About the Author

Christopher Wells is an assistant professor of environmental history at Macalester College. He received his PhD from the University of Wisconsin, and specializes in environmental history, the history of technology, and U.S. cultural and intellectual history.

The Early Conservation Movement

“Report on Kaibab Deer Problem” (1931)


Conservation-inspired predator control programs in the Grand Canyon National Game Preserve caused deer populations to skyrocket in the early 1920s. Large herds overbrowsed their range, caused ecological damage, and ultimately undermined their own subsistence, causing mass starvation and a population collapse.

Excerpt from "Report on Kaibab Deer Problem":
The Kaibab Investigative Committee has traveled approximately six hundred and fifty miles in the actual field examination of the Kaibab area during a period of eight days. Travel was greatly facilitated because of the numerous motor trails traversing the Kaibab Forest. The party, however, rode horses from Swamp Point in making the Powell Plateau trip, which is within the Grand Canyon National Park. The committee has observed practically every forest type and condition within the Kaibab area. . . .

The territory had long been a famous hunting ground for Indians and the settlers came here for much of their wild meat supply. Campaigns for the destruction of predatory animals were extended. Several hundred cougars, thousands of coyotes, as well as many wildcats, and the few gray wolves of the region were destroyed. The deer, relieved of the destructive effect of their wild and human enemies, swiftly began to show a marked increase in number.

By 1920 the officers of the Forest Service in charge of the Kaibab became concerned at the progressive deterioration of the range. In 1924 a committee of men not connected with the Forest Service was appointed to study the range conditions of the territory and determine whether there were more deer on the Kaibab than the food supply would sustain. This investigating committee reported that not only were there too many deer in the territory to subsist on the available food, but that the range had been so largely depleted that it was in imminent danger of being totally destroyed over large areas. It, therefore, recommended the removal of at least one-half of the deer at once. Although their recommendations were not immediately carried out by the State and Federal authorities, some reductions have been made every year by these agencies. In addition there has been much loss to the herd due to starvation on the winter range. . . .

It is the conclusion of the committee, after carefully reviewing the general condition of the Kaibab range, and also observing the degree of recovery within the fenced experimental plots that the Kaibab area is not now producing more than 10% of the available and nutritious forage that this range once produced. . . .

The forage of the entire Kaibab area is yet in a deplorable condition and with the exception of the east side winter range, it is doubtful whether there has been any considerable range recovery due to the reduction of the deer herd. It is believed, however, by those who have studied Kaibab conditions over several years, that in places there is a slight suspension of range deterioration because of the reduction of the deer and domestic stock.


Kaibab Investigative Committee. “Report on Kaibab Deer Problem.” 1931.