Crimes against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation

Crimes against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation

Crimes against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation

Crimes against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation

Synopsis

Crimes against Nature reveals the hidden history behind three of the nation's first parklands: the Adirondacks, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon. Focusing on conservation's impact on local inhabitants, Karl Jacoby traces the effect of criminalizing such traditional practices as hunting, fishing, foraging, and timber cutting in the newly created parks. Jacoby reassesses the nature of these "crimes" and provides a rich portrait of rural people and their relationship with the natural world in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Excerpt

The volume that you hold in your hands is not the book I planned to write when I began this project some eight years ago. Initially, I set out to describe the rise of a peculiar American enthusiasm: the wilderness cult that, beginning in the latter half of the nineteenth century, propelled growing numbers of America’s new urban classes into the United States countryside. What better way to approach this subject, I reasoned, than to focus on the history of American parks, which in the closing decades of the nineteenth century underwent an abrupt transformation from obscure locales to popular tourist destinations?

No sooner did I venture into the archives, however, than this tidy research project began to fall apart. Instead of encountering accounts of proper bourgeois tourists communing with nature, I found myself stumbling over documents about poachers, squatters, arsonists, and other outlaws. At first, I tried to ignore these materials. After all, most of the histories of the American conservation movement I had consulted suggested that, unlike in modern-day parks in Africa, Asia, or Latin America, where confrontations between conservation officials and local inhabitants remain commonplace, such conflicts have been rare in the United States. They supposedly occurred only in distant Third World countries, not in a developed nation like the United States.

Yet the more familiar I became with the documents produced during the early years of American conservation, the harder it became for me to maintain the view that poaching, squatting, timber theft, and other . . .

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