The Camp-Fire Club of America was founded in 1897 to “Bring together men who subscribe to the principles of adventure and fellowship in the great outdoors, to share their experiences, and further the interests of hunting and conservation.”
These were interesting times in our country. At the end of the 19th century, America’s wilderness, wildlife, and natural resources were under considerable pressure of unregulated exploitation by commercial and private interests. Camp-Fire members realized what was at stake and took action.
On July 10, 1909, a letter signed by Ernest Thompson Seton, President, and by Dr. William Hornaday, a member of the Board of Governors of the Camp-Fire Club of America, read in part as follows:
“At the last election of officers of the Camp-Fire Club, Mr. Ernest Thompson Seton was elected President, on an active game-protection platform. It is the sentiment of a large majority of the Board of Governors that it is the bounded duty of the Club to enter actively into the general cause of wildlife protection, and do everything possible for the enforcement of existing game laws, for the creation of more game preserves and for enactment of such other protective legislation as may be necessary. In view of the alarmingly rapid rate at which the best of American wildlife is being swept away, it has now become a duty of good citizenship to take an active part in conserving these most desirable natural resources.”
The Committee on Conservation of Forests and Wildlife was born, and the immediate and influential action of Camp-Fire members soon changed the course of conservation in the United States, including these monumental achievements that stand to this day:
Saving the American Bison–1905:
In 1903, only 969 American Bison remained in the United States. President (and Camp-Fire member) Theodore Roosevelt advocated emergency legislation to establish a new herd in Yellowstone National Park to save the species. William T. Hornaday, a fellow Camp-Fire member and director of the New York Zoological Park, enlisted the help from several dedicated and influential Camp-Fire men to create the American Bison Society.
The Society secured funding, habitat, and executed the complicated transfer of bison from the Zoological Park in New York to Yellowstone to supplement numbers and genetic diversity. Over the next three decades, Camp-Fire and the Bison Society managed the recovery of this iconic American species. By 1933 over 27,000 American Bison thrived in the west.
Besides saving the American Bison, this effort established the model for North American wildlife conservation.
Fur Seal Preservation Act–1909:
Discovered by fur hunters in the mid-nineteenth century, the Pribilof Islands in Alaska territory were breeding colonies for an estimated five million fur seals. Unchecked open water hunting by American, Russian, British and Japanese hunters took an enormous toll of male, female and pup seals. Within forty years, the population of the island had been reduced to between 140,000 and 150,000 seals.
Despite formidable opposition from the influential fur lobby, Camp-Fire’s Committee members successfully introduced legislation in 1911 to suspend all seal hunting on the island for 10 years. Further efforts ended open-water hunting through the framing of the North Pacific Fur Seal Convention, the first international treaty to address wildlife preservation. By 1934 the Pribilof population had rebounded to more than one and a half million animals.
Glacier National Park–founded 1910:
This period in our country’s history witnessed the creation of our most iconic national parks. However, national park status did not include protection for its wildlife. Camp-Fire’s Committee moved swiftly to push legislation for preserve status for Glacier, against great opposition. The effort succeeded in 1911, making Glacier the first national park to be also declared a wildlife preserve. The Committee then increased the preserve to include Alberta’s neighboring Waterton Lakes Park in 1914.
The Plumage Bill–1910:
In the late 19th century, New York City was the headquarters for the North American millinery trade in wild bird feathers. Plumage of slaughtered birds came to this city from all over the United States and from tropical countries around the world. Here feathers were trimmed, dyed and arranged into hat decorations. By 1900 market hunting had threatened many species of birds, and pushed some to the brink extinction.
Camp-Fire’s Committee combined forces with the National Association of Audubon Societies to create and pass legislation to end this industry and make it illegal to sell plumage of egrets and other native birds. This successful effort was instrumental in closing the principal outlet for feather hunters at a time when protection was of paramount importance. These birds, in particular egrets, herons and ibises have survived and increased due to this protection.