The Conservation Movement

The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920.

A ” stump farm ” created by clear-cutting the Tillamook forest. [Oregon Historical Society]
The Conservation Movement was born out of the fear that the nation’s resources were vanishing. The idea that the resources of the United States started to disappear in the late nineteenth century. By 1880 the West was beginning to be completely “colonized.” Homesteader Acts, such as the Timber Culture Act of 1873 and the Timber and Stone Culture Act of 1878 promoted the sale of land in the West. Much of this land ended up into the hands of timber companies trying to fulfill lumber needs. Lumber needs that came from the Second Industrial Revolution of the 1870’s. With the Revolution came massive extraction of Western resources. Forests were being clear-cut, leaving not a single tree in the luggers wake. Mountains were being shot with high power water cannons, that left the land scared. Even worse, was the dangerous materials that were flowing into the water supplies of communities near this extraction. Upper-class citizens and politicians, both groups believing that this needed to stop. In hope of, saving the West from destruction, preserving the beauty of nature, and to ensure that future generations had resources. Wealthy citizens, such as Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, and John Muir, used their status to try to conserve or preserve the West.


A political cartoon using Theodore Roosevelt advertising the Conservation Movement.

Members of the Conservation and Preservation Movements tried to stop the plunder of the West. These groups lobbied and sponsored laws, some of which failed. All which had the goal of trying to halt dangerous and damaging resource harvesting. TCA, the TSCA, the Forest Reserve Act of 1891, the Organic Act of 1897, and the Antiquities Act of 1906 were these laws. TCA is the only exception to these laws. it did not succeed, like some of the others, but it was not intended to preserve land or to conserve resources. It was a coincidence that the law had farmers trying to conserve timber, by growing it for later use. The TSCA, the FRA, the OA, and the AA, were intentionally designed to save the wilderness from destruction


A political cartoon using Theodore Roosevelt advertising the Conservation Movement.

Some of the mentioned laws were failures at conservation or preservationist goals. While some were too unrealistic if what they did. Companies found ways around these laws. The laws themselves were reliant on the good intentions of people or had weak regulations. It took the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt to end the plunder of the West. Roosevelt, during his presidency, made sweeping changes to conserve the resources of the West. The millions of acres he reserved, using the Forest Reserve Act, established the backbone of the National Park System. This action set the tone for future presidents in matters of aggressive conservation. The Antiquities Act is why the National Park System even exists. The AA gave future presidents the authority to reserve land for public use, protecting the wonders of nature. Not only were Roosevelt’s actions and policies as president important to the Movement. But his ability to rally people under him makes him relevant to the topic of conservation.