Why was the idea of conservation not adopted by large numbers of American citizens until the early 20th century?  How did Theodore Roosevelt exercise presidential leadership on this issue?


          SEC 6. That the Secretary of the Interior is hereby authorized and directed to use the reclamation fund for the operation ad maintenance of all reservoirs and irrigation works constructed under the provisions of this Act: Provided, That when the payments required by this Act are made for the major portion of the lands irrigated from the waters of any or the works herein provided for, then the management and operation of such irrigation works shall pass to the owners of the lands irrigated thereby, to be maintained at their expense under such form of organization and under such rules and regulations as may be acceptable to the Secretary of the Interior: Provided, That the title to and the management and operation of the reservoirs and the works necessary for their protection and operation shall remain in the government until otherwise provided by Congress.

Source:   Reclamation Act/Newlands Act of 1902.



In 1859, Nevada was not; and its mineral wealth was unknown. In that year, the outcroppings of the great Comstock lode ... were revealed ... . Adventurers of every sort hurried over the mountains from California, regardless of weather, or means, or any other element of comfort and success. There were of course wide disappointment and terrible suffering, much social disorder, and shocking political anarchy. But the greatest silver deposit in America was revealed; the science of mining was rapidly carried to a greater perfection than was ever reached before; and Nevada soon became a State. ...

(page 300) It is well understood that there is a government title, which, if ultimately insisted on, is beneath all titles to mining property; but Congress has already sufficiently settled the principle that the claims of the discoverers and miners...shall be respected by the government. It should be added that the miners rights are superior to all other rights of property except the government title. The survey, location and ownership of a piece of land as real estate gives no right, under the miners laws, to the minerals which it contains.

Source:  Our New West by Samuel Bowles, 1869.


           "It is entirely our power as a nation to preserve large tracts of wilderness...as playground for rich and poor alike, and to preserve the game...But this end can only be achieved by wise laws and by a resolute enforcement of the laws. Lack of such legislation and administration will result in harm to all of us, but most of all harm to the nature lover who does not possess vast wealth. Already there have sprung up here and there through the country, as in New Hampshire and the Adirondacks, large private preserves."

Source:  Theodore Roosevelt excerpt from essay on Yellowstone National Park.





It is high time for the whole civilized world to know that many of the most beautiful and remarkable birds of the world are now being exterminated to furnish millinery ornaments for womens wear. The mass of new information that we have recently secured on this traffic from the headquarters of the feather trade is appalling. Previously, I had not dreamed that conditions are half as bad as they are.

Source:  Our Vanishing Wildlife; itís Extinction and Preservation by William T. Hornaday, 1913.




 Founded Recent Membership
American Forestry Association 1875      35,000
Sierra Club 1892    450,000
Wildlife Conservation International  1895      34,000
National Audubon Society 1905      50,000
National Parks and Conservation Association 1919      70,000
The Izaac Walton League of America 1922      50,000
The Wilderness Society 1935     220,000
National Wildlife Federation 1936 5,800,000
Duck Unlimited 1937    610,000
Defenders of Wildlife 1947      80,000
The Nature Conservancy 1951    343,000


To the Senate and House of Representatives:

          . . .The conservation of our natural resources and their proper use constitute the fundamental problem which underlies almost every other problem of our national life. . ..As a nation we not only enjoy a wonderful measure of present prosperity but if this prosperity is used aright it is an earnest of future success such as no other nation will have. The reward of foresight for this nation is great and easily foretold. But there must be the look ahead, there must be a realization of the fact that to waste, to destroy, our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed. For the last few years, through several agencies, the government has been endeavoring to get our people to look ahead and to substitute a planned and orderly development of our resources in place of a haphazard striving for immediate profit.

          Optimism is a good characteristic, but if carried to an excess it becomes foolishness. We are prone to speak of the resources of this country as inexhaustible; this is not so. The mineral wealth of the country, the coal, iron, oil, gas, and the like, does not reproduce itself, and therefore is certain to be exhausted ultimately; and wastefulness in dealing with it today means that our descendants will feel the exhaustion a generation or two before they otherwise would... The preservation or replacement of the forests is one of the most important means of preventing this loss. We have made a beginning in forest preservation, but . . . so rapid has been the rate of exhaustion of timber in the United States in the past, and so rapidly is the remainder being exhausted, that the country is unquestionably on the verge of a timber famine which will be felt in every household in the land. . . . The present annual consumption of lumber is certainly three times as great as the annual growth; and if the consumption and growth continue unchanged, practically all our lumber will be exhausted in another generation, while long before the limit to complete exhaustion is reached the growing scarcity will make itself felt in many blighting ways upon our national welfare. About twenty per cent of our forested territory is now reserved in national forests, but these do not include the most valuable timberlands, and in any event the proportion is too small to expect that the reserves can accomplish more than a mitigation of the trouble which is ahead for the nation. . . . We should acquire in the Appalachian and White Mountain regions all the forest-lands that it is possible to acquire for the use of the nation. These lands, because they form a national asset, are as emphatically national as the rivers which they feed, and which flow through so many States before they reach the ocean. .

Source:  Theodore Roosevelt's Seventh Annual Message to Congress Dec. 3, 1907.



The American people have evidently made up their minds that our natural resources must be conserved. That is good. But it settles only half the question. For whose benefit shall they be conserved for the benefit of the many, or for the use and profit of the few? The great conflict now being fought will decide. There is no other question before us that begins to be so important, or that will be so difficult to straddle, as the great question between special interest and equal opportunity, between the privileges of the few and the rights of the many, between government by men for human welfare and government by money for profit, between the men who stand for the Roosevelt policies and the men who stand against them. This is the heart of the conservation problem today.

Source:  The Fight for Conservation by Gifford Pinchot, 1910.



"More and more, as it becomes necessary to preserve the fame, let us hope that the camera will largely supplant the rifle." - Oyster Bay, NY, May 31, 1901

"The conservation of our natural resources and their proper use constitute the fundamental problem which underlies almost every other problem of our national life." - Jamestown, Virginia June 10, 1907

"Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful means, the generations that come after us." - Osawatomie, Kansas, August 31, 1910



The primary cause of the buffalos extermination, and the one which embraced all others, was the descent of civilization, with all its elements of destructiveness, upon the whole of the country inhabited by that animal. From the Great Slave Lake to the Rio Grande, the home of the buffalo was everywhere overrun by the man with a gun; and, as has ever been the case, the wild creatures were gradually swept away, the largest and most conspicuous forms being the first to go.

Source:  The Extermination of American Bison by William T. Hornaday, 1889.




A <http://rs6.loc.gov/ammem/ndlpedu/conserv/thinking.html>
B <http://rs6.loc.gov/ammem/ndlpedu/conserv/thinking.html>
C Excerpt Theodore Rooseveltís essay on Yellowstone National Park.
D <http://rs6.loc.gov/ammem/ndlpedu/conserv/thinking.html>
E <http://www.edf.org/AboutUs/h_earlyorg.html >
F Teddy Rooseveltís 7th annual message to Congress, December 3, 1907.
G <http://rs6.loc.gov/ammem/ndlpedu/conserv/thinking.html>
H Van Hise, Charles. The Conservation of Natural Resources Jerome S. Ozer Publisher.
I <http://rs6.loc.gov/ammem/ndlpedu/conserv/thinking.html>

DBQ Question created by
Michelle Di Biase
Class of 2001
Maria Regina H. S.
Hartsdale, NY
created in:  April, 2000