Disagreement, Debate, and Discussion over the Meaning of Nature Protection: Wildlife Conservationists and the Battle over the Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 1929

Saturday, January 4, 2014: 11:30 AM
Columbia Hall 5 (Washington Hilton)
Gregory J. Dehler, Front Range Community College
This paper will examine the vitriolic debate throughout the 1920s between sportsmen, as led by John B. Burnham and the American Game Protective and Propagation Association, and their opponents within the conservation movement, led by William T. Hornaday of the Wildlife Protection Fund, over the establishment of migratory bird refuges in accordance with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Caught between these two opposing factions, scientists and some legislators considered prolonged discussion over hunting regulations in the refuges a minor consideration compared to the more pressing need for immediate wetlands protection. The disagreement among the conservationists who had worked well together to secure federal protection of migratory birds in the previous decade centered on the questions of why do we protect nature and who should benefit from this protection. Using the correspondence collections of key players and organizations in this debate, as well as books, and magazine and newspaper articles, I examine their competing answers to these two questions and why it generated so much conflict between them. 

The spirited disagreement, debate, and discussion over the Migratory Bird Conservation Act had several consequences. The discord delayed much needed wetlands protection at a time of drought, and it exposed the fault lines within the previously successful progressive conservation coalition. The battle over the relationship between nature and the motivation to protect it drove a wedge between hunters and non-hunters within the environmental protection movement that still remains today.

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