The word “conservation” is defined as “a careful preservation and protection of something; especially planned management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect.” Many nature writers view conservation as a way of looking at the world and a way of action based upon that point of view. Conservation includes the recognition of limits, since humans in the past, would have no interest in conserving something that was in unlimited supply. Many scholars would argue that a conservation viewpoint leads one to behave as a responsible citizen of the planet by being involved with its protection. Henry David Thoreau, the author of “Walden,” would be one of those with a conservation viewpoint. Thoreau gave a voice to the environment in which he lived and explored. It is through his words, that we are allowed an introspective view of the natural world. In his essay “Walking,” Thoreau writes, “I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil, – to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society.”
Early American concepts of nature were influenced by several events in American life as well as economic and population trends, religion, cultural and artistic shifts, mass immigration, technology, war, and ideals of independence. All of which, greatly shaped forever how both the common settler and intellectual viewed nature. A series of changes spiritually and politically affected how Americans felt about their environment. Beginning with the Puritans and their biblical ideals for the New World, the nation soon shifted focus to ideas of independence and progress in the 18th century. In the 19th century, many Americans moved towards the transcendental concept of gaining a spiritual oneness with nature.
It was here that a new vision began, one that ignited a movement towards preservation of nature. One such Transcendentalist and author, Henry David Thoreau, would make his mark on environmental thought with his 1854 masterpiece “Walden.” Thoreau’s words inspired several prominent naturalists, including the founder of the Sierra Club, John Muir. Muir would in turn, greatly influence President Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot (Director of the U.S. Forest Service) at a time when nature was being overlooked in favor of industry. With the backing of Muir and Pinchot, Roosevelt began to create several forest reserves. Almost 50 years after Thoreau’s “Walden” was published, the Conservation Movement officially began. It would be the first national movement towards the preservation of nature in American history.
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
Quote – Henry David Thoreau, “The Natural History Essays”