By Dale Humburg
A century after the nation’s first conservation summit, today’s natural resource leaders are exploring ways to strengthen North America’s unique wildlife conservation model.
How would Theodore Roosevelt judge our conservation progress, hunting ethic, and use of natural resources today, a century after the 1908 Conference of Governors? In his opening address, “Conservation as a National Duty,” President Roosevelt spoke to governors, policymakers, scientists, and industrialists as he framed the challenge:
“Recently I declared there is no other question now before the nation of equal gravity with the question of the conservation of our natural resources, and I added that it is the plain duty of us who, for the moment, are responsible to take inventory of the natural resources which have been handed down to us, to forecast the needs of the future, and so handle the great sources of our prosperity as not to destroy in advance all hope of the prosperity of our descendants.”
Over the last century, there has been an emerging recognition that the themes of the 1908 conference and our conservation efforts since then represent a unique framework—a model—for natural resource management. The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation is predicated on principles of public “ownership” of wildlife resources and management to sustain their long-term welfare. The North American Model reflects a collective response to the unsustainable use of wildlife and other natural resources during the 1800s, the awakening of a conservation ethic, and a gradual emergence through the 20th century of public support and professional wildlife management.
Although forest conservation was emphasized in 1908, many resource issues such as wetlands conservation have yet to be adequately addressed 100 years later. For example, the impact of what was termed “wetland reclamation” was not understood a century ago—and still may not be widely recognized today as issues of flooding, water quality, and water supplies remain. George Pardee, former governor of California, cited events from 1904 still familiar in 2008:
“Both above and below Sacramento city and on the San Joaquin at and above its mouth, there is a stretch of very fertile land, about 1,500,000 acres in extent, about one-fourth of which has been reclaimed. Owing, however, to the partial choking of the bed of Sacramento river, these reclaimed lands are in annual danger of flooding. A levee-break four years ago caused damage to the extent of over $1,000,000. Plans are being considered for the combined action of the United States, the State and the landowners to avert this annual flood-danger.”