Declaration of the Conservation Conference (1908)

Conservation leaders Teddy Roosevelt and GIfford Pinchot, 1907 (photo by US Forest Service)

The beginning of the first U.S. environmental movement is often pegged to the 1908 Conference of Governors, which occurred during May 13-15.  The conference was the first meeting that called together the nation’s leaders to address the topic of conservation.

Teddy Roosevelt was president during this time, his terms running from 1901 to 1909.  He was an ardent conservationist, advised throughout his presidential term by another prominent conservationist—Gifford Pinchot.  Pinchot was the nation’s first chief forester, but more than that, he was a close advisor to Roosevelt on all areas of public policy.  Pinchot espoused a general principle that natural resources should be used sustainably, neither over-exploited nor under-exploited.

Pinchot, along with the leader of the Inland Waterways Commission, W. J. McGee, convinced Roosevelt that he should call the nation’s leaders together to confront what they all saw as the despoliation of America’s natural resources.  Accordingly, with McGee serving as the chief organizer of the event, Roosevelt invited hundreds of individuals to come to Washington for the conference.

Although themed as the governors’ conference, the attendees went far beyond state and territorial governors and their representatives.  Anyone who was anyone came.  The entire cabinet, all justices of the Supreme Court, senators and congresspersons, leaders of virtually all major business and philanthropic organizations (not just environmental groups, of which there were few), and representatives of federal and state agencies attended.

The attendees met for three days, with speeches and presentations covering a wide range of geographic locations and types of resources.  At the time, “natural resources” included agriculture, minerals and mining, water and forests—virtually everything that humans depended on from nature.  Certain aspects that we now consider essential parts of natural resources, such as biodiversity, weren’t represented—but it was early times for conservation.

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This Month in Conservation

May 1
Linnaeus Publishes “Species Plantarum” (1753)
May 2
“Peter and The Wolf” Premieres (1936)
May 3
Vagn Walfrid Ekman, Swedish Oceanographer, Born (1874)
May 4
Eugenie Clark, The Shark Lady, Born (1922)
May 5
Frederick Lincoln, Pioneer of Bird Banding, Born (1892)
May 6
Lassen Volcanic National Park Created (1907)
May 7
Nature’s Best Moms
May 8
David Attenborough Born (1926)
May 9
Thames River Embankments Completed (1874)
May 10
Birute Galdikas, Orangutan Expert, Born (1946)
May 11
“HMS Beagle” Launched (1820)
May 12
Farley Mowat, Author of “Never Cry Wolf,” Born (1921)
May 13
St. Lawrence Seaway Authorized (1954)
May 14
Lewis and Clark Expedition Began (1804)
May 15
Declaration of the Conservation Conference (1908)
May 16
Ramon Margalef, Pioneering Ecologist, Born (1919)
May 17
Australian BioBanking for Biodiversity Implemented (2010)
May 18
Mount St. Helens Erupts (1980)
May 19
Carl Akeley, Father of Modern Taxidermy, Born (1864)
May 20
European Maritime Day
May 21
Rio Grande Water-Sharing Convention Signed (1906)
May 22
International Day for Biological Diversity
May 23
President Carter Delivers Environmental Message to Congress (1977)
May 24
Bison Again Roam Free in Canada’s Grasslands National Park (2006)
May 25
Lacey Act Created (1900)
May 26
Last Model T Rolls Off the Assembly Line (1927)
May 27
A Day for the birds
May 27
Rachel Carson, Author of “Silent Spring,” Born (1907)
May 28
Sierra Club Founded (1892)
May 29
Stephen Forbes, Pioneering Ecologist, Born (1844)
May 30
Everglades National Park Created (1934)
May 31
The Johnstown Flood (1889)
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