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Progressive Era to New Era
Conservation in the Progressive Era
Overview Documents

Deciduous Forest in Summer,
Columbia, MO.

American Environmental
Photographs, 1891-1936

In the mid to late 19th century, natural resources were heavily exploited, especially in the West. Land speculators and developers took over large tracts of forests and grazing land. Acreage important to waterpower was seized by private concerns. Mining companies practiced improper and wasteful mining practices. Assuming a seemingly inexhaustible supply of natural resources, Americans developed a "tradition of waste."

Alarmed by the public's attitude toward natural resources as well as the exploitation of natural resources for private gain, conservationists called for federal supervision of the nation's resources and the preservation of those resources for future generations. In President Theodore Roosevelt, the conservationists found a sympathetic ear and man of action. Conservation of the nation's resources, putting an end to wasteful uses of raw materials, and the reclamation of large areas of neglected land have been identified as some of the major achievements of the Roosevelt era.

President Roosevelt's concern for the environment was influenced by American naturalists, such as John Muir, and by his own political appointees, including Gifford Pinchot, Chief of Forestry. Working in concert with many individuals and organizations, the Roosevelt administration was responsible for the following: the Newlands Act of 1902, which funded irrigation projects from the proceeds of the sale of federal lands in the West; the appointment of the Inland Waterways Commission in 1907 to study the relation of rivers, soil, forest, waterpower development, and water transportation; and the National Conservation Commission of 1909, which was charged with drawing up long-range plans for preserving national resources. Along with a vocal group of conservationists, the Roosevelt administration created an environmental conservation movement whose words and actions continue to be heard and felt throughout the nation today.

To find additional documents in American Memory, use such words as conservation, reclamation, natural resources, preservation, and Theodore Roosevelt.
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