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Progressive Era to New Era
Conservation in the Progressive Era
The Necessity of Conserving Our Resources

In 1909, the first National Conservation Congress, made up mostly of private individuals and organizations interested in conservation, met in Seattle, Washington, to discuss national conservation efforts. At the time of this meeting, conservation generally referred to conservation of resources for human use and the improvement of human life. At later Conservation Congresses, the term conservation was changed to reflect a preservationist perspective. At the 1909 National Conservation Congress, Mr. J.N. Teal, Chairman of the Oregon Conservation Commission, spoke of the need to conserve national resources. Excerpts of his address follow. What reasons for conservation does Teal offer to his colleagues? On whom does Teal think responsibility for resource conservation rests?

View the entire document from which this excerpt was taken, from Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.

Conservation of our natural resources is no longer an academic question. It is a live and vital issue which, as it is better understood, is taking a stronger hold upon all people. At the bottom a moral question is involved and moral questions are never settled until they are settled right. The issue is greater than any one man or set of men. It is not a matter that involves some mere detail of administration. A great principle is at stake. It is not a question as to the construction of some law, but the saving of the heritage of all the people in the interest of all people. Forces have been set in motion which cannot now be stayed. Unquestionably the contest will bitter. With the enormous issue at stake, victory will not be complete until every possible effort of private interests to absorb the rich prizes has been exhausted. . . .

Who is it that needs be told that our natural resources are of enormous value? Who needs to be reminded that these resources can be conserved or can be wasted? Our forests, our water courses, our lands, our fisheries, can be made a blessing that will endure, or they can be so abused and wasted as to cause misery and want instead of plenty in the future.

Conservation reduced to its last analysis means a use, which while providing for our present needs, does not exhaust the source of supply. It is the antithesis of waste. I means moreover, not only that in the use of our natural resources due heed should be given to future want, but that the welfare of the people as a whole should be considered, rather than the enrichment of the few.

The people generally do not realize the direct concern they have in the conservation of these resources. They do not fully grasp their interest in or their responsibility towards them. If they did, the question would be quickly solved. I long for power to awaken them to the fact that they have this interest, that they have the right to be heard, and that a solemn duty rests upon them to conserve and protect this magnificent public endowment. . . .

We have today within the limits of this nation all the natural resources to make a happy, prosperous and contented people. How are we to treat this great trust?

I do not know that we of today are any less devoted to our country than were our forefathers. Speaking as a native son of Oregon, the mother of this great State of Washington, I do know they gave us a beautiful and fruitful land; that they made untold sacrifices and endured hardships of every kind in order that their children might enjoy the fruit of their labors. We inherited a rich patrimony which their sacrifices made possible. Their ashes have again mingled with the land they loved so well and are now even a part of it. I know that men as brave, as self-sacrificing, as generous, as patriotic as they never intended that the family patrimony should be dissipated, wasted, or destroyed. We would not be true to their memories, true to ourselves, true to our country, if we in turn did not do all in our power to pass on to our children and their children forever the blessings which, through Divine Providence and the sacrifices and sufferings and the love of those who have gone before, we enjoy.
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View the entire document from which this excerpt was taken, from Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.