Scientific Conservation: Progressivism



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Scientific Conservation: Progressivism
I. Cultural Understandings of Nature: review….
II. Bringing in the State

A. Defining the “state”

-An organization, composed of numerous agencies led and coordinated by the state’s leadership (the executive authority) that has the ability to make and implement the binding rules for all the people as well as the parameters of rule making for other social organizations in a given territory, using force if necessary to have its way.
B. Why does the “state” matter to environmental history?

III. Progressivism

A. What was it?

-moderate political and cultural reform movement that took hold at the end of the 19th Century (roughly 1880s to 1920)

--Middle-class urban women reformers were Progressives—e.g., Jane Addams; worked at the municipal level
-characteristic beliefs: (1) belief in progress, modernity; (2) active gov’t role (3) reliance on experts, science; (4) emphasis on order, efficiency (highly rationalist);
B. Examples of (federal-level) Progressive Conservation

1. Public Land Reform

-what is the “public domain”?

-what was Federal policy toward the PD in 19th Century?  get rid of it

-what was the problem?  corruption, over-exploitation

-what was the solution?  Public Lands Commission (1903);

temporary land withdrawals followed by auctions with certain conditions/prices specified
2. Gifford Pinchot and Scientific Forestry

-background and biography

-his European forestry training: sustained yield (harvest=net annual growth) and its implications

-establishment of a forestry bureaucracy in US

-Pinchot triples size of forest reserves with help of President Teddy Roosevelt
IV. Opposition to Prog. Conservation


  1. Many resources users who lost (free) access—large corporations & speculators, but also small operators, subsistence users

  2. State and local politicians in the West (most of whom were corrupt)

B. Romantic Preservationists

-- John Muir and the battle over Hetch Hetchy (1908-1913)

--Pinchot: Conservation= “Greatest good for the greatest number”; “Wilderness is waste.”
V. Conclusion: Key Results of Progressive Conservation?

A. Political/Social Effects:

1. Federal management of public lands through various federal agencies (e.g., Public Lands Commission, Dept. of Forestry, Bureau of Biol Survey, Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Fisheries, National Park Service)

2. . Institutionalization of "expertise" and scientific management

-with attendant class, race, and gender effects

B. Cultural Effects (i.e., how does Progressivism shift attitudes toward nature?)



1. North America: scarcity rather than abundance

2. nature as disorderly and in need of management


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