When the first European colonists came to the New World, they were impressed with the natural resources they found. They viewed the natural world as something that was to be used, tamed, and controlled by man. Their days were spent working the land, hunting, and simply surviving. If an animal was a threat, like the wolf or the mountain lion, then they wanted to eliminate it. If they needed more land to farm, they drained a marsh or cut down a forest. They really didn't have the time to simply appreciate nature for itself! That view of the role of nature was common until the mid 1800s when the Conservation Movement was born.
The Conservation Movement was at its height between 1850-1920 and was the result of a number of social and economic factors. The movement's goal was to preserve and promote the wise use of the nation's natural resources, and it led to the development of national parks; flood control; reforestation; and the preservation of minerals, soil, water, and wildlife resources.
A Break from the City
During this period, more and more people were leaving rural towns and villages for jobs in the cities. As they left their farms behind and moved into crowded and dirty cities, they developed a sentimental attachment to what they had left behind and a desire to preserve the natural landscape where they could and to create places where they could escape the pressures of the city. Improvements in transportation and more leisure time allowed Americans to take up camping, hiking, bird watching, and other outdoor activities as a way to escape crowded cities. Places like Central Park in New York were built to serve as an oasis for weary city dwellers.
Power of Organization
During the Conservation Movement local and national groups formed to help promote conservation and protect natural resources.
The Power of Words and Pictures
Artists, photographers, and writers were capturing and writing about the natural landscape of the West. When Americans saw these works they realized that those areas needed to be protected from the kind of development that had changed the landscape in the East.
A Picture's Worth a 1000 Words
In 1871, the U.S. government sent a team led by Ferdinand Hayden on an expedition to Yellowstone. Two of the members of the group were landscape artist Thomas Moran and photographer William H. Jackson. The nature images that these two artists brought back from the expedition convinced Congress and the public that Yellowstone needed to be protected. In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant designated Yellowstone as the United States first national park.
Power of the President
President Theodore Roosevelt was an avid outdoors man and hunter and also played a critical role in the Conservation Movement.