The Hidden History of
Of all the decisions any society must make, perhaps the most fundamental ones concern the natural world, for it is upon earth's biota— its plants, animals, waters, and other living substances—that all human existence ultimately depends. Different cultures have approached this challenge in different ways, each trying to match their needs for natural resources with their vision of a just and well-ordered society. The following pages explore how one culture—that of the United States—attempted to balance these often competing objectives during a key moment in its environmental history: the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when in an unprecedented outburst of legislation known as the conservation movement, American lawmakers radically redefined what constituted legitimate uses of the environment. Over just a few short decades, state and federal governments issued a flurry of new laws concerning the hunting of game, the cutting of trees, the setting of fires, and countless other activities affecting the natural landscape. We live amid the legacy of these years, which has bequeathed to us many of the institutions—parks, forest reserves, game laws, wardens, rangers, and the like—that even today govern our relations with the natural world.
Among historians, the conservation movement is best known for what Richard Grove once termed its “pantheon of conservationist prophets”: celebrated figures such as George Perkins Marsh, John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, and Theodore Roosevelt, who collectively laid the