Chronology of the National Audubon Society:
   100 Years of Conservation-1899 to 1999

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The stage was set in 1899 for a great leap forward by the young bird protection movement. George Bird Grinnell, a prominent sportsman and editor, had founded the first Audubon Society thirteen years earlier to counter the unrestricted slaughter of wild birds for plumes, flesh, and fun. Chief among the threats were gunners hired by the millinery industry to provide the feathers then in great demand for women's hats and gowns. Then, in 1887, Grinnell issued a publication of news and exhortation called Audubon Magazine.

Both the society and the publication quickly expired. But the idea lived on. In 1896 a group of society women and concerned sportsmen in the Boston area appropriated the name of the great painter of birds, John James Audubon, to launch their own campaign against the ongoing slaughter. They called their organization the Massachusetts Audubon Society. Lovers of birds in other states signed on, founding their own societies to educate the public and lobby their legislators.

Enter a new magazine, dedicated to wild birds and their protection.


The bimonthly magazine Bird-Lore makes its first appearance in February. Launched by Frank M. Chapman, the American Museum of Natural History's celebrated ornithologist, it devotes a section to news from the scattered state Audubon Societies and draws the new movement together. Forty years later, the magazine changes its name to Audubon.

Congress passes the Lacey Act, banning the shipment from one state to another of birds killed in violation of state laws. This gives the new bird protection movement its first effective weapon against the plume and market hunters. In December, Bird-Lore proposes a positive alternative--a Christmas Bird Count to replace the traditional shooting competitions on that holiday.

Theodore Roosevelt becomes president of the United States after the assassination of William McKinley. The new president's early association with the Audubon Society of the District of Columbia puts him in tune with the movement, which now has 36 state societies. Gifford Pinchot, the nation's chief forester, gains enormous influence as Roosevelt's adviser on natural resources.

Congress passes the Reclamation Act, which helps revolutionize land use in the West by funding massive irrigation projects and establishing the precursor of the Bureau of Reclamation. Back East, the American Ornithologists' Union hires a warden, Guy Bradley, to protect wading bird colonies in Florida from plume hunters.

Roosevelt creates the first federal wildlife refuge on Florida's Pelican Island. As the refuge originates by executive order, it receives no funds from Congress and warden Paul Kroegel is paid $7 a month by the Audubon Societies.

During November a wealthy businessman, Albert Wilcox, approaches Audubon leaders with a proposal to incorporate the various state societies into a national organization. The lure is a legacy of $100,000, which Wilcox agrees to leave to the new organization, along with funds for an office and a part-time secretary. Within days, a lawyer draws up papers of incorporation.

On January 30 the National Association of Audubon Societies for the Protection of Wild Birds and Animals is incorporated in New York State. William Dutcher, insurance company executive and prominent amateur ornithologist, becomes its first president. The state societies remain as independent organizations within the new federation. Six months later Guy Bradley, by then an Audubon warden, is murdered by a poacher at the southern tip of Florida.

After a long fight by Sierra Club founder John Muir, Congress votes to incorporate a neglected California state park, Yosemite, into the federal government and designates it a national park.

After Roosevelt creates the Inland Waterways Commission to come up with a comprehensive plan for their development, Congress balks at surrendering its haphazard logrolling schemes and rejects the commission's proposals.

Poachers murder two more Audubon wardens, Columbus G. MacLeod in Florida and L. P. Reeves in South Carolina. As in the Bradley killing, no one is ever convicted. Congress moves to quash Roosevelt's water and forest protection initiatives, while a split develops between advocates of Gifford Pinchot's utilitarian brand of resource development and John Muir's preservation ideas.

Hearing that an island sheltering an important tern colony in Massachusetts is being considered as the site of a state home for lepers, Audubon president William Dutcher reflects, "It would not be a bad thing for the terns as the lepers would keep people away more effectively than laws or wardens."

William Dutcher's final achievement is passage in New York of the Audubon Plumage Act, banning sale or possession of the feathers of birds in the same family as any species protected in the state. As all native herons, egrets, and terns are already protected there, the bill cripples the plume trade at its very center. When Dutcher suffers a disabling stroke, the board of directors installs his aide, T. Gilbert Pearson, as chief executive officer.

William Hornaday, first director of the Bronx Zoo and most combative conservationist of his day, sparks passage in New York State of the Bayne Act, stopping the sale of native wild game in markets and restaurants. Later that year, California and Massachusetts follow suit.

Theodore Roosevelt, his conservation initiatives undone by the William H. Taft Administration, runs for president as an independent. His exuberant remark, "I am feeling like a bull moose," gives his party a name, but he loses to Woodrow Wilson.

John Muir loses his desperate battle to save his beloved Hetch Hetchy Valley near Yosemite. San Francisco's water advocates move to submerge it beneath a huge reservoir. Hornaday joins with Audubon to have a clause inserted into the Federal Tariff Act, banning the importation to the U.S. of many exotic bird plumes.

Martha, the last passenger pigeon on Earth, dies in the Cincinnati Zoo.

Congress creates Rocky Mountain National Park. A move is made to break the "forever wild" clause in the New York State constitution protecting the Adirondack Park . The attempt to cut "diseased" trees in the park is beaten with the help of an impassioned speech by Louis Marshall, prominent reformer and Zionist, and father of wilderness advocate, Robert Marshall.

Congress approves the creation of the National Park Service, and a wealthy proponent of the system, Stephen T. Mather, is named its chief. The surge of park visitors is directly linked to an increase in cheap automobiles.

The U.S. enters World War I. President Wilson, dramatizing a threatened food shortage, turns out sheep on the White House lawn, while western stockmen and miners try to pry open the national parks under the guise of patriotism--and 5,000 head of cattle get in.

Congress passes an enabling act ratifying the Migratory Bird Treaty Act with Great Britain (representing Canada). The act gives migratory birds protection by the federal government. Bird-Lore editor Frank Chapman notes that now the Audubon Association is relieved "of the necessity of watching the legislation of every state and of combating the numberless attempts to legalize the destruction of birds for private gain."

Three-quarters of a million people visit the national parks. Congress creates Lafayette (later Acadia) National Park in Maine, while the National Parks and Conservation Association is formed as an advocate and constructive critic of the Park Service. Huge drainage projects in western wetlands prompt Audubon to join federal wildlife officials in calling for the purchase of prime waterfowl habitat.

Congress passes the Mineral Leasing Act, regulating mining on federal lands. William Dutcher dies and T. Gilbert Pearson becomes the official president of the National Association of Audubon Societies.

Aldo Leopold of the U.S. Forest Service formulates a wilderness concept for the national forests. It leads, three years later, to the setting aside of 575 acres for wilderness and recreation in the Gila National Forest in New Mexico, where he works. Planner and forester, Benton MacKaye, promotes the idea of an "Appalachian Trail" through the eastern mountains.

Gilbert Pearson tours Europe. In England, with the help of Lord Edward Grey, he forms the International Committee for Bird Protection and is named its president.

Conservationists help expose the misdeeds of Albert B. Fall, President Warren G. Harding's Interior Secretary. After Congress documents his role in the illegal sale to the Mammoth Oil Company of drilling rights in the nation's oil reserve at Teapot Dome, Wyoming, Fall resigns and eventually goes to prison.

The Audubon Association opens its first sanctuaries: the Rainey Sanctuary in the Louisiana marshes, a gift of Grace Rainey Rogers, and the Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary on Long Island, New York, given by the Roosevelt family. The Upper Mississippi Wildlife and Fish Refuge is approved by Congress.

Aldo Leopold expresses his theory of game management: "We have learned that game is a crop, which Nature will grow, and grow abundantly, provided only we furnish the seed and a suitable environment."

The conservation movement continues to gain public support.

A history of serious floods on the Mississippi River prompts Congress to pass the Rivers and Harbors Act, pushing forward plans concerning navigation, water power, flood control, and irrigation for more than 200 U.S. streams. Meanwhile, federal authorities charge that liquor bootleggers are also bootlegging wild ducks to the market.

Americans buy 6.5 million hunting licenses, adding to pressures on waterfowl already reeling under liberal bag limits and widespread drainage of wetlands.

Audubon's long struggle to preserve waterfowl, drumming up support among its members and professional wildlife managers, culminates in the passage by Congress of the Norbeck-Andersen Act. The legislation makes funds available to federal agencies to buy key wetlands for use as refuges.

Congress designates New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns (home to millions of bats) as a national park. The courts strike down an attempt to build a bobsled run for the 1932 Olympic Games through "forever wild" land in New York's Adirondack Park. The run is finally built on private land at Lake Placid.

Rosalie Edge, a New York reformer and Audubon life member, discovers that Louisiana fur trappers are permitted to take muskrats on the Rainey Sanctuary. Though Gilbert Pearson argues that the rodents are depleting vegetation used by waterfowl, Edge and her supporters force him to back down. From then on Edge leads a bitter attack on Pearson's policies.

Franklin D. Roosevelt is elected to the first of his four terms as U.S. president. Not since his cousin Theodore's administration have conservation issues enjoyed such high priority in the White House. FDR's projects to fight the Great Depression will include the Civilian Conservation Corps, which puts two million unemployed young men to work on forest protection, soil conservation, and other jobs in the national parks and forests.

Despite cries from private power interests that legislation creating the Tennessee Valley Authority is a "socialist idea" and a "Russian bill," FDR signs it into law. The dam and reservoir, built at Muscle Shoals on the Tennessee River, provides the nation's most poverty-stricken major river basin with electric power, flood and erosion control, and diversified industries.

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