- The Rise of the American Conservation Movement: Power, Privilege and Environmental Protection by Dorceta E. Taylor
In this illuminating study, Dorceta E. Taylor, James E. Crowfoot Collegiate Professor of Environmental Justice at the University of Michigan, examines the elitist, patriarchal, and often quite racist and classist ideological underpinnings that mark the historical roots of the American conservation and preservation movements. Taylor devotes particular attention to the form of environmentalism she terms "business environmentalism," defined as "an amalgam of utilitarianism, preservationism, conservationism, and capitalist interests" (27). Taylor traces the role that creeping urbanization and industrialization played in the development of "business environmentalism," which was inextricably linked with the imperative to preserve access to game, hunting, and recreational grounds integral to the construction and performance of elite white masculinity.
Taylor provides compelling insights into the construction and fetishization of "wilderness" as a response to urbanization and immigration; "elites seeking to separate themselves from congestion and poverty" increasingly "began segregating themselves in upscale downtown neighborhoods or on the periphery of urban centers" (36). Early on, Taylor argues, preservationist agendas were compatible with corporate interests, given profits to be gleaned from "the sale of arms, ammunition, gear and other equipment," along with transportation, "to the burgeoning ranks of outdoor recreationers" (27). Early environmental regulations with respect to fishing and hunting, like the creation of private game parks, were designed in the US — as in England — to preserve elite access to fish and game. While private sports clubs and game parks went unregulated, newly enacted regulations that made no distinction between subsistence and "market" hunters effectively relegated, to varying degrees, working class whites, immigrants, and people of colour, to the status of criminalized poachers.
Perhaps no individual better exemplifies the contradictions and double standards at work in early preservationism and conservationism, and their underlying elitism and racism, than Theodore Roosevelt, to whom Taylor devotes considerable attention. Roosevelt, who would play a central role in the creation of both national forests and parks, like other early "gentlemen" environmentalists, also enthusiastically participated at various points in hunting both birds and animals "nearing extinction," since, as Taylor notes, "sport hunters of his ilk took some pleasure in bagging a trophy of the last living specimen of a particular game animal" (76). The honorary president of the American Bison Society, which sought to preserve American buffalo from extinction, nonetheless held that "the decimation of the bison [End Page 609] was 'necessary' for economic growth," which involved "gaining control" of Plains tribal lands, and "opening the area up" for white settlers and cattle grazing (183–4).
Taylor examines the range of perspectives that seminal figures in the American environmental movement adopted particularly with respect to Native Americans, devoting particular attention to the virulent racism of John Muir. George Catlin endorsed the "preservation of Indians and aspects of their culture an explicit part of [national] park policy" (359). Roosevelt expressly presided over the removal of Native peoples from the five national parks created during his tenure as president. Frederick Law Olmsted held that "indigenous peoples were feeble-minded, malleable, and unable to resist the will of others" (359), and Muir left an extensive record of his disdain for Native peoples. While Muir "stopped short of advocating Indian removal," he nonetheless held that "Native people have no rightful place in the wild environment" (360). And inasmuch as Muir frequently associated Native people with animals, he nonetheless held that unlike wild animals, Native people were characterized by an "uncleanliness" that distinguished them from wild nature (361). The book also deftly documents the emergence of subsequent segregationist policies in national parks and forests that were directed primarily at African Americans.
Taylor's close attention to Audubon Society campaigns mounted at the turn of the twentieth century to end the use of wild bird feathers in the millinery industry also illuminates a host of contradictions and the racism and misogyny that pervaded early environmentalism. In the context of the Audubon campaigns, traditional Native American ceremonial...