Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - 15

A History of Conservation in the United States

choice, also lived near the coasts and along the streams. Thus, they misperceived
the true populations of most important game animals (Figure 2-1).
This mistaken impression may help explain the rapid depletion of early game
populations. Hunters could depopulate deer herds along the coast. When they
went further inland looking for more deer, they found the hunting to be less
successful.
Because deer herds preferred certain types of land, they were easy to find.
And because deer were good sources of meat and hides, they were hunted mercilessly. By 1639, regulations on deer hunting were imposed by the town charter
of Newport, Rhode Island. Such minor attempts at conservation grew until 1698
when two colonies, Connecticut and Massachusetts, imposed limits on the deer
hunt. By then, the deer herds were almost gone in those areas.
In 1844, the New York Sporting Club was formed. A few years later, it
became the New York State Game Protective Society. This group was made up of
a group of men who hunted primarily for sport. It sought to promote restrictions
against market hunters. The first state-administered game and fish commission
was created in Massachusetts in 1865. Soon, all the states had similar agencies.
These early fish and wildlife commissions were instrumental in getting laws
passed for the conservation of game species.

Market hunters
When there were only about a million Native Americans in what is now the
United States, there was no problem in terms of wild game populations. Native
Americans hunted for food and hides and took game and fish as they needed
them. There was no motivation for wholesale slaughter. When the settlers came,
the situation changed. Europeans prized beaver hides and bird feathers. Colonists
needed meat from game animals and birds. Native Americans found they could
live better, with less uncertainty, by selling furs and meat to colonial traders. The
traders saw the opportunity to sell furs back East and in Europe as a source of
wealth for themselves. Hunting and trapping fur and meat animals became big
business overnight, and many colonists turned from other kinds of work to hunting and trapping to earn a living. People who killed birds and animals to sell their
feathers, furs, and meat became known as market hunters.
Market hunters found that their quarry could be taken all year long. Passenger
pigeons could be killed most easily during nesting season. Migratory waterfowl could
be found most easily on their breeding grounds. Such shortsighted slaughter led
to the extinction of the passenger pigeon. The same thing almost happened to the
buffalo (actually, the American bison) further west. By 1890, only an estimated
500,000 deer remained in North America, and most of those were hidden in
dense swamps along the southern coastlines.

habitat Change
We should be able to agree that such practices were distasteful and shortsighted.
In most cases, however, the market hunters caused less actual damage than their
critics claimed.
The ox, the plow, herds of livestock, and fire drastically changed the face of
America. It is certain that market hunters needlessly damaged our wildlife resources.
Passenger pigeons were slaughtered to extinction. Bison were slaughtered first for
their hides. Later bison were slaughtered to deprive Native Americans of a traditional source of food and hides. At the same time, it is certain that our clearing
of the land for farming changed the wildlife habitat in extreme ways.

15

Source: USDA, Agricultural Research Service, photo by Scott Bauer

ChAptEr 2

FIguRE 2-1 Whitetail deer

like this 8-point buck would
have provided meat, hide,
and other valuable resources
for native americans or
european settlers.



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp

Contents
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - Cover1
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - Cover2
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - i
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - ii
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - iii
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - iv
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - v
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - Contents
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - vii
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - viii
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - ix
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - x
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - xi
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Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - xiii
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Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - xxi
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