N o progressive cause of the early twentieth century was more sacred than the conservation of natural resources. But conservation was a loosely defined goal, and conservationists could advocate significantly different courses of action. Some were preservationists, lovers of unspoiled nature, eager to halt the encroachment of technology and safeguard large tracts of wilderness. Others were managers, people who admired efficiency and hated waste. The managers wanted to use timber, minerals, oil, and water but to handle these resources prudently, replacing, replanting, recycling whenever possible in order to prevent wasteful depletion.
Both schools of conservationists deplored the abuses that had flourished in nineteenth-century Florida. Lumbermen had grabbed millions of acres of public land through bargain purchases and construction grants for railroads and canals. They had chopped down the timber but had made no attempt to replant. In similar fashion commercial hunters had ruthlessly destroyed the wildlife, slaughtering alligators, deer, bears, herons, and egrets. Canneries and packinghouses had depleted the supplies of clams, shrimp, and fish. When the state embarked on its drainage program in 1905, most progressives applauded this effort to reclaim the swamps and foster agriculture. At first only a few farsighted naturalists like John K. Small warned that reckless drainage might disrupt South Florida's unique plant and animal life and destroy the soil itself through muck fires, erosion, and subsidence. As these dire predictions began to come true, a wider public came to realize that water was not a nuisance to be gotten rid of but a resource to be husbanded. The organization of water conservation leagues to combat the ship-canal scheme during the 1930 s gave evidence of this new awareness.
The preservationists achieved their most significant Florida victory on 9 December 1947, when President Harry Truman formally