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Progressive Era to New Era
Conservation in the Progressive Era
Report of the National Conservation Commission

The National Conservation Commission was created by President Theodore Roosevelt in the early 1900s to discuss conservation of the nation's natural resources. One of the tasks assigned to the commission was to inventory the nation's resources. Excerpts taken from the first of three reports are found below. The Commission felt that American citizens were slow to wake up to the fact that natural resources were being depleted at an alarming rate. Why? What are the three stages of resource development that the commission describes? How were natural resources viewed and used in each of the three stages?

View the document from which this excerpt was taken from Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920. Please note that this is a very long document and may take a while to load. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.


The duty of man to man, on which the integrity of nations must rest, is no higher than the duty of each generation to the next; and the obligation of the nation to each actual citizen is no more sacred than the obligation to the citizen to be, who, in turn, must bear the nation's duties and responsibilities.

In this country, blessed with natural resources in unsurpassed profusion, the sense of responsibility to the future has been slow to awaken. Beginning without appreciation of the measure or the value of natural resources other than land with water for commercial uses, our forefathers pushed into the wilderness and, through a spirit of enterprise which is the glory of the nation, developed other great resources. Forests were cleared away as obstacles to the use of the land; iron and coal were discovered and developed, though for years their presence added nothing to the price of the land; and through the use of native woods and metals and fuels, manufacturing grew beyond all precedent, and the country became a power among the nations of the world.

Gradually the timber growing on the ground and the iron and coal within the ground came to have a market value and were bought and sold as sources of wealth. Meanwhile, vast holdings of these resources were acquired by those of greater foresight than their neighbors before it was generally realized that they possessed value in themselves; and in this way large interests, assuming monopolistic proportions, grew up, with greater enrichment to their holders than the world had seen before, and with the motive of immediate profit, with no concern for the future or thought of the permanent benefit of country and people, a wasteful and profligate use of the resources began and has continued.

The waters, at first recognized only as aids to commerce in supplying transportation routes, were largely neglected. In time this neglect began to be noticed, and along with it the destruction and approaching exhaustion of the forests. This, in turn, directed attention to the rapid depletion of the coal and iron deposits and the misuse of the land.

The public conscience became awakened. Seeing the increased value and noting the destructive consumption and waste of the natural resources, men began to realize that the permanent welfare of the country as well as the prosperity of their offspring were at stake. . . .

In the growth of the country and gradual development of the natural resources there have been three noteworthy stages. The first stage was that of individual enterprise for personal and family benefit. It led to the conquest of the wilderness.

The next stage was that of collective enterprise, either for the benefit of communities or for the profit of individuals forming the communities. It led to the development of cities and States, and too often to the growth of great monopolies.

The third stage is the one we are now entering. Within it the enterprise is collective and largely cooperative, and should be directed toward the larger benefit of communities, States, and the people generally.

In the first stage the resources received little thought. In the second they were wastefully used. In the stage which we are entering wise and beneficial uses are essential, and the checking of waste is absolutely demanded.
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View the document from which this excerpt was taken from Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920. Please note that this is a very long document and may take a while to load. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.