2 minute read


Conservationist Movement Founded, Global Environmental Efforts

Conservation is the philosophy that natural resources should be used cautiously and rationally so that they will remain available for future generations of people.

American conservationist thought has evolved from its inception in the mid 1850s, when naturalists, businesspeople and statesmen alike foresaw environmental, economic and social peril in the unregulated use and abuse of North America's natural resources. Since those early attempts to balance the needs and desires of a growing, industrialized American public against the productivity and aesthetic beauty of the American wilderness, American environmental policy has experienced pendulum swings between no-holds-barred industrial exploitation, economically-tempered natural resource management, and preservationist movements that advocate protection of nature for nature's sake.

Government agencies instituted at the beginning of the twentieth century to guide the lawful, scientifically sound use of America's forests, water resources, agricultural lands, and wetlands, have had to address new environmental concerns such as air and water pollution, waste management, wildfire prevention, and species extinction. As the human population increased and technology advanced, American conservation policies and environmental strategies have had to reach beyond United States borders to confront issues like global warming, stratospheric ozone depletion, distribution of global energy and mineral resources, loss of biodiversity, and overuse of marine resources.

An organized, widespread conservation movement, dedicated to preventing uncontrolled and irresponsible exploitation of forests, land, wildlife, and water resources, first developed in the United States during the last decades of the nineteenth century. This was a time when accelerating settlement and resource depletion made conservationist policies appealing both to a large portion of the public and to government leaders. European settlement had reached across the entire North American continent, and the census of 1890 declared the American frontier closed. The era of North American exploration and the myth of an inexhaustible, virgin continent had come to an end. Furthermore, loggers, miners, settlers, and ranchers were laying waste to the nation's forests, prairies, mountains, and wetlands. Accelerating, wasteful commercial exploitation of natural resources went almost completely unchecked as political corruption and the economic power of lumber, mining and cattle barons made regulation impossible.

At the same time, American wildlife was disappearing. The legendary, immense flocks of passenger pigeons that migrated down the North American Atlantic coast disappeared entirely within a generation because of unrestrained hunting. Millions of bison were slaughtered by market hunters for their skins and meat, and by tourists shooting from passing trains. Logging, grazing, and hydropower development threatened America's most dramatic national landmarks. Niagara Falls, for example, nearly lost its untamed water flow. California's sequoia groves were considered for logging, and sheep grazed in Yosemite Valley.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Condensation to Cosh