1870s onwards, state law regulated bags, seasons and methods, set up game commissions and appointed wardens. Commercial hunting was abolished and the crowning achievement, the Lacey Act of 1900, outlawed interstate trade in game killed in violation of state laws. In 1903, Roosevelt created the first wildlife refuge—Pelican Island, Florida. (The first informal wildlife refuge was arguably Afognak Forest and Fish-Culture Reserve off the coast of Alaska [1892].)

The assertion that concern for wildlife rather than concern for forests, reclamation or parks marks the origins of conservation dethrones both Pinchot and the preservationists. Instead, Reiger enthrones George Bird Grinnell, arguing that the editor/proprietor of Forest and Stream was the earliest and most important influence on T.R., preparing him for Pinchot. Another revisionist impact is the pushing back of organized conservation’s origins to the 1870s. And whereas many historians characterize the conservation impulse as middle- class, Reiger identifies upper-class sportsmen as “the real spearhead.” His effort to pinpoint hunting and fishing as the key experience in the making of most early conservationists (“that first crucial contact with the natural world”) will never convince the non-hunting majority in the contemporary environmental movement but he is justified in heralding the prestigious Boone and Crockett Club (1888) as “the first private organization to deal effectively with conservation issues of national scope.”[29] Most importantly, he sees sportsmen as being in the vanguard of all three major foci of conservation activity in the late nineteenth-century; not only wildlife but also forests and national parks. Sportsmen were especially interested in effectively protecting Yellowstone’s beleaguered game, Grinnell leading the campaign for legislation (secured in 1894). Sportsmen who lobbied for parks—where all game was protected—cannot be accused of mere self- interest. Nor can Grinnell when he formed the Audubon Society in 1886—an organization dedicated to protecting non-game birds. He also used Forest and Stream to campaign for efficient forest management, advocated for reasons quite independent of game habitat preservation.

The elite Boone and Crockett Club (membership restricted to a hundred who had killed “in fair chase” at least three North American big game trophies) took its code from the British aristocracy but its name from the two most famous hunters in American history, from the days when hunting was a basic pioneer right. Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, in the context of the 1880s, were precisely those unscrupulous pot hunters who jeopardized their sport. That Francis Parkman was a member reveals a good deal. So does the role in its founding of politicians like future Massachusetts senator Henry Cabot Lodge. A prime function of sport hunting was the ritual reinforcement of old values in a changing America, a patrician protest against crass materialism and a nativist defence of American natural patrimony threatened by foreigners who hunted for base reasons. Unsurprisingly, many sportsmen conservationists shared the Anglo-Saxon supremacism of the time and regarded the outdoors as a wholesome, proper environment for Nordics, whereas lesser breeds flourished in the cities.[30] Game laws gave an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Revulsion against the status of songbirds in Italian cuisine led to some state laws banning the use of lime and nets, the barring of aliens from carrying or owning firearms and even from hunting altogether.[31] Hunting could also be a more positive expression of frontier nostalgia and cultural patriotism. For pioneering ecologist Aldo Leopold (an ardent, life- long hunter) there was “value in any experience that reminds us of our distinctive national origins … i.e. that stimulates awareness of history. Such awareness is ‘nationalism’ in its best sense … a boy scout has tanned a coonskin cap, and goes Daniel Booneing in the willow thickets below the tracks. He is re-enacting American history. He is, to that extent, culturally prepared to face the dark and bloody realities of the present.”[32]

iii. Muir and Preservationism

In the late 1970s, the California Historical Society chose John Muir as the greatest figure in Californian history. And for the modern American environmentalist, a visit to John Muir’s home at Martinez, California, is an act of homage of the same order as a pilgrimage to Lenin’s Tomb once was for a member of the Soviet Communist Party. Muir (1838-1914) spent his first eleven years in Dunbar, Scotland, followed by a spartan upbringing on a lean pioneer farm in Wisconsin, where he was force-fed a stern puritan ethic by his cruel father. Unlike Thoreau, Marsh and Pinchot, Muir experienced the direct, workaday confrontation with wild nature that usually bred hostility. He was one of the few early conservationists to emerge from within the pioneer tradition. He finally cut loose for ‘the University of the Wilderness’ and his travels eventually brought him to California. He spent the early 1870s living in Yosemite Valley, working at odd jobs and wandering in the Sierra, absorbing himself in glacial studies. In the later 1870s, as middle age caught up, Muir settled into family and business life as a fruit farmer. Forays into the mountains also became fewer as he threw himself into conservation politics. Muir is often portrayed as a scion of Thoreau but he came down to fight for what he loved. The skillful mountaineer became a skillful politician through a campaign to transfer Yosemite Valley to the surrounding national park. By the early 1900s, his writings were nationally famous and he could rarely walk in his cherished spots without suffering the smothering attention of his devotees.

The adolescent Muir’s unrelenting biblical diet shaped his every thought and expression. Christianity lay at the root of his environmental ethics. Muir’s case provides powerful support for those seeking an alternative Christian vision to set alongside the dominant anthropocentric tradition pilloried by Lynn White in his celebrated essay (1967) on Western religion’s responsibility for the environmental crisis. Muir threw out his father’s God but took in a more generous, almost pantheistic deity. Climbing mountains took him closer to God’s only true temples. He near-worshipped Emerson and carried Nature with him into the mountains but transcendentalism and romanticism merely reinforced his Christian convictions. According to a recent biographer, he first read Walden in 1872 at age 34.[33] The gulf between transcendentalist identification with nature and Muir’s visceral affection was highlighted when the ageing Emerson visited Yosemite in 1871. Muir invited his hero to spend a month hiking in the Sierra. Emerson declined, preferring the comforts of a hotel bed, explaining that “solitude is a sublime mistress but an intolerable wife.” That Emerson preferred “carpet dust” to a fragrant bed of pine needles was for thirty-something Muir a “sad commentary on the glorious transcendentalism.”[34] Muir had no need of mistresses. Wilderness solitude was for him the sublimest of wives.

In a journal entry in 1867-68, Muir lashed out at man’s dominion from God’s position:

A numerous class of men are painfully astonished whenever they find anything living or dead, in all God’s universe, which they cannot render in some way what they call useful to themselves. They have precise and dogmatic insight into the intentions of the Creator … Why should man value himself as more than a small part of the one great unit of creation? And what creature of all that the Lord has taken the pains to make is not essential to the completeness of that unit—the cosmos? They are earth-born companions and fellow mortals … They, also, are his children … How narrow we selfish, conceited creatures are in our sympathies! They … are part of God’s family, unfallen, undepraved and cared for with the same species of tenderness and love as is bestowed on angels in heaven and saints on earth.[35]

A major debate within a burgeoning Muirian scholarship focuses on the originality of his thought. The older view is that his primary significance fies in effective publicization of orthodox transcendentalist ideas. Deep ecologists, however, are keen to claim him as a subversive and early biocentric, citing his avant garde sympathy for the renegades and sinners of the animal kingdom—rattlesnakes, grizzlies and other predators—and expressions of contempt for ‘Lord Man.’ Though he clearly went far beyond Emerson and even Thoreau, the effort to construct a politically correct Muir tends to skip over elements such as his friendship with and admiration for magnates like E. H. Harriman, the owner, among other things, of the California state legislature and the Southern Pacific Railroad, who assisted Muir in securing the Yosemite recession. Yet the cultural context that ensured Muir was more influential than his New England predecessors deserves as much attention as the question as to whether his thought was derivative or innovative. Unlike Thoreau, Muir did not find himself stocking his library with his unsold books. The first 1,500 printing of The Mountains of California (1894) sold out within a few months and magazines with a circulation of 200,000, such as the nation’s premier literary journal, Century, eagerly solicited his articles. American society was clearly more receptive to the wild message by the end of the century. Muir’s literary success has to be considered in the context of the mood of anxiety born of the announced closing of the frontier and the wilderness cult that developed to cope with the implications for a frontier-nurtured culture. Frontier nostalgia and the celebration of the ‘strenuous life’ as a virile antidote to the dangers of national middle age and emasculating over-civilization forged a macho form of wilderness appreciation more potent than romanticism. The celebration of the wild in the wake of the frontier’s apparent passage into history was part of a groundswell that produced the Boy Scout movement and made a bestseller of Jack London’s The Call of the Wild (1903).

The tale of the rumpus following San Francisco’s application to dam the 2 square miles of 1100 square-mile Yosemite National Park represented by Hetch Hetchy Valley (1909-13) is probably the best known incident in U.S. conservation history. That the controversy marked the final break between Pinchot and Muir and set in stone the distinction between utilitarian conservation and preservation is a basic convention in the historical literature. Suffice to add that the dam threat was good for preservationism. It provided the first opportunity to put the case for wilderness preservation before a national audience. Hetch Hetchy also emphasized the dilemma of many Americans, within whom Pinchot and Muir vied for ascendancy. Theodore Roosevelt, for instance, had done a lot for the preservationist cause but came down, in this particular instance, on the side of the utilitarians, as did about a third of the Sierra Club. The Hetch Hetchy controversy seems a surprisingly modern one. The tactics are familiar; coalitionbuilding, lobbying through letters, petitions, telegrams, and articles. One broadside was sent to 14,000 newspapers. One senator received 5,000 letters protesting the decision to approve the permit. Through intensive lobbying, citizen-led aesthetic conservation received a political education. Hetch Hetchy suggested that future disputes over wilderness would figure prominently in U.S. political debate. Not least, it gave the preservationists an outrage, a guilt factor on which to play whenever parks were threatened: ‘Remember Hetch Hetchy!’ The most important immediate lesson was that the parks could not be defended on aesthetic grounds alone. The onus was on their advocates to prove that more revenue could be generated through preservation than by resource extraction.

iv. The National Parks

“Coca-cola, basketball, and National Parks: American contributions to world civilisation.”[36] The national park can be seen as a democratic reinterpretation of British precedent; the Victorian urban park and medieval royal hunting reserves like the New Forest. Indirect American precedents—urban and rural—can also be found. Colonial Massachusetts’s Great Ponds Act of 1641 set aside some 90,000 watery acres in perpetuity for public fishing and wildfowling. The industrializing nation’s growing desire for outdoor recreational opportunities was seen in the rural cemetery movement, such places being used for picknicking and taking the air as well as visiting the dead. The first of these was Mount Auburn, near Boston (1831). Though Boston Common was set aside as early as 1634, New York City’s Central Park (1861) was the first tract dedicated by a municipality entirely for public recreation and a hundred cities had followed its example by 1892. It is no coincidence that landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, its planner and an early manager, proceeded to play a leading part in the creation and management of the Yosemite Grant (1864, see below), serving as its first custodian. A more direct precedent was the establishment of the Hot Springs Reservation, Arkansas, in 1832, reserved for the nation to thwart private appropriation.

George Catlin, renowned painter of the vanishing Native American, is now usually credited with the national park idea. In 1832, while travelling in what is now South Dakota among herds of buffalo and ‘the wildest tribes’ and rueing their imminent extinction, he expressed the hope that these

joint tenants … might in future be seen, (by some great protecting policy of government) preserved in their pristine beauty and wildness, in a magnificent park, where the world could now see for ages to come, the native Indian in his classic attire, galloping his wild horse, with sinewy bow … What a beautiful and thrilling specimen for America to preserve and hold up to the view of her refined citizens and the world, in future ages! A nation’s park, containing man and beast, in all the wild and freshness of their nature’s beauty![37]

A fine example of how the romantic and primitivist spirit favourably reshaped perceptions of wild nature. Yet when national parks were created they bore little resemblance to Catlin’s living museum on the Plains.

Yellowstone is the icon but some regard Yosemite as the first national park in all but name. In 1864 the federal government (despite the preoccupations of the civil war) ceded to the state of California some 40 square miles of majestic scenery and the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees in the Sierra Nevada, to “be held for public use, resort, and recreation; … inalienable for all time.” Again, the move was a response to the beginnings of private acquisition. The concept was formally established in 1872 with the 3,300 square mile Yellowstone National Park in the Wyoming Rockies. The objects of attention here were fabulous geysers and bubbling mud pots. The size of the withdrawal can be explained as an insurance measure; there might be more geothermal wonders. The agricultural worthlessness of the region smoothed the bill’s passage. Once more, the move was to check the filing of legitimate private claims to public domain. No money was provided to manage the park until a meagre appropriation in 1877 and wildlife in particular remained unprotected until cavalry units appeared in 1886. ‘Geyser jamming’ continued through the 1870s. Hoping to provoke unnaturally spectacular eruptions, early visitors habitually clogged Old Faithful with trash.

Just as the U.S. Forest Service institutionalised the utilitarian ethos, the National Park Service (1916) granted preservationism official recognition. The parks are often regarded as the embodiment of the anti- commercial, idealistic impulse of conservation. Wilderness was preserved through park creation but this was not their raison d’etre. Their purpose was to to protect wonders of nature like giant sequoias, tumbling waterfalls, and gushing geysers from private exploitation. Conservation (let alone ecology) had little to do with the early park movement. The demands of cultural nationalism supplied the impetus. Lacking Europe’s historical and artistic monuments, Americans strove to combat cultural anxieties by enshrining their natural treasures. It followed that only stunning scenery and freaks of nature qualified. All late nineteenth-century parks conformed to the original criteria of monumentalism and worthlessness in terms of resource extraction. Areas known to contain commercial timber or minerals were excluded and park size was often reduced to exclude natural resources once they came to light. All were located in the still-wild mountain West. In 1890, Sequoia, General Grant and Yosemite National Parks came into being in the Sierra Nevada. (The Yosemite Grant was restored to federal control in 1906, becoming the heart of the Yosemite park.) Mount Rainier National Park, focusing on perhaps the most impressive single peak in the lower 48 states, was carved out of the North Cascades in 1899, the words ‘national park’ being first used in the enabling legislation for Rainier. The monumentalist, ‘rock and ice’ trend continued into this century, embracing the volcanic wonders of Crater Lake (1902) and Lassen (1916), and the rugged alpine scenery of Glacier (1910).

These national parks were matched by state parks, many of them east of the Mississippi. New York state took the lead here. For many Americans and Europeans, the tawdry commercialization and harnessing of Niagara Falls was the most shameful symbol of the youthful nation’s failure to appreciate its natural splendours. The bid to protect some of the area, begun formally in 1867, came to fruition in 1885 with the dedication of the Niagara Falls Reservation. That same year, the state legislature set up the Adirondack Forest Preserve, decreeing that an area the size of Switzerland should remain “forever wild” in the interests of watershed protection, public recreation, and wilderness preservation. Often overlooked in standard accounts is the Antiquities Act of 1906, which authorized the president to designate as national monuments by proclamation federal areas containing objects of historic, prehistoric or scientific value. Monuments almost immediately established included Devils Tower, Wyoming, Petrified Forest, Arizona, and Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. The advantage was that the temporizing of Congress and the delays inherent in the normal procedure for setting up parks could be circumvented at a stroke and a number of national parks originally came in through the back door as national monuments: Grand Canyon, Olympic, Zion and Bryce Canyon. And since the criteria for monuments were much vaguer than for parks, they sometimes proved far more amenable to environmental considerations. Saguaro cacti and redwoods, for example, achieved initial protection as monuments. Moreover, the monuments received much less publicity than the parks and were less prone to tourist development pressures. This neglect could furnish greater protection for nature than the parks.”[38]

Designation as park or monument did not protect per se from economic development. The Hetch Hetchy dam is prime evidence of the vulnerability of the fledgling parks as soon as a material use surfaced. Spared the lumberman, grazier, and miner, if not the dambuilder, parks succumbed to a different form of pressure-that exerted by mass tourism. The park service may have salvaged the parks from financial uncertainty and administrative confusion, but was ensured a complex future by coming into being with a dual, ambiguous mandate to “provide for the enjoyment [of the parks] in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Yet early proponents had little choice but to offer them as public “pleasuring grounds.” They had to beat utilitarian conservation on its own terms and meet the public at its level, justifying the parks’s existence to congressmen by emphasizing their usefulness and egalitarian appeal. Politicians would have laughed out parks to protect nature for its own sake or in the interests of wellheeled wilderness buffs. Muir knew this and assumed wholeheartedly the role of booster, conceding in 1898 that “even the scenery habit in its most artificial forms, mixed with spectacles, silliness and kodaks; its devotees … frightening the wild game with red umbrellas” was encouraging and good for the cause. [39]

Boosting visitation involved hotels, roads and entertainments, like the firefall, bear feedings, Indian rodeo, and zoo in Yosemite. Yellowstone developed its own carnival atmosphere. It made sense that the first director of the National Park Service (1915-29), Stephen Mather, was a successful businessman (like many fellow Sierra Clubbers) who applied his skills to selling the parks. Assisted by wartime disruption of travel to Europe, and backed by the railroads and the American Automobile Association, he launched a ‘See America First’ campaign. Already by the 1920s, more visitors came by automobile than by train. Few Americans (least of all Muir) thought that opening the parks to the automobile was anything but positive. After all, the Sierra Club’s declaration of purpose included the undertaking “to explore, enjoy and render accessible” the Sierra Nevada. One of the few apprehensive voices was that of the famous Scottish alpinist (and Liberal politician), James Bryce. In 1912, the British ambassador to the U.S. warned the American Civic Association that America was losing its distinctiveness in terms of the unusual abundance of wild places it once enjoyed. With specific reference to Yosemite and the deepening American love- affair with the auto, he preached:

There are plenty of roads for the lovers of speed and noise, without intruding on these few wild places where the wood nymphs and the water nymphs ought to be allowed to have the landscape to themselves. If Adam had known what harm the serpent was going to work, he would have tried to prevent him from finding lodgement in Eden; and if you were to realize what the result of the automobile will be in that wonderful, that incomparable valley, you will keep it out. The automobile means dust, it moves too fast and interferes with detailed esthetic enjoyment, it prevents contemplation, it destroys the whole feeling of the spontaneity and freshness of primitive nature.[40]

Autos were given the green light in 1913. The first Ford entered Yellowstone in 1915. The survival of the parks as viable institutions was assured, but their survival as nature was less certain. :Most visitors were auto-powered and viewed the parks as another roadside attraction. Others sought contact with nature but not necessarily wild nature. The smallest group—the purists—were prepared to take the wilderness ungilded but their interest remained anthropocentric. Spirits like Muir, who extolled the rights of nature, especially those of its least popular forms (like rattlesnakes) were a curiosity. Most preservationists happily countenanced predator eradication in the parks. The establishment of Everglades National Park in Florida (1934) over the protests of traditionalists who felt this area of dreary swamp was unworthy of hallowed park status marked a considerable victory for the biocentrists; the appeal of the Everglades resided in its wildlife. Steps were also taken to peel off some of the lily’s crasser layers of gilding. Bear feedings were abolished in Yellowstone and Yosemite in 1941 /42. Despite such biocentric gestures, the preservation of representative wildlife and environmental samples, “vignettes of primitive America” (to quote a pathbreaking report of 1963) are still struggling to become park service priorities.

Only now are Catlin’s “monotonous” grasslands gaining recognition as a candidate for admission to the system. Catlin, ironically, had employed the worthless lands argument himself, predicting that the Great Plains, from Canada down to Mexico, “ever must be, useless to cultivating man.”[41] He wildly underestimated their suitability for corn and wheat, hand hunger, and the capacities of technology. So when interest in elevating grasslands to park status emerged, only two significant remnants of tallgrass prairie survived (due to unsuitability for the plough), in the Flint Hills of eastern Kansas and Oklahoma’s Osage Hills. The proposed Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Oklahoma contains plenty of movement when the wind caresses the tallgrass but has lacked the more charismatic forms of animate nature since the teeming buffalo and their aboriginal hunters bit the dust. Reclamation of the biological past (and even the partial fulfillment of Catlin’s vision) will involve reintroducing elk, buffalo and pronghorn antelope.

A more tangible problem is the ‘being loved to death’ phenomenon. Overcrowding in Yosemite had struck one visitor as a problem as early as 1931. This wag felt that the only difference between it and an intersection in Los Angeles was that “they had trees and no traffic cops in Yosemite Valley, while at Seventh and Broadway they had no trees and a traffic Cop.”[42] The Sierra Club took formal note of the problem of overload in 1951 when it dropped the “render accessible” provision from its bylaws. Since the 1960s, biocentric dissent has flourished as never before. The most strident attack on the development faction within the park service and ‘industrial tourism’ was mounted by Edward Abbey, novelist and sometime seasonal park ranger, whose plan (1968) for their ‘salvation’ included: “No more cars in national parks. Let the people walk. We have agreed not to drive our automobiles into cathedrals, concert halls, art museums, legislative assemblies, private bedrooms and other sanctums of our culture; we should treat our national parks with the same deference, for they too, are holy places.”[43] Back with a twist is the patriotic idea of the national park as a shrine, a treasure on a par with the finest of human culture.

v. From the Twenties to the Fifties

Initially it may seem that periods of conservationist awareness and achievement coincide with the conventionally identified ages of reform: the Progressive era, the New Deal, and the New Frontier/ Great Society. So to the extent that America retreated from reform after 1917, the progress of conservation is also believed to have suffered. Yet the momentum had begun to fall off with T.R.’s departure (1909). Conservation under Taft degenerated into vapid meaninglessness, being stretched to cover a multitude of desirables even conservation of the money supply. The impact of World War One, which renewed the emphasis on squeezing maximum productivity out of natural resources, was seen in the admission of sheep to the national parks. A string of Republican regimes hostile to intervention unless it advanced corporate interests was bad news for a movement dependent on a vigorous central initiative.

The Teapot Dome oil leasing scandal is usually cited as the best indication of the backsliding temper of the twenties with regard to natural resource husbandry—the reservation for navy use of oil reserves being seen to epitomize the Progressive spirit. Others are less willing to accept that the impulse evaporated entirely. As historians look beyond Teapot Dome, and breathe life back into the corpse of reform,, so a fuller, more favourable picture of conservation is emerging. Burl Noggle argues that the zeal with which leading pre-war conservationists pursued the wrongdoings and wrongdoers in the Teapot Dome affair shows the Progressive spirit was alive and kicking.[44] And we have been reminded that aesthetic conservation came of age in the 1920s: “It was in the Jazz age … that the nation began its love affair with the national parks.”[45] The park service’s authority was demonstrated as early as 1919, when it defeated proposals to dam part of Yellowstone to irrigate Idaho farmland.

That post-war pursuit of prosperity and conservation were by no means antithetical is suggested by the founding of the Save-the-Redwoods League (San Francisco, 1918) and the Izaak Walton League (Chicago, 1922). Almost 40% of the former’s inter-war councillors were businessmen. (The era’s nativist tendencies were evident in the urge to preserve the remnants of an arboreal master race. Just as the Nordic was the finest human product of evolution, so the redwood was the perfect product of botanical evolution.)[46] The moving force of the fishermen’s fraternity, Will Dilg, like many of Walton’s founding members, were in sales and advertising. They worried about the loss of their favourite fishing holes and the emasculating tendency of modern civilization. Enervated boosters and regular fellows responded in droves to the call that drove Sinclair Lewis’s George F. Babbitt into the backwoods with his rod and flies in search of uninhibited masculinity. As Dilg explained in the league’s journal: “we are composed of thousands upon thousands of HE MEN.”[47] By 1925, there were over 100,000 Waltonians, vastly in excess of any other conservation organization. One of them was Herbert Hoover, who may have struck many as a cold fish, but was a passionate angler. The secretary of commerce’s inaugural address as honourary president of the Waltomans stressed that less pollution meant more fish. Extolling its “rejuvenating joy,” he showed that contact with “primitive nature” was part of twenties rugged individualism.[48] Through a series of (highly civilized) camping trips in frontier settings, Henry Ford expressed his nostalgia for the old America his product was doing so much to destroy. Ford was also a keen ornithologist and in 1911 had provided the financial backing for the Permanent Wild Life Protection Fund, the war chest of William Hornaday, the early century’s leading wildlife protectionist. The auto king instructed America’s six hundred Ford dealers in 1912 to write their congressman in support of a migratory bird protection bill.

Misleading as it is to speak bluntly of conservation’s return to favour in high places after 1932, the New Deal did give a fillip to the cause. The Civilian Conservation Corps was undoubtably FDR’s (and the nation’s) favourite New Deal programme. If any aspect of the New Deal can be called FDR’s personal creation, it was the CCC.[49] FDR’s usually sunny disposition was rarely sunnier than on the photographs of him lunching outdoors with some of the 2.5 million unemployed young men who served in its ranks. The CCC built dams, telephone lines, logging roads, trails, lookout towers and firebreaks in the national forests. On rangelands it re-seeded worn terrain, strung up barbed wire, dug wells, filled gullies, erected storage dams for thirsty cattle, and wiped out forage competitors like prairie dogs. The corps also planted trees—many of them for the christmas tree industry. In the national parks the accent was also on improving on nature. To enhance recreational opportunities, the corps built cabins, swimming pools, campgrounds, and ski facilities, and dammed streams for lakes. ‘Roosevelt’s Beavers’ is a more accurate label than ‘Roosevelt’s Tree Army.’ Prior to 1934, ranchers and sheepmen had run their stock at will over the arid and semi-arid public lands of the West. The Taylor Act withdrew from homesteading all remaining federal grazing lands and transfered them to a fee charging grazing service. The shift from sale to lease and regulation with the basic principle of development unchanged was classic Pinchotianism. The Tennessee Valley Authority was the ultimate monument to the utilitarian notion of integrated river basin development, delivering industrialization, flood control, and rural electrification. TVA captured conservation’s socio-economic reformism and its notions of planning, management and enhancement. Conservation’s main purpose remained not so much the defence of nature as the devising of more sophisticated, sustainable methods of attack.

Harold Ickes, the nation’s longest serving Interior Secretary (1933-46), invested a lethargic, sycophantic department with some of the same backbone and esprit de corps that Pinchot had instilled in the forest service. His achievements for both utilitarian conservation and preservation are another reminder of the dangers of casting the story of American conservation in terms of a simple dichotomy. Ickes pursued the creation of national parks with the same enthusiasm he put into mega- projects like Grand Coulee Dam. FDR also took a strong personal interest, making time to visit a number of parks. Both played a key role in pushing preservationism toward greater parity with the traditional developmental orientation of federal conservation.[50] The size of the park system more than doubled during Ickes’s tenure and the number of national monuments almost trebled, marking the FDR years as the most dynamic period of expansion in park history.[51] Even foresters were beginning to see beyond the timber to the trees. During the thirties, a faction called for the acceptance not only of recreation but also of wildlife and wilderness protection as legitimate objectives alongside timber harvest. In the vanguard was the wealthy radical and professional forester, Robert Marshall. By his death in 1939, sixteen wilderness areas had been set up within Indian reservations and 14 million acres of national forest withdrawn by administrative decree.

Conflict within preservation receives less attention than the conflict between preservation and utilitarian conservation. Yet grumblings from the ‘purists’ grew louder in the 1930s and Ickes moved closer to their position. In typically cantankerous fashion, he ranted against the auto and the degeneration of parks into “Coney Islands.”[52] Olympic and Kings Canyon in particular were striking triumphs, not only as they were fashioned out of national forest, but also because they were deliberately conceived as wilderness parks. A further break with the Mather- Albright tradition was the shift at the top of the park service in 1939 from a Mather-Albright protege to Newton Drury, an outsider with strong connections to leading preservationist organizations. A miffed Albright is alleged to have remarked that “Drury wants things so natural in the parks that he would like people to check their contraceptives at the entrance station.”[53] Nevertheless, preservationism, pure or impure, remained firmly anthropocentric. Spiritual uplift or fun? The priorities were both human.

FDR’s love of trees found its most expansive outlet in the shelterbelt programme of the Soil Conservation Service. 18,000 miles of trees were planted as part of the effort to heal the Great Plains between 1934 and 1941. Donald Worster has singled out the Dust Bowl as the most severe environmental catastrophe in the entire history of the white man on this continent.[54] The plainsmen blamed the weather and the thrust of federal relief was to mitigate a temporarily difficult situation until rain restored normality. Feed and seed loans were advanced, mortgages were refinanced. Reform measures were agronomist; shelterbelts, wells, removal of marginal land from production, and subhumid farming techniques. More technocratic conservation; improved means to traditional ends. Few Americans looked beyond the drought (as Worster does) at the long-term causes rooted in the nation’s habits and attitudes to nature. A handful did see the ‘dirty thirties’ as the logical outcome of capitalist culture. Pare Lorentz’s ‘The Plow that Broke the Plains,’ a documentary produced for Tugwell’s radical Resettlement Administration, implied that the sod should never have been busted, cast the tractor as the villain of the piece, and communicated a subliminal desire to deconstruct the settler’s monocultural reconstruction of the grasslands. The bold rhetoric of the federal report, The Future of the Great Plains (1936), about accepting natural restraints on the human economy—as Native Americans did prior to the beginnings of white occupation in the 1850s, and as Powell had recommended in the 1870s—was not reflected in its recommendations, which did not go far beyond government purchase of submarginal lands.

New Deal conservationists and a crop of ecologists found the nation little more receptive than Powell had found it a half century earlier. True, Marsh’s Man and Nature was dusted down and an Oklahoma botanist, Paul Sears, published a book, Deserts on the March (1935), which identified soil destruction as a crucial factor in the collapse of great civilizations. But as soon as the rains returned and war boosted demand, more virgin sod was busted and marginal land was put back into production.[55]

There is a tendancy to identify the Republican recapture of the presidency as the crucial act in the demise of New Deal conservation. The arrival at Interior of Douglas ‘Giveaway’ McKay, a Chevrolet dealer, is seen as the beginning of the backlash. According to Senator Wayne Morse, fellow Oregonian Republican, McKay’s appointment was “very good for the reactionary forces that are out to plunder the people.”[56] But Clayton Koppes pinpoints the Fair Deal as the source of discontinuity. In 1946 complacency set in when Ickes was replaced by Julius Krug, a former chief engineer for TVA. Krug’s priority was public power and preservationism left him cold.[57] TVA became little more than a power-generating unit tied to fertilizer production. The potential of the Taylor Grazing Act was ignored. Krug cuddled up to the graziers, quashing efforts to make them pay a realistic price. Ickes had thwarted the logger’s efforts to gain access to prime spruce in Olympic National Park during the war but Krug signalled willingness to delete its commercially valuable timberlands. The drift away from preservation continued under Oscar Chapman, who approved the Echo Park Dam in 1950 (see next section). Truman himself was supremely indifferent to the national parks, being the only president since Cleveland who failed to add any. In some respects, conservation’s fortunes improved under Eisenhower. McKay dropped the controversial dam in Echo Park and even added a new national park. He blocked moves to reduce Olympic, plant a reservoir in Glacier, and explore for oil in Everglades. On the utilitarian front, the federal government continued to expand its role in generating power though largely abdicating responsibility for directing its sale and use. The revulsion against large-scale reclamation projects in the 1960s, whether private or public, Democrat or Republican, would reveal the depth of the estrangement between traditional utilitarian conservation and the nascent environmentalism. Public support for preservation and environmentalism was growing regardless of changes in policy at the top.

5. The Transition to Environmentalism

i. Leopold and the Infusion of Ecology

If Thoreau is the nineteenth- century guru of contemporary environmentalism, and Muir its turn-of-the-century idol, then Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) is the mid-twentieth-century prophet—the great who almost made it into the promised land of the environmentalist era. Recent surveys confirm the status of his A Sand County Almanac (1949) as the movement’s bible. According to Dave Foreman, of the deep ecology group, Earth First!, it is “not only the most important conservation book ever written, it is the most important book ever written.”[58] Leopold was not born a prophet. His gradual awakening was a harbinger of the direction in which conservation would move. He began his career as a Pinchot protege, being one of the first graduates of Yale School of Forestry, established with Pinchot family money and dedicated to Gifford’s policy. Leopold’s first forest service assignments (1909) were in the Southwest and he took with him his mentor’s attitude to timber and wildlife as resources to be managed for maximum production of species valuable to humans. Useful wildlife meant deer and other game species. These discriminations had characterized wildlife conservation since the first alarm bells sounded for the buffalo. No animal was more vilified than the wolf, denounced as the “most despicable” of American creatures by wildlife protectionists and ranchers alike. Extermination of predators was one way to produce a healthy surplus of game and in 1920 the young forester vowed to track down “the last wolf or mountain lion in New Mexico.”[59]

The unforeseen consequences of successful predator eradication provided a painful object lesson in Leopold’s ecological education. Deer populations in the Southwest rocketed (between 1906 and 1924 in Grand Canyon Game Preserve, numbers increased from 4,000 to 100,000), exceeding the food supply and then crashing through mass starvation (60% in the Grand Canyon preserve died in the winter of 1925/6). Overpopulation and consequent denudation became a problem in the Midwest and Northeast too. Leopold no longer thought in terms of good and bad animals, nor of the land as a commodity. During the 1920s the dissident scientist also discovered Thoreau, who helped him to think of the land as an indivisible community of living organisms. Another major influence was Charles Darwin. Some approached evolutionary science and the ‘survival of the fittest’ notion as further legitimation of human dominion over nature. Yet central to Darwinian thought was the ‘web of life’ and the demotion of humankind from its position above and apart from the rest of nature to the rank of “plain member and citizen” of the biotic community. Evolution offered an entrance for ecology and was a potential boost to biocentrism. It taught Leopold humility and interdependence and restored a pre-Christian sense of kinship: humans were just “fellowvoyagers with other creatures in the odyssey of evolution.” [60] Another landmark in his growing disenchantment with inherited conservation was a trip to Germany in the mid-1930s. Trained to share Pinchot’s admiration for Europe’s intensively managed woods, he found them aesthetically dreary and botanically deficient. He calculated that most native plants in German forests had been eliminated by deer herds maintained at unnaturally high levels through predator control and artificial feeding. The result was a sterile monoculture with attendant decrease in soil fertility.

By this time, he had moved on to the U.S. Forest Service Products Research Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin. There was appropriate irony in the emergent ecologist submerged in an institution devoted to finding better ways of bleaching woodpulp and so forth. After a few frustrating years, he quit government service in 1928 to follow interests closer to his heart, working as a wildlife management consultant funded by the sport hunting ammunition manufacturers. His pioneering role was recognised in 1933 when the University of Wisconsin created for him the nation’s first chair of wildlife management. Leopold devoted much of his private life in his later years to restoring the battered, logged over lands of a portion of Wisconsin’s sand country, where he bought an abandoned farm and planted native pines and wildflowers.

Leopold was an historical ecologist determined to publicize the role of nature in a larger than human history. By the 1930s, what little prairie remained in Wiconsin survived by default in graveyards. He described a “yard-square relic … unreachable by scythe or mower” that flowered with Silphium each July. Then, one year, the fleck succumbed to the mower’s predation and he lamented how “If I were to tell a preacher of the adjoining church that the road crew has been burning history books in his cemetery, under the guise of mowing weed, he would be amazed and uncomprehending.”[61] Leopold and Frederick Jackson Turner were practically neighbours in Madison for a couple of years in the mid-twenties and Leopold took the historian’s conviction about the cultural importance of the frontier in America to heart. He too feared the loss of American exceptionalism, mourning the day when “the pack train will be dead, the diamond hitch will be merely rope, and Kit Carson and Jim Bridger will be names in a history lesson. Rendezvous will be French for ‘date’ and Forty-Nine will be the number preceding fifty.” He also took Turner a step further, asking: “is it not a bit beside the point for us to be so solicitous about preserving [American] institutions without giving so much as a thought to preserving the environment which produced them and which may now be one of our effective means of keeping them alive?”[62] In 1935 he and Robert Marshall were operative in founding the first organization specifically dedicated to wilderness preservation the Wilderness Society.

Like Thoreau, Leopold’s influence was largely posthumous, based on A Sand County Almanac, the essay collection he’d been working on since the 1920s but for which he’d been unable to find a publisher until the week before he died. In “Thinking Like a Mountain,” Leopold explained how he began to see the ecological light watching “a fierce green fire dying” in the eyes of a wolf he’d merrily shot as a trigger-happy young man. He had been struck by the ‘value of a varmint’ to the natural system as a whole, of which the mountain was his metaphor: “I have watched the face of many a newly wolfless mountain … I have seen every edible bush and seedling browsed … to death … a mountain lives] in fear of its deer … Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf” Nature, Leopold had learnt and now taught, has no favourites. The ultimate human delusion was to believe that the parts of value to humans would function without the other bits. Hence the need “to preserve all the parts”—a mechanistic image likely to appeal to his audience. The concluding piece, “The Land Ethic,” calls for humankind to renounce its concept of land as property and include the natural world within its ethical system. He attributed the lack of real progress in conservation (which “still consists largely of letterhead pieties and convention oratory”) to the failure to adopt a noneconomic ethic.[63]

ii. The Nuclear Age: 1945-62

The injection of ecology was insufficient to produce environmentalism. Ecological thinking forced an expansion and redefinition of conservation only in the context of a new order of scientific and technological menace. Earlier conservationists faced threats that were mild by post-war standards. Whatever the dangers to the land itself, they had assumed that the sky and water were inviolate. Before the war, Rachel Carson, a biologist and accomplished popular science writer, confidently believed that “much of nature was forever beyond the tampering reach of man: he might level the forests and dam the streams, but the clouds and the rain and the wind were God’s”.[64] Damage inflicted by detergents, insecticides, chemical fertilizers and synthetics was a post-1945 problem. Biologist Barry Commoner, the public face of ecology for millions of Americans, argued in 1971 that productive methods adopted since 1945 were responsible for 80-85% of total pollution output. He reported fantastic increases in the production of non-returnable soft drink bottles (up 53,000%), synthetic fibres (up 5,980%), plastics (up 1,960%) and pesticides (390%).[65]DDT, a wonder chemical invented in 1939, and deployed by the U.S. military in the war to control insect-borne diseases in Italy and the Pacific was redeployed on the domestic front against garden and field pests. The now familiar pollution issue muscled its way onto the agenda and became the leitmotif of the new environmentalism.

The splitting of the atom was the ultimate manifestation of the ageold, Baconian desire for total human mastery over nature. The bomb and its sibling, the peaceful atom, were catalytic in the advent of environmentalism. Insufficient Americans responded sufficiently positively to the alleged potential of military or civilian applications. The scientist’s public education movement began with the St Louis Citizens Committee for Nuclear Information (CNI) in 1958. CNI provided an antidote to official information on radioactivity, believing that decisions about science and its relationship to public and environmental welfare were too important to be left to politicians and so-called experts. Fallout provided an object lesson in ecology that no amount of Leopoldian eloquence could match. The interrelatedness of all forms of planetary life within one community was dramatised by Project Chariot, a proposal in the late 1950s to blast a harbour in arctic Alaska using nuclear devices. Opponents stressed the danger to native peoples from radioactive isotopes that concentrated as they moved up the relatively short and simple arctic food chain. Lichens saturated by radioactive nutrients were grazed by caribou which in turn were the staple of the local indigenes. Radioactivity levels in the bones of Alaskan Eskimos were already the highest in the nation.[66]

As the first American commercial reactor came on line in Pennsylvania in 1957, many conservationists remained sanguine about the potential of nuclear power as a clean, renewable energy source, not least as an alternative to damming wild rivers. The public debate over fallout from testing in Nevada during the 1950s, however, helps explain the galvanising impact of Carson’s Silent Spring (1962)—often dubbed the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of  the environmental movement. Fears were already being voiced by the end of World War Two, the scientific evidence to support the sceptics was already available, and Carson had tried to publicize the dangers as early as 1945. But Reader’s Digest was interested in bats rather than a piece on DDT. Within twenty years, her heavily-documented book about a potentially dull and arcane topic—pesticides—topped the bestseller lists and was serialized in Reader’s Digest, precipitating a controversy comparable to the furore a century earlier over The Origin of Species. Americans had been prepared by a decade-long discussion of the harmful effects of an insidious substance on humans and the rest of nature.[67] Carson’s opening scene of a small town rendered silent and lifeless by a “strange blight” drew on countless resonant images of nuclear holocaust: “in the gutters under the eaves and between the shingles of the roofs, a white granular powder still showed a few patches; some weeks before it had fallen like snow upon the roofs and the lawns, the fields and streams.[68]

Loss of faith in the benefits of science and technology and doubts over the entire thrust of human progress were close to the core of emerging environmentalism. Gloom and pessimism were new quantities. Traditional conservation was upbeat about the future, confident in the capacity of human contrivance to make the earth ever more efficient and productive. Neither did the preservationists pose many questions about basic values. A park here and a wilderness area there seemed enough for most. In the 1950s, Joseph Wood Krutch, a literary critic and biographer of Thoreau, warned that “Man’s ingenuity has outrun his intelligence.”[69] In 1966, Commoner called for “a new conservation movement . . . to preserve life itself.”[70] Ecology did not necessarily push conservation away from primary concern with human welfare. The post-war era of fresh menace also enhanced its anthropocentric content, even if one now needed to distinguish between what microbiologist Rene Dubos called “crude” and “enlightened” anthropocentrism.

Economic and demographic progress were both cause of the environmental crisis and the source of fresh attitudes. Affluence produced effluence but also a greater concern for quality of life issues like environmentalism, while increased leisure time expanded the clientele for outdoor recreation and the demand for wild nature. By 1950, a seventh of the GNP was being spent on leisure, fueling a booming outdoor goods industry—ranging from motorhomes to lightweight backpacking equipment. In 1950, there were 33 million visitors to the national parks. By 1983, visitation had risen to 327 million. Rising levels of education and an increasingly youthful population (by 1965, 50% of Americans were under 25) also contributed to the flowering of an environmental movement. Continuity between conservation and environmentalism was mostly provided by preservationism, which now came of age.

The wilderness cause—a key preservationist tenet—moved in from the periphery of conservation to the forefront of environmentalism. Wilderness symbolized a healthy ecosystem as well as offering a spiritual sanctuary and scope for satisfying a rising demand for ‘primitive’ recreation. The defeat of the Echo Park dam proposal in the 1950s illustrates the divergence between conservation and environ­mentalism. Ambitious plans to harness the Colorado involved drowning the canyons of Dinosaur National Monument. The preser­vationist community united and launched a massive campaign of persuasion. Particularly effective was the waving of the bloody shirt of Hetch Hetchy. A Sierra Club film juxtaposed shots of a dismal Hetch Hetchy reservoir at low water with footage of Yosemite Valley bursting at the seams with visitors on the same day. Wilderness enthusiasts had won the latest test case over the sanctity of the park system and demonstrated their numerical strength and political savvy.

The flowering of the so-called third conservation movement (that of the New Deal is frequently designated the second) was encouraged by the Democrats’s good husbandry after their recapture of the presidency in 1960. Stewart Udall, who served as chief custodian of the nation’s natural resources during the Kennedy Johnson years, brought greater dedication to the conservationist cause than any Interior Secretary since Ickes. The passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964 after a ten-year congressional deadlock provided the machinery to create a national wilderness system. Udall’s department also pioneered a system of National Seashores—the first significant additions to the national park system since the New Deal. Bids to dam the Colorado that would have impinged on Grand Canyon National Park were finally defeated in 1968, when Udall, an Arizonan, came round to the preservationist viewpoint. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 created a system for the protection of free-flowing rivers modelled on the Wilderness Act.

Meanwhile, preservationist organizations underwent professional­ization and tremendous expansion. The Sierra Club appointed its first fulltime, paid executive director in 1952. Under David Brower’s evangelical leadership, the genteel Californian hiking coterie became an aggressive, sophisticated and national political force. (Some would say the club was simply returning to its radical, Muirian roots after a period of complacency after 1914.) Brower attracted comparisons with John Brown in his mission to save the planet. A consequence of the club’s higher profile and greater militancy was the loss of its tax­deductible status in 1966, a move that did nothing to curb its popularity. In 1960, its membership stood at 15,000. By 1970, it had increased to 135,000.

6. Unfinished Business

How successful was nature’s defence prior to the onset of environmentalism? Plenty of scenery has been preserved but from the ecological standpoint of nature itself accomplishments under conservation were modest. And for radical critics of the main thrust of environmentalism, the cause of ecology and the ‘rights of nature have not advanced much since the early 1960s, despite the aforementioned achievements of that decade. Take the spotted owl. Over three-quarters of its habitat, the old-growth forests of Oregon and Washington, has been destroyed. The Endangered Species Act (1973) has furnished some protection but boundary lines in this case and others usually remain political, excluding the most commercially (and biologically) valuable areas. The similarities between Disneyland and the best-known national parks persist. In Yosemite Valley you can buy a takeaway pizza, develop your snapshots and rent a video. And though the massive Alaskan additions in 1980 more than doubled the amount of designated American wilderness and parkland, biologically critical terrain known to be oil-bearing (notably the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) has yet to receive the more durable and comprehensive protection conferred by park or wilderness status.

Thirty years after Silent Spring conservation for ecological ends is still in its infancy. Biodiversity is the key concept. Predator extermination in the national parks ended in 1936 but while grizzlies have been preserved in Yellowstone park, for example, dozens of other grizzly species have gone. Due to the loss of genetic diversity, many preserved animals constitute ‘the living dead.’ Defective sperm, kinked tails and other abnormalities among the thirty surviving Florida panthers in Everglades National Park indicate deteriorating genetic fitness—the natural world’s equivalent of the Hapsburg chin. Equally important are the maintenance of species diversity (the range of species within a habitat) and ecosystem diversity (the variety of habitats within a region). Statistics indicating quantity of protected land can be misleading. What counts ecologically is the distribution of these areas throughout a representative range of ecozones. Plenty of high alpine tundra is protected in California, yet hardly any of the state’s far more biologically productive grasslands, riparian forests or coastal wetlands remain. Nature must be defended outside the existing parks and refuges if marginalized species are to stand a chance. Over half the currently documented threats emanate from outside protected units. Since 1945 interference with inflowing water has drastically cut the population of freshwater wading birds in Everglades National Park. Logging continues in critical watersheds adjacent to Redwood National Park (1968) in northern California.

If John Muir had wandered around his beloved Sierra Nevada in 1992, the year his Sierra Club celebrated its centennial, he might also have concluded desolately that not much has been achieved since his death in 1914. Despite having grown to over 600,000 members, the club has been unable to defend the mountains that inspired it. Only 10% of the range is contained in parks. Over half the Sierra belongs to the U.S. Forest Service which remains devoted to Pinchot’s goal of timber harvest. Two-thirds of California’s giant sequoia are unprotected. Fire suppression has produced forests congested with brush and saplings and the soil, denied flaming rejuvenation, grows sterile. Pollution damages the trees that remain and those nominally protected in the parks. Streams are muddied by run-off from eroded clear-cuts, overgrazed range and road cuts. Urbanization is encroaching as Californians flee their connurbations. Many of the fastest growing counties in the nation’s most populous state are in the Sierran foothills, resulting, not least, in the reduction of the mule deer’s winter range. Smog levels in the parks rival those of urban California. Hundred mile views have been reduced to a bare five miles.[71] America’s natural wonderlands were well on the way to becoming denatured—‘mere’ scenery—when the parks were created in the heyday of conservation at the turn of the century. Now its getting hard to see even the scenery. America’s surviving non-human inhabitants—animate and inanimate—have yet to switch from a defensive to an offensive mode.

8. Guide to Further Reading

* For full bibliographical details, see the appropriate reference in the Notes as indicated.

Widespread interest in the history of conservation/ environmentalism coincided with environmentalism’s emergence as a prominent issue in the 1960s. Valuable starting points are Arthur A. Ekirch, Man and Nature in America (1963) (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1971), Udall’s accessible The Quiet Crisis and the Next Generation (1988, an update of his 1963 original)’, and “The American View of Nature” in Russel B. Nye’s This Almost Chosen People (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1966). An introduction via biography is Douglas H. Strong, Dreamers and Defenders: American Conservationists (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988). Peter Wild, Pioneer Conservationists of Western America and Pioneer Conservationists of Eastern America (Missoula: Mountain Press, 1979 and 195) covers much of the same ground (if less effectively) but includes some lesser knowns. Richard H. Stroud, ed., National Leaders of American Conservation (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1985) provides exhaustive biographical data.

Essential overviews are Gordon B. Dodds, “The Historiography of American Conservation: Past and Prospects,” Pacific Northwest Quarterly 56 (April 1965), pp. 75-81; Roderick Nash, “The State of Environmental History,” in Herbert Bass, ed., The State of American History (Chicago: Quadrangle, 1970, pp. 249-60; “American Environmental History: A New Teaching Frontier,” Pacific Historical Review 41 (1972), pp. 362-72; Lawrence Rakestraw, “Conservation Historiography: An Assessment,” Pacific Historical Review 41 (August 1972), pp. 271-88; Richard White, “American Environmental History: The Development of a New Historical Field,” Pacific Historical Review 54 (August 1985), pp. 297-335; and Philip G. Terrie, “Recent Work in Environmental History,” American Studies International 27 (October 1989), pp. 42-65.

Various anthologies meet the needs of a growing number of environmental history/history of environmentalism courses. The most recent and imaginative is Roderick Nash, ed., American Environmentalism: Readings in Conservation History (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1990), a revision of 1968 and 1976 editions. Nash has also edited Environment and Americans which contains historical interpretations rather than primary sources. Donald Worster, ed., American Environmentalism: The Formative Period, 1860-1915 (New York: Wiley, 1973), contains lesserknown selections and is slanted toward history of science. Frank E. Smith, ed., Conservation in the United States, 5 vols (New York: Chelsea House, 1971) is useful mainly for legislative and administrative details. By contrast, McHenry and Van Doren, A Documentary History of Conservation in America’ covers a broad range of human responses to nature and is dominated by literary, journalistic and other cultural sources.

For the European background consult the historical geographer Glacken’s monumental Traces on the Rhodian Shore, which first appeared in 1967. For the impact of colonization see Alfred Crosby, The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492 (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1972) and Kirkpatrick Sale’s impassioned The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy (New York: Penguin, 1991). On the question of Native American conservationism consult J. Donald Hughes, American Indian Ecology (El Paso: Texas Western University Press, 1983) and Vecsey and Venables, American Indian Environments’. For reviews of the literature pro and con see J. Baird Callicott, “American Indian Land Wisdom? Sorting Out the Issues,” Journal of Forest History 33 (1989), pp. 35-42, and Richard White, “Native Americans and the Environment,” in W.R. Swagerty, ed., Scholars and the Indian Experience: Critical Reviews of Recent Writing in the Social Sciences (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984). The process of environmental transformation triggered by colonization is discussed in William Cronon, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983). Carolyn :Merchant, Ecological Revolutions: Nature, Gender and Science in New England (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989), takes the story through the industrial revolution. For the environmental consequences of westward expansion see Richard A. Bartlett, The New Country: A Social History of the American Frontier, 1776-1890 (London: Oxford University Press, 1974), section 4; Jacobs, “The Great Despoliation: Environmental Themes in American Frontier History,” Pacific Historical Review 47 (February 1978), pp. 1-26 (reprinted in American Indian Environments)’. John Opie, “The Frontier and the Environment,” in Michael P. Malone, ed., American Frontier and Western Issues (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983), pp. 7-25, shows the link between frontier revisionism and environmental history. Cultural and intellectual factors conducive to aesthetic conservation are discussed in art historian Hans Huth’s Nature and the American: Three Centuries of Changing Attitudes (1957) (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990). Barbara Novak, Nature and Culture: American Landscape Painting, 1825-1875 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), deals with wilderness appreciation among American artists. Lee Clark Mitchell Witnesses to a Vanishing America: The Nineteenth-Century Response (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), traces how the receding frontier was memorialized in art, literature and photography. Mitchell argues that creative individuals like Catlin, Cole and Cooper may have been exceptional in talent but were unexceptional in their sentiments, representing an ambivalence over progress and a sensitivity to the loss involved that was more widespread than has been realized. Schmitt, Back to Aature26, while not directly concerned with conservation either, is an illuminating discussion of various turn-of-the-century manifestations of enthusiasm for nature—from the popularity of nature education and landscape photography to summer camps and the cult of the wilderness novel. The definitive intellectual history of wilderness appreciation is Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind (1967) (New Haven: Yale University Press, 3rd rev. ed., 1982). Frank Bergon, ed., The Wilderness Reader (New York: Mentor, 1980) is an anthology of classic American writings on wilderness. For details of political campaigns see Craig W. Alfin, The Politics of Wilderness Preservation (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1982). Also worth consulting is Max Oelschlaeger, The Idea of Wilderness: From Prehistory to the Age of Ecology (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991). Wilderness, it should hardly need pointing out, is a Euro-American cultural concept—and as ethnocentric as most—rather than a tangible environmental condition. Native Americans, of course, had no equivalent word or concept.

Most of the founding fathers/ grandfathers have received full monographic treatment in addition to their coverage in the aforementioned texts by Strong, Wild, Udall and Nash. For definitive biographies see David Lowenthal, George Perkins Marsh: Versatile Vermonter (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958); Wallace Stegner, Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: 3ohn Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1954); and Laura Wood Roper, FL 0: A Biography of Frederick Law Olmsted (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973). For Thoreau’s role see Worster, Nature’s Economy, Part 2. A treatment stressing Thoreau’s value to the contemporary deep ecology cause is Oelschlaeger, The Idea of Wilderness, which treats Muir and Leopold in similar fashion. Roderick Nash, The Rights of Nature: A History of Environmental Ethics (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), discusses the trio’s contribution to environmental ethics. Muir’s popularity is reflected in a rash of recent studies. The first based on his personal papers is Fox, The American Conservation Movement”, which serves double duty as biography and study of the fortunes of preservationism since Muir’s death. Michael P. Cohen, The Pathless Way: John Muir and the American Wilderness (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984) is less a biography than a study of his ideas and ethics. Frederick Turner’s Rediscovering America:John Muir in His Time and Ours (New York: Viking, 1985) is of limited value to the uninitiated. Lisa Mighetto, ed., Muir Among the Animals: The Wildlife Writings of John Muir (San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1986), has a revealing introduction on Muir and animal rights. Fox and Cohen have largely supplanted the older yet still engaging narratives by Linnie Marsh Wolfe, Son of the Wilderness: The Life ofyohn Muir (New York: Knopf, 1945), William F. Bade, The Life and Letters of john Muir (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1923-24), and James Mitchell Clark, The Life and Adventures of Yohn Muir (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1980). A detailed account of Muir’s political leadership is Holway R. Jones, Yohn Muir and the Sierra Club: The Battle for Yosemite (San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1965).

Pinchot languishes in comparative neglect. The most recent treatments are Clifford Geary, Gifford Pinchot: Forester and Politician (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1960), Harold T. Pinkert, Gifford Pinchot: Private and Public Forester (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1970), Roderick Nash, From These Beginnings: A Biographical Approach to American History (New York: Harper and Row, 1973), chapter 8, and Samuel P. Hays, “Gifford Pinchot and the American Conservation Movement”, in Carroll W. Purcell, ed., Technology in America: A History of Individuals and Ideas (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1981). For his predecessor, see Andrew Denny Rodgers, Bernhard Eduard Fernow: A ,Story of North American Forestry (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1951). The zoologist Paul R. Cutright’s Theodore Roosevelt: The Making of a Conservationist (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985) is short on analysis. Robert Shankland’s Steve Mather of the National Parks (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1954), is undocumented but the only biography. Donald Swain, Wilderness Defender: Horace M. Albright and Conservation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), covers the Mather administration as well as its successor. The most manageable treatment of Leopold’s ideas is Susan L. Hader, Thinking Like a Mountain: Aldo Leopold and the Evolution of an Ecological Attitude toward Deer, Wolves, and Forests (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1974). Three substantial works marked the centenary of his birth. Curt Meine, Aldo Leopold.- His Life and Work (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987) is formidably detailed if rather iconolatric. For comment on Leopold’s most influential work by historians and philosophers see J. Baird Callicott, ed., Companion to A Sand County Almanac: Interpretive and Critical Essays (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987) and Thomas Tanner, ed., Aldo Leopold: The Man and His Legacy (Ankeny: Soil and Water Conservancy, 1987). Scholars agree on the significance of Leopold and his legacy. The debate turns on the originality of his ideas. For a straightforward treatment of the leading 1930s wilderness campaigner see James M. Glover, A Wilderness Original; The Life of Bob Marshall (Seattle: The Mountaineers, 1986). The nearest to a biography of Rachel Carson (which includes selections from her writings) is a book by her friend and editor, Paul Brooks: The House of Life: Rachel Carson at Work (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1972). David Brower’s autobiography, For Earth’s Sake: The Life and Times of David Brower (Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith Books, 1990), includes much of his written output in connection with various causes.

There are fewer studies of prominent organizations. See Michael P. Cohen, History of the Sierra Club, 1892-1970 (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1988) for the fullest treatment. Michael L. Smith, Pacific Visions: California Scientists and the Environment, 1850-1915 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987) is of some relevance to the club’s history. The Save-the-Redwoods League is treated in Schrepfer, The Fight to Save the Redwoods46. James B. Trefethen, An American Crusade for Wildlife: Highlights in Conservation Progress (New York: Winchester, 1975) covers the Boone and Crockett Club. See also Oliver H. Orr, Saving American Birds: T. Gilbert Pearson and the Founding of the Audubon Movement (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1992). Thomas B. Allen, Guardian of the Wild: The Story of the National Wildlife Federation, 1936-1986 (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1987) is an official, celebratory chronicle of the largest U.S. conservation organization. Marcia Myers Bonta, Women in the Field; America’s Pioneering Women Naturalists (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1991) provides twenty-five female portraits. Material on organized womens’ groups in the early decades of conservation /preservation can be found in Janet Robertson, Those Magnificent Mountain Women: Adventures in the Colorado Rockies (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990).

Coyle, Conservation; An American Story of Conflict and Accomplishment”, claims to be the first history of the conservation movement. This undocumented, political account by an engineer is dominated by Pinchot, forestry, and utilitarian conservation in general -soil, river basin management, irrigation and rural electrification. For more probing discussions of conservation as an aspect of Progressivism see J. Leonard Bates, “Fulfilling American Democracy: The Conservation Movement, 1907 to 1921,” Mississippi Valley Historical Review 44 (June 1957), pp. 29-57; Hays’s revisionist Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency (1959)22; James Penick, Progressive Politics and Conservation: The BallingerPinchot Affair (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1968); and Elmo R. Richardson, The Politics of Conservation: Crusades and Controversies, 1897-1913 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1962). Merchant discusses the female role in “The Women of the Progressive Conservation Crusade,” in Environmental History (1985)21. Mandatory if hagiographical reading on the role of sportsmen and wildlife protection within the conservation movement is Reiger, American Sportsmen and the Origins of Conservation29. Dunlap, Saving America’s Wildlife”, focuses on non-game animals (especially wolves and coyotes) and the role of science, providing a non- hunter’s perspective. See also Lisa Mighetto, Wild Animals and American Environmental Ethics (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1991). For legal details see James A. Tober, Who Owns the Wildlife?. The Political Economy of Conservation in Nineteenth-Century America (Westport: Greenwood, 1981) and Michael Bean, The Evolution of National Wildlife Law (New York: Praeger, 1983). A valuable regional study is Morgan B. Sherwood, Big Game in Alaska: A History of Wildlife and People (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981).

Donald C. Swain, Federal Conservation Policy 1921-33 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963) takes the political and administrative story through to FDR. New Deal historians have rarely done justice to the role of conservation. An exception is Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Age of Roosevelt: The Coming of the New Deal (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1958), Part 5; “The Battle for Public Development.” For FDR’s role see A. L. Riesch-Owen, Conservation Under FDR (New York: Praeger, 1983). See also Swain, “The National Park Service and the New Deal” 4’ and Koppes, “Environmental Policy and American Liberalism”. Elmo R. Richardson, Dams, Parks and Politics: Resouce Development and Preservation in the Truman and Eisenhower Era (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1973) pushes the political narrative forward to 1960.

For a discussion of socio-economic changes favourable to environmentalism’s emergence see Samuel P. Hays, Beauty, Health, and Permanence.- Environmental Politics in the United States. 1955-1985 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987). On the shift from conservation to environmentalism see also Clayton R. Koppes, “Efficiency, Equity, Esthetics: Shifting Themes in American Conservation,” in Donald ‘Vorster, ed., The Ends of the Earth: Perspectives on Modern Environmental History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 230-51. Donald Fleming, “Roots of the New Conservation Movement,” Perspectives in American History 6 (1972), pp. 7-91, provides a complementary analysis of environmentalism’s intellectual origins. For an interim perspective see Grant McConnell, “The Conservation Movement: Past and Present,” Western Political Quarterly 7 (1954), pp. 463-78. Also worth consulting are compilations by John Opie, ed., Americans and Environment: The Controversy over Ecology (Lexington: Heath, 1971), and Carroll Pursell, ed., From Conservation to Ecology (New York: Cromwell, 1979). Michael McCloskey, “Wilderness Movement at the Crossroads, 1945-1970,” Pacific Historical Review 41 (1972), pp. 346-61 discusses the new era’s impact on a vintage cause.

The various components of the natural environmental and different categories and agencies of conservation/ protection are receiving attention. On trees, the thoroughness and readability of Williams, Americans and their Forests 16 is unlikely to be surpassed in the near future. Still useful is Thomas C. Cox et al., This fVell-Wooded Land: Americans and Their Forests from Colonial Times to the Present (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985). See also Harold K. Steen, The U.S. Forest Service: A History (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1976). The seminal park study from a cultural/ intellectual standpoint is Runte, National Parks (rev. 1987)40, which seeks to dispel the aura of altruism. An earlier, essentially political and administrative narrative is John Ise, Our National Parks: A Critical History (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1961). Individual studies are Runte, Yosemite:: The Embattled Wilderness (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990), Richard A. Bartlett, Yellowstone: A Wilderness Besieged (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1985), and Alston Chase, Playing God in Yellowstone: The Destruction of America’s First National Park (Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1986). Runte and Chase are savagely critical of park policy. On the state level see Philip G. Terrie, Forever Wild: Environmental Aesthetics and the Adirondack Forest Preserve (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1985). Local and regional studies are flourishing. J. Ronald Engel, Sacred Sands: The Struggle for Community in the Indiana Dunes (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1983) discusses the three-quarter century campaign to protect a piece of Lake Michigan shoreline near Chicago. Peter A. Coates, The Trans-Alaska Pipeline Controversy: Technology, Conservation and the Frontier (Bethlehem: Lehigh University Press, 1991) is the first monograph to investigate the evolution of conservationist concern over Alaska since 1867.

7. Notes

  1. Wilbur R. Jacobs, “Indians as Ecologists and Other Environmental Themes in American Frontier History,” in Christopher Vecsey and Robert W. Venables, eds., American Indian Environments: Ecological Issues in Native American History (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1980), p. 49. Back
  2. Stewart L. Udall, The Quiet Crisis and the Next Generation (Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith, 1988), p. 12. Back
  3. Robert McHenry and Charles Van Doren, eds., A Documentary History of Conservation In America (New York: Praeger, 1972), p. 172. Back
  4. “Indians as Ecologists,” p. 51. Back
  5. Clarence J. Glacken, Traces on the Rhodian Shore: Nature and Culture in Western nought from Ancient Times to the End of the Eighteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), p. 692. Back
  6. Ibid., p. 693. Back
  7. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, vol. 2, Appendix IV, (London: Fontana, 1968), pp. 977, 968, 975, 989. Back
  8. Francis Parkman, The Oregon Trail (Boston: Ginn, 1910), xxxvi. Back
  9. Michael Paul Rogin, Fathers and Children: Andrew Yackson and the Subjugation of the American Indian (New York: Knopf, 1975), p.103. Back
  10. As quoted in Donald Worster, Nature’s Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 73. Back
  11. Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849) (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), p. 37. Back
  12. Henry David Thoreau, Walden (New York: New American Library, 1980), p. 143. Back
  13. Milton Meltzer, ed., Thoreau: People, Principles and Politics (New York: Hill and Wang, 1963), p. 165. Back
  14. Henry David Thoreau, The Maine Woods (New Haven: College and University Press, 1965), p. 321. For Salt’s biography see The Life of Henry David Thoreau (London: Richard Bentley, 1890). Back
  15. George Perkins Marsh, Man and Nature (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965), p. 34. Back
  16. Michael Williams, Americans and their Forests: A Historical Geography (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 145. Back
  17. Man and Nature, pp. 36, 43, 327 (2nd edition), 36, 39. Back
  18. “Indians as Ecologists,” p. 53. Back
  19. Vernon L. Parrington, Main Currents in American Thought, vol 3: The Beginnings of Critical Realism, 1860-1920 (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1930), p. 23. Back
  20. David Cushman Coyle, Conservation: An American Story of Conflict and Accomplishment (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1957), pp. 16-17. Back
  21. The Quiet Crisis, p. 87. Back
  22. Samuel P. Hays, Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency: The Progressive Conservation Movement, 1890-1920 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1959). Back
  23. Gifford Pinchot, Breaking New Ground (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1947), pp. 322. (Pinchot’ autobiography.) Back
  24. 24. Gifford Pinchot, The Fight for Conservation (Garden City, N.Y.: Harcourt, Brace, 1910), p. 42. (Pinchot’s self-promoting account of early conservation.) Back
  25. Breaking New Ground, p. 25. Back
  26. Peter Schmitt, Back to Nature: The Arcadian Myth in Urban America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1969), p. 159. Back
  27. Carolyn Merchant, “The Women of the Progressive Conservation Crusade, 1900-1915, in Kendall E. Bailes, ed., Environmental History: Critical Issues in Comparative Perspective (Lanham: University Press of America, 1985), p. 165. Back
  28. David D. Anderson, ed., Sunshine and Smoke: American Writers and the American Environment (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1971), pp. 171-72. Back
  29. John Reiger, American Sportsmen and the Origins of Conservation (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1986), pp. 21, 48-9, 23. Thomas R. Dunlap, “Sport Hunting and Conservation, 1880-1920,” Environmental Review 12 (Spring 1988), pp. 51-60, takes issue with Reiger’s thesis on several counts, questioning the extent to which wildlife protection and sportsmen were representative of Progressive era conservation. Donald J. Pisani, “Forests and Conservation, 1865-1890,” Journal of American History 72 (September 1985), pp. 340-59, also argues that a conservationist ethic predated Progressivism. Back
  30. Madison Grant, The Passing of the Great Race (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1916), pp. 37-45. Back
  31. Thomas R. Dunlap, Saving America’s Wildlife: Ecology and the American Mind, 1850-1990 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), pp. 12, 179. Back
  32. Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac (New York: Oxford University Press, 1949), p. 177. Back
  33. Stephen Fox, The American Conservation Movement: John Muir and His Legacy (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1981), pp. 82-3. Back
  34. As quoted in A Documentary History of Conservation, p. 69. Back
  35. John Muir; William Bade, ed., A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1916), pp. 136, 139, 98-99, 139. Back
  36. Roderick Nash in John C. Hendee et al, Wilderness Management (Washington, D.C.: Forest Service, Department of Agriculture, 1978), p. 43. Back
  37. George Catlin, North American Indians (London: Penguin, 1989), p. 263. Back
  38. See Hal Rothman, Preserving Different Pasts: The American National Monuments (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1989). Back
  39. A Documentary History of Conservation, p. 292. Back
  40. Alfred Runte, National Parks: The American Experience (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979), pp. 158-9; Roderick Nash, Environment and Americans: The Problem of Priorities (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972), p. 63. Back
  41. North American Indians, pp. 262-63. Back
  42. Robert G. Athearn, The Mythic West in Twentieth-Century America (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1986), p. 199. Back
  43. Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness (New York: Ballantine Books, 1968), p. 60. Back
  44. Burl Noggle, “Oil and Politics,” in John Braeman, Robert Bremner and David Brody, eds., Change and Continuity in TwentiethCentury America: The 1920s (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1968), p. 52-53. Back
  45. Donald C. Swain, “The National Park Service and the New Deal, 1933-1940,” Pacific Historical Review 41 (February 1972), p. 313. Back
  46. Susan Schrepfer, The Fight to Save the Redwoods: A History of Environmental Reform (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1983) p. 43. Back
  47. The American Conservation Movement, p. 161. Back
  48. Herbert Hoover, The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover: The Cabinet and President, 1920-33 (London: Hollis and Carter, 1952), p. 157. Kendrick Clements, “Herbert Hoover and Conservation, 1921-33,” American Historical Review 84 (February 1984), pp. 67-88, focuses on the great engineer’s proclivity for utilitarian conservation and his achievements in that field. Back
  49. John A. Salmond, The Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942: A New Deal Case Study (Durham: Duke University Press, 1967), p. 8. Back
  50. See H.T. Watkins, Righteous Pilgrim: The Life and Times of Harold L. Ickes. 1874-1952 (New York: Henry Holt, 1990). Back
  51. “The National Park Service and the New Deal,” p. 316. Back
  52. Ibid., p. 330. Back
  53. The Fight to Save the Redwoods, p. 76. Back
  54. Donald Worster, Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), p. 24. Back
  55. Ibid., pp. 181-230 for New Deal conservation with regard to agriculture. Back
  56. Elmo Richardson, “The Interior Secretary as Conservation Villain: The Notorious Case of Douglas ‘Giveaway’ McKay,” Pacific Historical Review 41 (August 1972), p. 335. Back
  57. Clayton Koppes, “Environmental Policy and American Liberalism: The Department of the Interior, 1933-1953”, in Environmental History: Critical Issues in Comparative Perspective, p. 451. Back
  58. Mark Vaz, “Leaves of Green,” Sierra 71 (May/June 1986), p. 56. Back
  59. David Rains Wallace, “Sand County’s Conservation Prophet,” Sierra 72 (November/December 1987), p. 64. Back
  60. Sand County Almanac, pp. 24, 109. Back
  61. Ibid., p. 46. Back
  62. Aldo Leopold, “Wilderness as a Form of Land Use,” Journal of Land and Public Utility Economics 1 (1925), pp. 403-4, 401. Back
  63. Sand County Almanac, pp. 129-32, 207, 209. Back
  64. Frank Graham, Since Silent Spring (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1970), p. 13. Back
  65. Barry Commoner, The Closing Circle: Confronting the Environmental Crisis (London: Cape, 1971), pp. 142-3. Back
  66. Peter A. Coates, “Project Chariot: Alaskan Roots of Environmentalism,” Alaska History 4 (Fall 1989), pp. 1-31. Back
  67. Ralph H. Lutts, “Chemical Fallout: Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Radioactive Fallout, and the Environmental Movement,” Environmental Review 9 (Fall 1985), pp. 211-25. Back
  68. Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1966), pp. 21-22. Back
  69. Joseph Wood Krutch, The Measure of Man (Indianapolis: Bobbs­Merrill, 1954), p. 25. Back
  70. Barry Commoner, Science and Survival (London: Ballantine, 1971), p. 151. Back
  71. See Tom Knudson, “The Sierra in Peril,” five-part special report; The Sacramento Bee, 9-13 June 1991. Back

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