Conservation Timeline 1801-1900


  • The U.S. Navy is authorized to establish forest reserves to protect hardwoods for building its ships.


  • Artist George Catlin proposes a "nation's park" after visiting the West and observing Native American tribal cultures.


  • Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson's Nature is published, which articulates his belief that God's work is visible through nature. Landscape artist Thomas Cole paints The Oxbow, depicting an ideal balance between nature and human civilization.


  • George Perkins Marsh delivers a speech to the Rutland County Agricultural Society, calling farmers' attention to the effect of human activity on the land. Many of the ideas expressed in the speech would become the philosophical foundation for the conservation movement.


  • Women's Rights Convention, Seneca Falls, New York. The early conservation movement had roots in the intense intellectual ferment of this period, which also spurred action for women's suffrage and abolitionism.


  • The U.S. Department of the Interior established.

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  • The "nature essay" increases in popularity as an American literary genre.
  • "The waste of valuable timber in the United States will hardly begin to be appreciated until our population reaches fifty millions. Then the folly and shortsightedness of this age will meet with a degree of censure and reproach not pleasant to contemplate." Thomas Ewbank, U.S. Commissioner of Patents


  • Henry David Thoreau's Walden, or, Life in the Woods is published. "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." Henry David Thoreau, Walden


  • Landscape painter Asher B. Durand calls for the birth of a new movement, art devoted to scenes of the American wilderness.
  • "This we know: the earth does not belong to man: man belongs to the earth; All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life: he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself." Seattle (Seathl), patriarch of the Duwamish and Squamish Indians of Puget Sound


  • Samuel H. Hammond publishes Wild Northern Scenes; or Sporting Adventures with the Rifle and Rod. The book becomes one of the first in the tradition of hunter-conservationist literature.

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  • Albert Bierstadt first visits the Rocky Mountains and begins a career of painting grand images of western scenery, including an image of Cathedral Rocks, Yosemite Valley (1870) that is in the Billings family collection.
  • Mt. Vernon Ladies Association acquires 200 acres of George Washington's estate. This is one of the first acts of private historic preservation in the United States.


  • Scientific farmer and landscape designer Robert Morris Copeland publishes Country Life: A Handbook of Agriculture, Horticulture, and Landscape Gardening, an 800-page guide with practical and aesthetic suggestions. Frederick Billings owned a copy of Country Life, and hired Copeland in 1869 to design the landscape of his Woodstock estate.


  • Eighty percent of the population of the United States lives in rural areas.
  • Frederic Edwin Church paints his masterpiece Twilight In the Wilderness.


  • Carleton E. Watkins creates the first important photographic record of the Yosemite wilderness in California.


  • Central Park in New York City, designed by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, is completed. The park is a milestone in the development of the American parks movement.

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  • George Perkins Marsh's Man and Nature is published.
  • The New York Times publishes an editorial calling for state acquisition of land in the Adirondacks so it will be preserved for future generations.


  • Congress passes the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, abolishing slavery.


  • German biologist Ernst Haeckel firsts coins the word "ecology."


  • John Wesley Powell leads the first expedition down the Colorado River. In 1878, after several more expeditions in the Colorado River basin, Powell submits his landmark Report on the Lands of the Arid Regions of the United States. His visionary plan calls for settlement and development of the West in a manner that respects the region's environmental limitations.


  • Inspired by William Henry Jackson's photographs and Thomas Moran's paintings, Congress sets aside Yellowstone as the nation's -- and the world's -- first national park. Jackson's and Moran's work was funded by the Northern Pacific Railroad, which Frederick Billings helped to manage.
  • Tree-Planting Day is first observed in Nebraska. Soon known as Arbor Day, this tradition is widely observed across the country, particularly in schools.


  • Forest and Stream magazine is founded. Forest and Stream will become the premiere sportsman's publication and a forum for conservation advocacy.


  • William Cullen Bryant's Picturesque America is published. The book's full-page engravings of some of the country's most celebrated scenery stimulate popular interest in the natural landscape, and foster increased tourism.


  • The American Forestry Association is founded. Congress passes an act prohibiting the unauthorized cutting of trees on government property.

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  • The Appalachian Mountain Club is founded in Boston, Massachusetts. Working to protect the mountains, rivers and trails of the northeastern United States, it is now the nation's oldest conservation and outdoor recreation organization.
  • "I don't believe Mother Earth, if properly treated will ever refuse to remunerate the husbandman for his labor.... Nature sometimes forces her lessons with great severity, compelling man to endure hard penalties for his improvidence." Unidentified Maine farmer


  • The American Ornithologists' Union is founded in New York City.


  • New York State creates large Forest Preserves in the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains, and opens Niagara Falls State Reservation, the first state park in the eastern United States.


  • George Bird Grinnell and Theodore Roosevelt continue the tradition of sportsmen as conservationists when they found the Boone and Crockett Club. Club members become advocates for conservation and publish several volumes of writings about conservation and hunting.

Late 1880s

  • Dr. Seward Webb and his wife Lila Vanderbilt Webb acquire nearly 4,000 acres of farmland along the shore of Lake Champlain in Shelburne, Vermont, and create a model agricultural estate, Shelburne Farms. The property continues today as a working farm and as a nonprofit environmental education center that links agriculture, forestry, land conservation, historic preservation, education, and tourism.


  • "As Boston's lovers of art united to found the Art Museum, so her lovers of nature should now rally to preserve for themselves and all the people as many as possible of the scenes of natural beauty which, by great good fortune, still exist near their doors." Charles Elliot, Garden and Forest magazine
  • Landscape architect Charles Elliott advocates creating a private organization to permanently protect scenic treasures of the northeastern United States. Two years later the world's first land trust, the Trustees of Public Reservations (today the Trustees of Reservations), is formed in Massachusetts.
  • Congress passes legislation that establishes Sequoia National Park and, less than a week later, Yosemite and General Grant National Parks in California.

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  • Influenced by ideas and practices introduced from Germany, the forestry movement in the United States begins to promote scientific and "efficient" forest management.


  • Congress passes the Forest Reserve Act, granting the President the power to establish forest reserves. The same year, President Benjamin Harrison sets aside land in Wyoming to form the nation's first forest reserve. In 1907, forest reserves are renamed "National Forests".


  • John Muir founds the Sierra Club, dedicated to preserving wilderness.
  • New York State establishes Adirondack Park, encompassing state lands in the Adirondack Forest Preserve and large areas of private land. Adirondack Park, which today includes more than 6 million acres, is the largest park in the contiguous 48 states. In 1894, New York State amends its constitution, declaring that state forest lands in the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains shall be kept as "forever wild."
  • President Benjamin Harrison creates what will become the nation's first wildlife preserve in Alaska.


  • Congress passes an act prohibiting hunting in Yellowstone Park. The legislation establishes the idea that national parks should not be used for hunting.
  • John Muir publishes his first book, The Mountains of California.


  • Congress enacts the Forest Management Act, which designates Forest Reserves as national resources for timber harvesting, grazing, and mining. The same year, Gifford Pinchot is appointed chief of the Division of Forestry in the Department of Agriculture, the precursor to the U.S. Forest Service. Over the next twenty years, Pinchot becomes one of the dominant figures in conservation, promoting scientific forestry and leading the utilitarian wing of the conservation movement.
  • As secretary for New York City's Committee on Small Parks, Jacob Riis helps to generate momentum for public playgrounds and other small parks. "In the original plan for the City of New York," Riis observed, "the children seem to have been forgotten."


  • Congress passes a bill establishing Mount Rainier National Park in Washington.

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Conservation Timeline 1901-2000

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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