Conservation Issues

Conservation Issues 1800s

As Manifest Destiny moved westward in the United States between 1850 and 1880, many Conservation Issues appeared. With the rapid removal of natural resources around the country, several people talked about saving natural landscapes. Issues regarding the natural landscape were highly debated starting with the Transcendentalists like Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Others like John Muir, Ansel Adams, and started a new conversation about conservation and saving the natural landscape and wildlife.

Henry David Thoreau

Utilitarian conservation vs. conservation

From the outset, in the United States, the predominant conservation movement was viewed as utilitarian. The concept relied on the right of individuals to exploit nature and the natural landscape to build a new country.

The other side of conservation believed conserving nature, and the natural landscape was necessary for a person’s well-being and spiritual growth. Transcendentalists started the idea in the middle of the 19th century.

Conservation Issues

Conservation issues played into the American public during the middle of the 19th century. Most East Coast forests were depleted, waterways were damned or damaged from factories using hydroelectricity, and wildlife was being lost to hunting and from loss of habitat.

In the western portion of the United States, conservation problems started with mining, logging, hunting, and by the thousands of settlers that entered the western territories and states. Natural resources were quickly becoming depleted like the East Coast.

A fresh attitude towards conservation rose from the issues created by the rapid development of the western lands.

New conservation ideas

Fresh conservation ideas were sprouted from Americans viewing incredible wildlife and natural landscapes. Explorers as early as Lewis and Clark kept detailed journals complete with sketches of wildlife and natural landscapes. The sketches were vivid and helped Americans to understand the problems being created with rapid development.

Artists moved westward, creating incredible paintings of the natural landscape before and after the destruction of natural resources. Wildlife was included in many paintings, some of the wildlife had not been seen by people on the East Coast.

New laws protecting the environment

Some East Coast states had put in place recent laws to help restore the natural landscape by the middle of the 19th century. Now was the time to think about the western states. The first piece of conservation was placed by President Lincoln when he signed the Yosemite Grant Act in 1864. The law should help save the giant redwoods and sequoias in California.

President Ulysses S. Grant recognized that poaching was affecting the wildlife in and around an area called Yellowstone. In 1872 he formed the first National Park in the world. The park was guarded by the U.S. Army, and the soldiers tried to keep poachers and illegal logging from the park. Another important law was the Forest Reserve Act of 1891. The law set aside millions of acres of forest for future generations.

By the end of the 19th century, several other areas like Yosemite, Sequoia, Crater Lake, and Mount Rainier were added to the system of preserving the natural landscape.


Early leaders of conservation included Transcendentalists and later included several other important individuals. George Perkins Marsh penned Man and Nature in 1864, outlining the impact of man on nature. Naturalist John Muir helped to form the Sierra Club, which helped press the U.S. government to preserve Yosemite and large old-growth forests. Ansel Adams could bring incredible scenery to the public through photographs after the Civil War. Future U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt was vocal about preserving nature and natural landscapes. He was also an avid hunter and outdoorsman.

Important facts about Conservation Issues in the United States during the later years of the 19th century

  • By the middle of the 19thcentury, most forests and waterways were depleted along the East Coast.
  • The first real conservation movement in the United States involved the Transcendentalists.
  • Soil erosion, logging, mining, hunting, and settlement in the western states destroyed many natural landscapes, wildlife habitat areas, and waterways.
  • Utilitarian conservation allowed individuals the right to deplete natural resources to build a new country. Some believed nature was made by God for settlers to use and exploit for economic benefits.
  • Conservation issues were created by over logging, mining, hunting, settlers destroying grasslands, and waterways.
  • The federal government introduced new laws to protect the natural landscape and wildlife. The first piece of land set aside was around present-day Yosemite National Park in 1864. Yellowstone, the first National Park in the world, was created in 1872. The Forest Reserve Act of 1891 set aside millions of acres of land for future generations to use.
  • Important leaders in the conservation movement of the 19thcentury included John Muir, Ansel Adams, and George Perkins Marsh.
  • By the end of the 19thcentury, there were other National Park created in western states like Yosemite, Mount Rainier, and Crater Lake.


  1. The first type of conservation practiced in the United States was called?
  1. What organization did naturalist John Muir form?
    Sierra Club
  1. What causes a majority of the conservation issues in the United States during the 19thcentury?
    Manifest Destiny
  1. What group of people was an early force in the conservation of lands?
  1. What was the first National Park in the world?