In 1694, with its whitetails already devastated by overhunting and habitat loss, the Massachusetts Bay Colony prohibited deer hunting for half the year. New Hampshire did the same in 1741. Decades before the Revolutionary War, residents of the Northeast were already witnessing and responding to the effects of overexploitation.
By the 1820s, towns across the Northeast had begun working to restore depleted fisheries. Hundreds of coastal streams were managed for migratory alewives. Hundreds of inland ponds were stocked with pickerel. And thousands of settlements around the region petitioned for restrictions on fishing methods.
As historian Richard Judd documents in Common Lands, Common People, these measures marked some of the first collective efforts among Euro-American colonists to steward the wild resources upon which they depended. These measures also set the stage for the emergence of state conservation agencies.
Between 1860 and 1870, states across the Northeast appointed fish commissioners to consider the restoration of migratory fish runs, the stocking of inland waters, and the effects of dams and pollution. Before long, each commission’s mandate expanded to include game animals. For decades, these commissions were funded by modest state appropriations. In 1897, for instance, the Vermont legislature allocated $4,750 for the “protection and propagation of fish and game.” It wasn’t until the early twentieth century that states began collecting revenue from hunting and fishing licenses to fund conservation initiatives.
Our first national wildlife conservation policy, drafted by Aldo Leopold and several colleagues, was completed in 1930. It asserted that effective wildlife protection and restoration would require an investment in the burgeoning science of wildlife management and the training of skilled professionals. Such an investment would require stable funding.
"Paying for State Wildlife Conservation"
By Tovar Cerulli in Northern Woodlands, Autumn 2013.
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