Posts Tagged ‘conservation’

Teddy Roosevelt, Our National Monuments, and The Antiquities Act of 1906

On the 8th of June, 1906, President Teddy Roosevelt signed into law the Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities, more familiarly known as the Antiquities Act of 1906. The law gives the President of the United States the authority, by executive proclamation, to create national monuments from federally-owned public lands in order to protect important “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest.” On September 24, 1906, almost four months after he signed the bill, Roosevelt proclaimed Devils Tower in Wyoming as the first national monument in the United States. Devils Tower was the first of many that he would designate as national monuments under his presidency.

Since the first day of its signing, the law has been steeped in controversy pitting lawmakers, landowners, and resource extraction industries against environmentalists, conservationists, and federal land managers who have sought greater protections. Just last month President Trump ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review national monuments created since 1996, which the President called “a massive federal land grab.”

With this review now taking place it’s a perfect time for science and social educators alike to explore with their students the history and background of the Antiquities Act and the lands the act is meant to protect. There are some basic question that teachers may want to ask their students:

  • What are national monuments and why do we need them?
  • What was the intent of the Antiquities Act of 1906?
  • What protections does the law afford, and what rights and responsibilities do landowners and lesees have inside national monument lands?
  • What scientific and cultural values do these national monuments have?

The current review by the Trump administration will look at around 24 national monuments designated since 1996, many of which reside in California, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada. You can learn more in eLibrary about our nation’s national monuments and the national parks that were originally designated as monuments. Not yet a subscriber to ProQuest products? Request a Free Trial here!

Here is a partial list of the national monuments under review by the Trump administration:

Bears Ear National Monument
Vermilion Cliffs
Canyons of the Ancients
Giant Sequoia National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

And here is a sample of national monuments and national parks that were originally designated as national monuments:

Chaco Canyon (New Mexico)
Mesa Verde National Park
Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona)
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (Arizona)
Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)
Olympic National Park (Washington)
Muir Woods National Monument
Death Valley National Park (California)
Katmai National Park and Preserve (Alaska)
Crater Lake National Park (Oregon)
Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)

The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of the American Bison

Pile of Bison Skulls

Pile of bison skulls, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Recently, while watching a show about the West on PBS, I was stunned by a photograph from the 1870s of a man standing atop a 20-foot-high pile of bison skulls. There were so many bison carcasses blanketing the plains–left by hunters who were mostly interested in the skins–that industrious settlers began collecting and delivering them to railroad lines to be shipped east for processing. The ground bone was used for such purposes as the production of bone china and to clarify wine, but the biggest demand was from the fertilizer industry–the product was tilled into soil to add calcium and phosphorus. So, in a weird circle-of-life arrangement, settlers cleared land of the bison remnants so that they could farm and then bought back the ground up bones to return them to the land.

The photograph is a graphic reminder of the one of America’s darkest wildlife episodes. It is estimated that the bison population before 1800 was from 10 million to 70 million (estimates vary wildly), and the animals were seen by those who exploited them to be an unending resource. That idea was proven incorrect, as the number of bison fell to fewer than a thousand by the end of the 1800s.

Hunters poured into the plains to cash in on the growing demand for bison hides. They would kill the animals, skin them and leave the rest to rot. Hunters were also contracted to kill the animals for meat for railroad workers–“Buffalo Bill” Cody got his nickname by being a prolific hunter for a railroad, supposedly killing more than 4,000 bison in a year and a half. Another method of hunting was for a train to slow to the speed of a herd, allowing men to fire rifles from the windows and the top of the cars for an easy slaughter. The role of Native Americans in the collapse of the bison population is still being debated. While the popular narrative is that Native Americans only killed numbers necessary for sustenance and used all parts of the animal, some argue that their involvement in the fur trade and their adoption of the white man’s hunting techniques made them significant in the decline of the bison.

In addition to excessive hunting, it is believed that grazing competition and diseases from European cattle also played a part in the downfall of the American bison.

Biston RT

From the Bison Research Topic page, via ProQuest eLibrary

By the mid-1880s, there were a few hundred wild bison left on the continent, marking the near complete destruction of a species. Along the way, there had been some laws to protect bison from wanton killing, but they were largely ignored or not enforced. In 1884, Congress called upon the Army to protect the 25 or so animals living in Yellowstone National Park, and later the American Bison Society was formed to increase the bison population. In addition, there had been ranchers who had been attempting to build private herds and zoos had kept some animals. These efforts and the establishment of the National Bison Range gradually allowed bison numbers to increase. Today, more than half a million American bison exist–about 30,000 in conservation herds and the rest kept as livestock, and most of the bison living today are hybrids resulting from managed interbreeding with domesticated cattle.

The decimation of the bison is considered to the be inspiration for the modern conservation movement, and the species’ restoration has been hailed as a great conservation success. Currently, there are calls to expand the range of bison in the grasslands and allow them to come closer to their original role as a keystone species in the ecological scheme of the Great Plains, much to the concern of cattle ranchers who worry about the spread of disease to their stocks. The story of the bison’s comeback may not be over yet, so stay tuned.

Wilderness Act Turns 50

national park

ProQuest eLibrary Research Topic

A wilder
ness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.
Wilderness Act of 1964

On September 3rd, 1964, after eight years of debate, 66 different rewrites, and 18 public hearings, the United States Congress signed the Wilderness Act and created the National Wilderness Preservation System. In the process, the law designated an initial 9.1 acres of wilderness in 13 states under protection including the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana and the Ansel Adams Wilderness in California. Since then, over 100 million more acres have been preserved for future generations. This week will mark its 50th anniversary.

Wallace Stegner

Wallace Stegner.
Image by Peter Jones/—Corbis/Compton’s by Britannica via ProQuest eLibrary

Although staunch congressional conservationists like Stewart Udall of Arizona and Frank Church of Idaho were the principal legislators responsible for pushing the legislation through congress, capped by President Lyndon Johnson’s signing, it was people like Howard Zahniser, leader of the Wilderness Society and primary author of the legislation, and writer Wallace Stegner who, throughout most of his life wrote in defense of wild places, that were two of the most important inspirational lights for preserving our last vestiges of wilderness.

So, why do we need federally protected wilderness areas? How are they different from other protected areas like national parks?

Like national parks, the Wilderness Act allows for recreation, such as camping, hiking, horseback riding and canoeing. Unlike national parks, the law prohibits permanent structures, mechanized vehicles, building of roads, logging, and drilling.

Certainly, one of the primary reasons for designated wilderness is the protection of habitat for a diverse population of plants and animals. Wilderness can also serves as a scientific laboratory, a “scientific yardstick,” as Stegner noted,  to measure the “untrammeled” natural world against the imbalanced man-made world. Without this “yardstick” we would never have anything to measure the impact we have on other ecosystems affected by man.

But there are deeper, more spiritual reasons we as humans need wilderness. As Wallace Stegner noted in his letter to David Pesonen, we need wilderness to renew our soul from time to time, to remind us that there are places where the primeval forces of nature are still at work creating a world untouched by the artifices of a man-made world. We need the silence of the wilderness so that we may hear the music of the forests, rivers and mountains that so often are interrupted by the mechanized world of cities and highways. More importantly, above all, these wilderness areas belongs to all Americans who want to seek it out, and not just for a few fortunate enough to own vast tracks of wildlands. This, above all, is why we need wilderness.

You can find out more about wilderness areas and the Wilderness Act of 1964, information related to wilderness, and the people who spearheaded the legislation in eLibrary’s extensive collection of information. You can search for wilderness areas by searching each state’s forest and parks that contain them e.g., California Forests and Parks.

Research Topics:

Biomes and Ecosystems
Endangered Species
National Parks
National Wildlife Refuge System
United States Forest Service

Browse Topics:

Environmental Law
Naturalists & Ecologists

Thoreau’s “Walden” Published 160 Years Ago

Walden Pond“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” (1)

This week, 160 years ago, Henry David Thoreau published “Walden; or, Life in the Woods.” For two years, two months, and two days, Henry David Thoreau spent his time in a cabin he built near Walden Pond, a plot of land just outside of Concord, Massachusetts owned by his mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson. This is where the seeds of “Walden” would be cultivated and influence every environmental and conservation writer since.

Most people think of Thoreau’s “Walden” as a meditation on simply living, self-reliance, and the value of nature and wilderness. But for Thoreau the value of wilderness wasn’t just about the superficial appreciation for nature, it was also an appreciation of wilderness as a metaphor for the adventurous human Henry David Thoreau3spirit. “Be rather the Mungo Park, the Lewis and Clark and Frobisher, of your own streams and oceans; explore your own higher latitudes … be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you …”. (2) With “Walden,” Thoreau became the leading light for all writers to follow in the coming environmental and conservation movement. His introspections on nature and wilderness and why it is valuable to human existence influenced the later writings of many leading environmentalists and conservationists, past and present, including John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and Wendell Berry.

eLibrary has an array of resources on Henry David Thoreau, “Walden,” and other nature writers and writings on wilderness and conservation of wild places.

Explore these resources and more:

Research Topics:

Henry David Thoreau
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Walden; or, Life in the Woods

Browse Topics:

American Literature
American Transcendentalism
Conservation & Biodiversity
Henry David Thoreau

(1) Corrente, Linda. Walden, Barron’s Booknotes. Barron’s Educational Series Inc., 2004. eLibrary.
(2) Richardson, Robert D. “Walden’s Ripple Effect.” Smithsonian 01 Aug. 2004. 106. eLibrary.

Discoverer Spotlight: Celebrate Earth Day

Earth from Space <br \> by NASA, via ProQuest SIRS Discoverer [Public Domain]

Earth from Space
by NASA, via ProQuest SIRS Discoverer [Public Domain]

The Earth is home to us all. We walk her surface, eat food from her soil, drink water from her rivers, and breathe air from her atmosphere. We should thank her every day by reusing, reducing, and recycling the natural resources she provides. We need to take care of our Earth! On April 22, more than one billion people in 190 countries will observe Earth Day. It’s a great time to learn about our planet and ways to protect it. You can celebrate Earth Day by participating in parades and other gatherings, planting and saving trees, or cleaning up beaches. Most importantly, remember to make a promise to help the environment by recycling, growing a garden, creating a compost bin, saving energy, conserving water and respecting biodiversity. Learn more about Earth Day and ways to help our planet in April’s Spotlight of the Month.