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Odd Wisconsin Archive

The Ides of Marsh

Driving from Madison into Dodge Co. yesterday, we saw open water for the first time in months, as well as a foolish turkey walking in Hwy 73 and three majestic sandhill cranes overhead. That part of the state is known for its wildlife, thanks in large part to the preservation of Horicon Marsh. On March 14, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt created the first federal wildlife preserve, and Wisconsin's best known refuge is this one in Dodge County, adminstered jointly by the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the Wisconsin DNR.

In the early days of white settlement, Horicon Marsh was viewed as a wasteland. It was dammed and steamboats crossed it, as described in this 1931 newspaper article . But in the Progressive Era, when many Americans had witnessed the extinction or near destruction of the passenger pigeon, American bison, and majestic white pine trees of their youth, the preservation of natural areas began to seize the public imagination.

At the turn of the 20th century, the State of Wisconsin joined the federal government in promoting wildlife conservation. Robert La Follette rebeled against the influence of lumber barons and fought to protect Wisconsin's natural resources from unrestrained exploitation. He worked closely with UW president Charles Van Hise, author of the first textbook on conservation in 1910, to shape public policy. Private organizations such as the Wisconsin Game Protective Association also worked to conserve our state's natural heritage 100 years ago.

In fact, the roots of conservation in Wisconsin reach all the way back to the mid-19th century, when Increase Lapham and the young John Muir roamed the landscapes so recently ceded by Indian nations. See more documents about early Wisconsin conservation at Turning Points in Wisconsin History.

:: Posted in Animals on March 15, 2008
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