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

Primary Sources

Roosevelt, Theodore. “Utilizing Our Natural Resources: Address Delivered Before the National Editorial Association in Jamestown, Virginia, June 10, 1907.” In The Roosevelt Policy: Speeches, Letters and State Papers, Relating to Corporate Wealth and Closely Allied Topics, of Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States, Volume 2, 546-560. New York: Current Literature Publishing Company, 1908. President Theodore Roosevelt’s speech before the National Editorial Association in 1907 declared that “the reckless waste and destruction of much of our natural wealth” was “the fundamental problem which underlies almost every other problem of our national life.” Without the foresight, careful planning, and scientific management embodied in his conservation policies, Roosevelt predicted that the nation would “undermine [the] material basis” for the nation’s institutions and economic growth.

Pinchot, Gifford. The Fight for Conservation. New York: Doubleday, Page, and Company, 1910. This insider’s account of the conservation movement, written by the first Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, who was also one of President Theodore Roosevelt’s trusted advisers, offers perhaps the most-used definition of conservation: “Conservation means the greatest good to the greatest number for the longest time.”

Muir, John. The Yosemite. New York: The Century Co., 1912. John Muir, another towering figure in the conservation movement, was a prolific and eloquent writer. His books and essays about wild nature—including this one on his ramblings through the Yosemite Valley—profoundly influenced American ideas about conservation in general and the importance of preserving wild areas in particular.

Crane, Caroline Bartlett. “Municipal Housekeeping.” Reprinted from Proceedings of Baltimore City-Wide Congress, March 8, 9, 10, 1911. In this 1911 speech, Caroline Bartlett Crane—a Unitarian minister, reformer, and journalist who was widely known as “America’s housekeeper”—makes the case for the importance of keeping urban environments safe and clean, proclaiming that “housekeeping is, in fact, an extremely important function of city government.”

Leopold, Aldo. “Thinking Like a Mountain.” In A Sand County Almanac. New York: Oxford University Press, 1949. In this classic essay, a leading conservationist and wildlife manager tells the story of a day when he killed a wolf in the name of conservation—only to realize that his actions might not serve his actual goals. “I was young then, and full of trigger-itch,” he wrote; “I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire [in the wolf’s eyes] die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.”