At the turn of the century, the modern conservation movement took flight. From Washington, D.C., President Theodore Roosevelt protected millions of acres of national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges. In Boston, prominent women and sportsmen created the Massachusetts Audubon Society to counter the unrestricted slaughter of wild birds for feathers, flesh, and fun. And in New York City, an ornithologist founded a magazine dedicated to wild birds and their protection: Bird-Lore, a precursor to Audubon.
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Bird-Lore magazine debuts in February. Launched by Frank M. Chapman, the American Museum of Natural History's celebrated ornithologist, the bimonthly devotes a section to news of the state Audubon societies and draws the new movement together. Later, the magazine will be renamed Audubon.
Congress passes the Lacey Act, which bans the shipment from one state to another of birds killed in violation of state laws. This is the first effective weapon against plume hunters. In December, Bird-Lore proposes a Christmas Bird Count to replace the shooting competitions traditionally held on that holiday.
Theodore Roosevelt becomes president of the United States after the assassination of William McKinley. His early association with the Audubon Society of the District of Columbia puts him in tune with the movement, which now has 36 state societies.
Congress passes the Reclamation Act, which helps revolutionize land use in the West by funding massive irrigation projects and establishing the precursor of the Bureau of Reclamation. Back East, at the urging of Audubon Society members, the American Ornithologists' Union hires Guy Bradley to protect wading-bird colonies in Florida from plume hunters.
Roosevelt creates the first federal wildlife refuge on Florida's Pelican Island at the urging of Frank Chapman, who had honeymooned there with his bride, Fanny. Since the refuge originates by executive order, it receives no funds from Congress. The Audubon Association pays warden Paul Kroegel a salary of $7 a month.
In November a wealthy businessman, Albert Wilcox, approaches Audubon leaders with a proposal to incorporate the various state societies into a national organization. The lure is a legacy of $100,000, which Wilcox agrees to leave to the new organization along with funds for an office and a part-time secretary. Within days, a lawyer draws up papers of incorporation.
On January 5 the National Association of Audubon Societies for the Protection of Wild Birds and Animals is incorporated in New York State. William Dutcher, an insurance-company executive and a prominent amateur ornithologist, becomes its first president. The state societies remain independent organizations within the new federation. Six months later Guy Bradley, now an Audubon warden, is murdered, presumably by a poacher, at the southern tip of Florida.
After a long fight by Sierra Club founder John Muir, Congress votes to incorporate a neglected California state park, Yosemite Valley, into Yosemite National Park. "Sound the timbrel and let every Yosemite tree and stream rejoice!" exults Muir. "You can be sure I knew when the big bill passed."
The nation bungles a rare chance to curtail waste and destruction on its rivers and streams: Roosevelt creates the Inland Waterways Commission to come up with a comprehensive management plan, but Congress balks at surrendering its main source of pork; it rejects the commission's proposals.
Poachers allegedly murder two more Audubon wardens, Columbus G. MacLeod in Florida and L. P. Reeves in South Carolina. As in the Bradley killing, no one is ever convicted. Congress moves to quash Roosevelt's water- and forest-protection initiatives.
Audubon president William Dutcher is gloomy about the prospects for effective bird protection. Hearing that a Massachusetts island sheltering an important tern colony is being considered as the site of a state home for lepers, he reflects: "It would not be a bad thing for the terns, as the lepers would keep people away more effectively than laws or wardens."
William Dutcher's final achievement is the passage in New York State of the Audubon Plumage Act, which bans the sale or possession of feathers from birds in the same family as any species already protected in the state. The bill cripples the plume trade. When Dutcher suffers a disabling stroke, the Audubon board of directors installs his aide, T. Gilbert Pearson, as chief executive officer.
William T. Hornaday, the first director of the Bronx Zoo, drives the passage in New York State of the Bayne Act, which stops the sale of native wild game in markets and restaurants. Later that year, California and Massachusetts follow suit.
Theodore Roosevelt despairs as he watches his conservation initiatives being undone by President William H. Taft. Roosevelt runs for president against him as an independent. "I am feeling like a bull moose," he exults, thus giving his party its nickname. But he loses to Woodrow Wilson, with Taft finishing a weak third.
In California, John Muir loses a desperate battle to save his beloved Hetch Hetchy Valley, near Yosemite. San Francisco's water officials move to submerge the site beneath a huge reservoir. Hornaday joins with the Audubon societies to have the federal government ban the importation of most exotic-bird plumes.
World War I begins in Europe. British foreign secretary Lord Edward Grey watches lamplighters dim London's street lamps. "The lights are going out all over Europe," he remarks. "We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime." Across the ocean, another light is extinguished when Martha, the last passenger pigeon on earth, dies in the Cincinnati Zoo.
Congress creates Rocky Mountain National Park. At a New York State constitutional convention, a move is made to break the "forever wild" clause protecting the Adirondack Park. It fails.
Congress approves the creation of the National Park Service, and a wealthy proponent of the system, Stephen T. Mather, is named its chief. A surge of park visitors is directly linked to an increase in cheap automobiles.
The United States enters the war. President Woodrow Wilson turns out sheep on the White House lawn to alert the nation to a potential food shortage. (The sheep would have been available for the dinner table.) Westerners try to pry open the national parks for grazing and mining under the guise of patriotism. The Sierra Club convinces the federal government to keep large flocks of sheep out of Yosemite -- John Muir had called sheep "hooved locusts" -- but 5,000 head of cattle are allowed in.
A long battle led by Audubon is won when Congress passes the Migratory Bird Treaty Act with Great Britain (acting on behalf of Canada, then part of the British Empire). Bird-Lore editor Frank Chapman notes that the Audubon association is now relieved "of the necessity of watching the legislation of every state and of combating the numberless attempts to legalize the destruction of birds for private gain."
Three-quarters of a million people visit the national parks. Congress creates Lafayette (later Acadia) National Park in Maine, while the National Parks and Conservation Association is formed as an advocate and constructive critic of the Park Service.
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