Breath of Clarity

Natural Resource Management Eras in the U.S.

In the late 19th century, seeds of concern emerged overtime as several resources- such as fish, wildlife, trees and good soil- became difficult to find (Sparling 2014, 41). People noticed certain types of species were diminished as mining degraded the landscape (Sparling 2014, 42). Consequentially, four major natural resource management eras emerged from the late 19th century to the present. The eras are Protectionism, Post-War Capitalism, the Move Towards Environmentalism and Environmentalism’s Downturn (Sparling 2014, 41-49).

The focus of the Era of Protectionism was to preserve resources. The era brought about the first National Wildlife Refuge, national park, and established forest areas (Sparling 2014, 43). These advancements were influenced by the era’s political context as the federal government led by President Benjamin Harrison enabled the lands to be federally protected (Sparling 2014, 43). The railroad business was also influential in preserving beautiful areas as national parks attracted visitors and increased use of their trains (Sparling 2014, 43). Additionally, during the 1920s, non-governmental organizations such as the Boone and Crockett Club, the Sierra Club the New York Zoological Society, and the American Society of Mammalogists began to protest against predator elimination (Sparling 2014, 44). Gradually, total predator removal was reduced to selective predator control by federal and state agencies (Sparling 2014, 44).

A subset of the Protectionism era is the Dawning of Modern Wildlife Biology which focused on the importance of predators in regulating wildlife populations and pioneered the approach of managing habitat quality (Sparling 2014, 45). The approach to conservation was ignited by a U.S. Forest Service program of predator elimination at the Kaibab National Forest. The area’s deer population had decreased by 60% (Sparling 2014, 45). Aldo Leopold, a U.S. Forest Service worker in Arizona at the time, explained the deer population exceeded its ecological carrying capacity, degraded the habitat and starved because all of the nutritious food was gone (Sparling 2014, 44-45). Conversely, others constrained the era by claiming the lack of predators had no impact on the deer population and that balance through die-off was inevitable due to only plant/herbivore interactions (Sparling 2014, 45). Regardless, Leopold went on to write the book Game Management, the first textbook on wildlife management that took a habitat approach (Sparling 2014, 45).

Then, the Post-War Capitalism era happened when the Dust Bowl and Great Depression halted strides supporting the environment as the push for economic growth was made at the expense of natural resources. High rates of mineral extraction, industrial pollution of water and air, and loss of wildlife populations leading to extinction of species, continued unabated (Sparling 2014, 47). Air pollution became a major health concern and the famous Cuyahoga River Fire occurred. Acid rain from industrial combustion of high-sulfur coal, automobile exhausts and other sources polluted streams, river and ponds (Sparling 2014, 47). Further, during this time, surface mining continued to harm the land (Sparling 2014, 46). A spike of the birth rate led to added demand for more products and industry (Sparling 2014, 47).

Next, the new affluence of Americans enabled much of the population to move out of cities and into suburbs which brought people more closely connected to nature and started the Move Towards Environmentalism era (Sparling 2014, 47). Books, such as Silent Spring by Rachel Carson and A Sand County Almanac by Leopold, hit the best-seller list and helped show the planet was in trouble and was worth saving (Sparling 2014, 47). Consequentially, the media broadcasted the first Earth Day in April 1970. A CBS News Special had described the planet was “in a crisis of survival” (Kronkite 1970). The media attracted the attention of Congress leading to several impactful laws including the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act being passed as well as establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency (Sparling 2014, 47).

However, support for the environmental cause took a downturn during the Reagan administration from 1981-1989 and it has never returned to conditions of the previous era (Sparling 2014, 48). Reagan supported a low emphasis on the environment when he appointed James Watt as Secretary of the Interior and Anne Gorsuch who administered the Environmental Protection Agency. Both appointees reduced federal spending previously allocated to heal environmental problems and made decisions to prioritize industry over natural resource conservation. Additionally, environmentalists have repeatedly raised concern over issues that have not yet materialized (Sparling 2014, 48). Environmentalists have decreased their credibility through books such as The Population Bomb and An Essay on the Principle of Population (Sparling 2014, 48). The current goal should be to constantly, as well as accurately, present environmental issues to the public.


Kronkite, Walter. 1970. “1970 Earth Day – Part 1.” CBS News. Youtube. April 11, 2010. Video, 3:21:

Sparling, Donald W. 2014. Natural Resource Administration: Wildlife, Fisheries, Forests and Parks. San Diego: Academic Press. pp. 1-49

Comment by Andy Paul:

Mary, excellent summary here. I particularly like how you critically examined the role of power and capital in each section as it seems central to understanding management priorities via cultural values. Personally, I am curious about the environmental downturn era. Is the environmental downturn era defined by environmentalists with “decreased their credibility” because of specific publications, as Sparling (2014, 48) illustrates or have perpetrators of environmental misinformation such as Exxon Mobil and concerted efforts to decrease science-based conservation by the Reagan administration and beyond been more thematic? Rosenbaum (2019, 13-14) suggests that “the ultimate test of the ambitious U.S. regime of environmental regulation will be not how well it was conceived but how well it endures.” I wonder how this will continue to play out in the fourth era Sparling identifies.


Rosenbaum, Walter A. 2019. Environmental Politics and Policy. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, a Division of Sage.

Sparling, Donald W. 2014. Natural Resource Administration: Wildlife, Fisheries, Forests and Parks. San Diego: Academic Press.

Comment by Professor Frank Turina:


Your point about environmentalists losing credibility is very astute. A strong argument could me made that the current climate crisis and our lack of response is a result of this lack of credibility. You mentioned the Population Bomb by Paul and Anne Ehrlich, which is a good example, but environmentalists and other scientists have been predicting environmental catastrophe for centuries. In 1798, Thomas Malthus predicted mass starvation and disease due to growing population and increased resource needs. His theory launched a subfield of economics (malthusian economics) that still resonates today. For example, in 1972, an international panel called the Club of Rome released a report called “Limits to Growth” that gained wide attention. The report predicted that economic and population growth would deplete the planet’s resources and cause economic collapse around 2070. The Brundtland Report “Our Common Future” released in 1987 also painted a bleak environmental future if we continued to deplete our natural resources. I’m not saying that Malthus was wrong or that these reports are misleading or invalid. Indeed, they all accurately predict some conditions that we have or may soon come to realize, including Ehrlich’s book.

However, climate change deniers and skeptics have used these reports to claim that environmentalists are always warning that the environmental apocalypse is right around the corner – and climate change is just the next “population bomb” that will never come to pass. They are constantly bringing up articles from the 1970s about a theory that predicted a coming ice age (a theory that never had anything close to a scientific consensus was subsequently debunked). None the less, parties with an interest in preventing measures designed to fight global warming (e.g. oil companies) have skillfully fostered and used this skepticism to prevent or bend political action in their favor.

My Comment:

Hi Professor Turina,

Yes, stellar point in saying the degree of accuracy in the information being broadcasted by environmentalists is not necessarily the problem. As a result, since environmentalists are now struggling to cultivate a consensus of public support for climate change action by use of forecasted catastrophes, it is crucial to re-strategize. Alternatively, focusing on informing the public about economic incentives available for renewable energy and other environmentally-friendly products would be more productive.

In his Ted Talk, Amory Lovins conveyed, by 2050, a transition to renewable energy would cost $5 trillion dollars less than using oil and gas, humbly assuming carbon emissions and all other external costs are worth zero (2019). His concept of “institutional acupuncture” caught my attention. His argument is grounded upon the strategy of figuring out where the business logic is not flowing properly and sticking needles into the issues. For example, he makes a sound point in saying oil is getting uncompetitive even at low prices before it is unavailable at high prices. Overall, he did a great job of explaining how changes to improve energy-efficiency have small capital costs compared to the previously used supplies. His main point is there is no sacrifice involved in the transition to 100% renewable energy, and instead he saw fighting climate change as a lucrative opportunity. I agree with his idea of focusing on product design to accelerate the transition and ultimately concur with Lovins as he mentioned it is important to inform consumers about the characteristics leading to electric being cheaper.


Lovins, Amory. 2019. “A 40-Year Plan for Energy.” TED. Accessed October 17, 2020.

Comment by Professor Frank Turina:

I’ll have to check out his talk. I love the idea of institutional acupuncture!