Scientists now know that early Paleo-hunters played a lethal role in the extinction of many of North America’s megafauna. Using flint-tipped spears and arrows over the past 15,000 years, they over-harvested many big game species to the point of extinction. The list of these creatures is pretty astounding and includes, North American horses, glyptodons, mastodons, mammoths, short-faced bear, dire-wolf, American cheetah, ground sloth, giant beaver, camels, and more. It’s hard to believe, but explore the Internet to learn more about these long-lost animals of the American landscape.
Unfortunately, the waves of European immigrants that flooded to America in the 1700 and 1800’s didn’t know about America’s past of hunting megafauna into extinction. So they shot and ate what was left of America’s wildlife as if the herds would last forever. But of course they wouldn’t last forever. Especially when the population of European immigrants doubled from 17 million to 32 million between 1840 and 1860. To feed the masses of humans invading America and reduce the food sources of Native Americans, buffalo hunters descended upon the 33 million buffalo that once spread across the west. In 1870, market hunters killed an estimated 5 million buffalo that year alone. And by 1886, there were only 540 bison left in the entire United States, mostly in the Yellowstone area of Montana.
But thankfully for America’s wildlife, things began to turn around in 1872, when the outcry of early conservationists prompted President Ulysses S. Grant to established our first national park, Yellowstone, that included over 3,300 square miles. Next, a politician, hunter, and conservationist named Theodore Roosevelt organized a group of hunters in New York to form the Boone & Crockett Club in 1887… with a mission of preserving the big game of North America. More and more people pushed for conservation of America’s wildlife and in 1900 Congress passed the Lacy Game and Wild Birds Preservation and Disposition Act, that made it illegal to transport wild game taken illegally across state borders.
Then in 1901, Teddy Roosevelt became President and spearheaded a new era of wildlife conservation. He strongly believed in protecting as much land as possible for wildlife and public use. During his presidency, Roosevelt helped protect wildlife and habitat by establishing 148 million acres of land in 16 national monuments, 51 wildlife refuges, and 5 national parks.
In the 1930’s, another hunter and pioneer in wildlife conservation emerged as “the father of wildlife management”. Aldo Leopold became the first professor of game management at the University of Wisconsin. He wrote the first book on Game Management where he said that a combination of ethics and science should be used in wildlife management and conservation. Leopold and his writings helped educate a nation about the importance of an environmental ethic, and the scientific principles of wildlife management that included things like the biological carrying capacity of species in a certain habitat.
To learn more about the story of America’s Pioneers in Conservation, watch this video, have your teacher use the classroom lesson activities below and click on the Learn More tab below.
This wildlife education program is made possible with support of these key educational partners. You and your teachers can link to their websites for additional information and educational opportunities.
At SCI Foundation’s American Wilderness Leadership School location in Jackson, Wyoming, educators and students learn about conservation, wildlife management, and outdoor recreation through outdoor, hands-on activities. Their Hands on Wildlife (HOW) program provides educators with conservation education instructional tools they can use in hands-on instruction.