Conservation and Environmentalism


Lumber train on trestle

Lumber train on trestle. Folder "Lumbering and
Forestry Photos." Junius E. Beal papers, Box 13.

The concept of conservation of natural resources grew in the United States in the late nineteenth century as a reaction to the massive waste of resources of that era. In Michigan, influential citizens and government officials were appalled by the destruction of Michigan's virgin forests at the hands of unscrupulous logging companies and the reduction of the state's fish and game populations through over-fishing and hunting by commercial enterprises.

As a result of their concern, the Michigan Fish Commission (1873), the state game warden (1887), and the Michigan Forestry Commission (1899) were established to protect and utilize fish, game, and forest resources. The aim of these early programs was to conserve and "improve" resources so that they could be used more sustainably over the long term. These natural resource management programs brought together government managers and resource consumers, i.e. hunters, fishermen, and timber companies.

After World War II new voices, with a new way of looking at humanity's relationship to the natural environment, joined those concerned about the use of natural resources. As a result of the rising standard of living and increased leisure time after the war, many middle class citizens became more interested in the value of the unspoiled environment for recreation, for respite from urban life, and as an indicator of public health, rather than as a collection of resources to be used.

Consumers Power Plants

Consumers Power Company Electric
Generating Facilities Folder "Dams and
Bridges. Gordon Charles papers, Box 7.
Click to enlarge.

Later these feelings evolved for many into a respect for the value of the environment for its own sake. Over time this attitude toward the environment became known as environmentalism. Broadly based environmental citizen action groups grew to prevent or mitigate the abuse of the environment by special interests--in many cases those same users that had been the beneficiaries of the earlier conservation movement--and to pressure the government resource managers to support environmentalist objectives. The earliest activities of many of these environmentalist groups were in the defense of wild lands from intrusion by developers.

The Michigan Historical Collections document the environmental movement through a great number of manuscript collections, from the papers of governors and senators to those of environmental organizations and individual environmentalists. This subject guide is arranged topically, in order to serve the interests of researchers.

Activism and Advocacy highlights manuscript and organizational collections that relate to environmental advocacy groups, individual activists, and environmental watchdog organizations.

Environmental Politics and Legislation identifies collections with material about legislative measures to conserve natural resources and protect the environment.

Osborn at hunting lodge

C.S. Osborn and party at Deerfoot Hunting Lodge. Folder
"Deerfoot Hunting Lodge, 1905-1910." Chase S. Osborn
papers, Box 144.

Natural Resource Management and Monitoring includes collections pertaining to the stewardship of Michigan's natural resources, with both individual and institutional collections represented.

Environmental Education and Study lists collections that document the growth of environmental education, but also self-directed study. Faculty members of the UM School of Natural Resources and Environment are well represented in this category.

Industry and Development contains collections from individuals trading in natural resources. While the majority of the collections listed address the lumber industry, the Joseph T. Lee papers document land use issues in the Ann Arbor/Washtenaw area.

Parklands and Nature Preserves features collections from individuals and organizations involved in the endeavor establishing parks under the state and federal park system, as well as purchasing private land for nature preserves and wildlife sanctuaries.

Outdoor Recreation brings to light collections of several noted Michigan outdoor writers and journalists. These writers covered a wide array of recreational topics, such as fishing, camping, hunting, and canoeing.

Selected Published Works provides a cursory list of books, maps, and serials that may assist the researcher. However, the holdings listed are in no way comprehensive; further research is recommended.

Suggested Search Terms presents a list of recommended subject terms that can be used for a MIRLYN catalog search.

While this subject guide is not a comprehensive listing of all collections with material pertaining to the conservation and environmental movements, this subject guide does represent the bulk of collections relating to conservationism and environmentalism. Search terms to guide further research can be found in the Suggested Search Terms section of this guide.

Developed by Rachael Dreyer, Graduate Reference Assistant, June 2009.