Central Question: Was it successful for everyone?


photographic print, Quentin Roosevelt Planting a Tree, c1904, Edward S. Curtis,

Textbooks celebrate the conservation movement as an unalloyed success: New forestry laws prevented widespread clear-cutting, erosion, and fires. Game preservation laws protected wildlife from overhunting. Reclamation laws reformed the haphazard use of scarce water resources in the American West, enabling agricultural expansion. Preservation laws protected areas of scenic beauty from privatization and tacky commercial development. Yet historians have depicted the conservation movement much more broadly—and have assessed its legacy more critically. Why?

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