Federal Conservation Policy, 1921-1933

Federal Conservation Policy, 1921-1933

Federal Conservation Policy, 1921-1933

Federal Conservation Policy, 1921-1933

Excerpt

THE ORGANIZED CONSERVATION MOVEMENT in the United States is essentially a twentieth-century phenomenon, yet the impulse to conserve natural resources is not new. As long ago as the seventeenth century, government officials in the American colonies attempted to protect certain important raw materials, but early efforts to save resources utterly failed. Surrounded by natural abundance, Americans saw no need for frugality. They exploited land, timber, and game with reckless abandon, and their wastefulness continued as the years passed. After the Civil War a significant number of men, especially scientists, began to recognize that the nation's natural resources were dwindling and that measures had to be taken to prevent ultimate resource exhaustion. During the 1860's and 1870's, small but enthusiastic groups of citizens began working to save wildlife, and local organizations in the West sought to preserve watersheds. In the nation's capital, scientific societies joined in a plea for federal action to protect existing timberlands. Yet the idea of limiting resource use was alien to the American tradition. Nurtured in the belief that natural resources were inexhaustible, the vast majority of people remained hostile to the concept of conservation. Accordingly, the early conservationists made only slight progress. Their major triumphs were the establishment of the first forest reserves and the creation of a few national parks.

Government scientists and administrators contributed to the early development of the conservation idea. Wrestling with the complex problem of Western economic development, particularly the quest for water, John Wesley Powell and others like him were forced to think in utilitarian terms. During the 1880's they began to preach that resources Should be developed purposefully and according to plan, a concept that became the basis for a new conservation philosophy. Once systematized, the utilitarian gospel spread quickly. Before the turn of the century, federal administrators had displaced the preservationists as the driving force behind the effort to conserve natural resources, and the conservation cause, now rooted in utilitarianism, gained popularity.

The first truly national conservation program took form during the initial decade of the twentieth century, and under the aegis of President Theodore Roosevelt federal resource agencies moved toward a more sophisticated understanding of the conservation concept. Gifford Pinchot, an energetic and colorful young man, leader of the government . . .

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