Preserving Our Endangered Heritage

By Madison, Mark | Endangered Species Update, July 2000 | Go to article overview

Preserving Our Endangered Heritage


Madison, Mark, Endangered Species Update


History, like wildlife, can become endangered through indifference or destruction. With that thought in mind, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) created a Heritage Committee a little more than a year ago to oversee the preservation of our agency's historic role in wildlife management. To this end, the Committee oversaw the creation of archives, the hiring of our agency's first historian, and national campaigns to collect objects, texts, and oral histories from those who shaped our history. Wildlife conservation and endangered species have played a prominent role in these histories.

The FWS has been at the forefront of species protection and reintroduction in recent years, but Heritage Committee discoveries have found this was not always the case. In 1917, for example, Dr. Edward Nelson, the head of our predecessor agency, the Biological Survey, enthusiastically reported, "There is little question that in five years we can destroy most of the gray wolves and greatly reduce the numbers of other predatory animals."

In the ensuing 82 years, the FWS and its predecessors have evolved from the premier predator eradication agency to a conserver of wild things. Charting the changing role of our agency in response to new ideas in wildlife conservation and environmental protection has been a primary objective of Heritage Committee members as they seek to make sense of our tangled environmental legacy. Through examining historical records, we have discovered that some early FWS biologists, such as Olaus Murie, said as early as the 1940's that the agency should eliminate its predator control efforts and focus on restoration. …

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