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

Secondary Sources

Hays, Samuel P. Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency: The Progressive Conservation Movement, 1890-1920. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1999. First published 1959. This classic history of the conservation movement, which continues to influence historians today, focuses on the rise of technocratic expertise and the ways that conservation policies and their emphasis on the efficient use of natural resources reflected new ideas about political power and political structure in the United States.

Stradling, David, ed. Conservation in the Progressive Era: Classic Texts. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004. This edited collection pairs an introductory essay with primary documents written by activists within the conservation movement. Emphasizing the diversity of the movement, the documents reflect the ways that race, class, gender, and geography shaped the issues and concerns that motivated conservationists during the Progressive Era.

Warren, Louis. The Hunter’s Game: Poachers and Conservationists in Twentieth-Century America. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997. Mixing social and environmental history, Warren analyzes the role that wildlife conservation laws—together with ecological change—played in catalyzing conflict between conservationists and locals, including Native Americans and poor whites.

Jacoby, Karl. Crimes Against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of Conservation. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. Jacoby argues that conservation laws regulating cutting timber, setting fires, hunting animals, and claiming unsettled land created a host of new “crimes against nature”: timber theft, arson, poaching, and squatting. He also demonstrates how these new regulations benefited affluent tourists and professional land managers by placing disproportionate burdens on already marginalized groups.

Spence, Mark David. Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. In case studies of three national parks—Yellowstone, Glacier, and Yosemite—Spence documents the ways that the push to “preserve” these areas for national enjoyment required the eviction of their long-term Native American residents.

Langston, Nancy. Forest Dreams, Forest Nightmares: The Paradox of Old Growth in the Inland West. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995. Langston examines the history of professional forestry practices in the Blue Mountains of eastern Washington and Oregon, unpacking the paradoxes of how scientific land-management practices went awry in the face of rapid and unexpected ecological changes.

Fiege, Mark. Irrigated Eden: The Making of an Agricultural Landscape in the American West. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1999. Fiege’s case study of Idaho’s Snake River Valley focuses on the hopes, labors, and dreams of settlers as they laid out a vast irrigation system to create a new agricultural order, emphasizing the ways the unexpected ecological changes compromised and sometimes short-circuited the best-laid plans of the irrigators.

Worster, Donald. Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West. New York: Pantheon, 1985. This classic environmental history offers a history of the American West written through the lens of its water-management practices, emphasizing their role in structuring the environment and society of the West.

Steinberg, Ted. Down to Earth: Nature’s Role in American History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. This influential textbook account of American environmental history includes a concise chapter on “Conservation Reconsidered.”