1.1 What is the purpose
of this chapter? This chapter provides an historical overview of the
beginnings and development of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It
informs employees and others of the cultural forces, political
developments, and legislative actions that led to the establishment and
growth of the Service.
1.2 What is the
scope of this chapter? This chapter traces the evolution of the Service from
the Federal efforts to protect fishery stocks and set aside lands for wildlife
to the development of the diverse mission that exists today. Following is a
table of contents for the chapter.
Origins: A Tale of Two Bureaus (1871-1933). Since 1871 the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service and its predecessor agencies have been at the forefront of
American wildlife conservation. The Service began in an era of drastic fish
and wildlife declines and, in the course of its history, succeeded in
expanding and strengthening our nation’s wildlife resources. Lacking any
comprehensive organic legislation, the Service has gone through many
organizational changes and seen its duties evolve to meet the changing
needs of wildlife and the American public. The Service traces its lineage
back to two predecessor bureaus—the Bureau of Fisheries and the Bureau of
A. The Bureau of Fisheries.
(1) The U.S. Commission on Fish and
Fisheries was established on February 9, 1871. Its first Director was
Spencer Fullerton Baird, an energetic naturalist who helped shape the Smithsonian
Institution’s research programs and designed a Federal role for scientific
fisheries management. The Commission:
Responded to the
dramatic decline in the nation’s fishery stocks by supporting fisheries
research at sites like the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, MA.
Commissioned the ocean-going Albatross in 1882, one of many
fisheries research vessels.
the Fairport Biological Laboratory, in Fairport,
IA, which completed research to
successfully propagate threatened mussels on the Mississippi
In 1872, pioneered
early fish restoration by creating the first National Fish Hatchery (NFH)
in partnership with the McCloud Wintu tribe of
Indians at the Baird Station on the McCloud River in California. As the
National Fish Hatchery System grew, fish were transported and stocked
across North America using fish
cars—specially modified rail cars designed for fisheries transport.
(2) The Commission was renamed the
Bureau of Fisheries in 1903 and placed under the Department of Commerce and
In 1905 the Bureau
became responsible for the administration and enforcement of laws governing
Alaskan salmon fisheries.
sponge taking regulations in the Gulf of Mexico and the Straits
of Florida was added in 1906.
Management of take
limits for fur seals and foxes of the Pribilof Islands was added in 1908.
When the Department
of Commerce and Labor was split in 1913, Fisheries remained with Commerce.
Supervision of conservation of aquatic mammals in Alaska, such as sea otters and walruses,
was added 7 years later.
In 1922 Congress
added the authority to rescue fishes from flooded areas throughout the Mississippi Valley and to propagate mussels.
Throughout this period the Bureau continued to add new fish hatcheries and
maintained a strong stocking and research program.
The Fish and
Wildlife Coordination Act of 1934 legislated fish migration, mitigation, and
fisheries restocking along waters that Federal agencies (e.g., the Army
Corps of Engineers) modified.
By 1939 the Bureau
of Fisheries had made significant progress in restoring the nation’s
fisheries, ameliorating damage to fish habitat caused by Federal water
projects, and expanding fisheries science domestically and internationally.
During this time,
the Bureau of Biological Survey was making similar progress in wildlife
B. The Bureau of Biological Survey. The Office of Economic
Ornithology and Mammalogy was established in 1885
under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A year later the Office changed
its name to the Division of Economic Ornithology and Mammalogy.
Its mission was to promote birds and other wildlife “helpful” to farmers
and sportsmen while reducing “injurious” pests and wildlife. Its first
Director, Clinton Hart Merriam, was more interested in carrying out
scientific studies than doing extension work. In 1896 the Department
renamed it the Division of Biological Survey to recognize its expanded
mandate to study and map the nation’s faunal resources. In 1905 it was
renamed again the Bureau of Biological Survey. The Biological Survey
produced a striking series of "life-zone" maps of the United States, Canada,
These maps of wildlife and plant species across the continent were an
important early ecological tool and a precursor to later biome and
ecosystem studies in North America.
(1) Animal Damage Control. The U.S. Department of Agriculture
was always under pressure to decrease predation on crops and livestock.
As part of its
mandate to help American agriculture and to increase game species, in 1888
the agency began its Animal Damage Control program. The program created
research and test sites to study the killing of rodents and predators.
Early success led
Congress to approve appropriations to expand the program in 1914.
In 1929 a Division
of Predator and Rodent Control was created that quickly became one of the
most important parts of the agency’s mission. The Division conducted
large-scale exterminations of wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, rodents, and
other “injurious” wildlife.
By the 1930s and
1940s these types of animal damage control activities were garnering
criticism within the agency. Questions were raised within and outside the
agency as to the efficiency of the methods and the ethics of exterminating
some wildlife to enhance game and agriculture.
Animal Damage Control
became less important to the agency in the post-World War II era and the
program was transferred out of the agency in 1986.
(2) Law Enforcement. The Biological Survey’s efforts
to enhance wildlife in these early decades focused on regulatory and habitat
protection for threatened species.
In the late 19th
century market hunting and the trade in feathers for ladies fashion helped
decimate many game and bird species. Sportsmen’s groups (like the Boone and
Crockett Club) and bird protection groups (like the Audubon Society) began
to call for Federal legislation to protect wildlife.
In 1900 the Lacey
Act banned interstate commerce in illegally obtained wildlife. “Lacey
Agents” were assigned to the Biological Survey to enforce the new law. They
were some of the first Federal law enforcement agents to engage in
The Migratory Bird
Treaty Act of 1918 gave the Biological Survey expanded control over the
management of migratory species and further expanded the law enforcement
role of the agency.
(3) Habitat Protection.
Habitat protection was the other focus of the Biological Survey in the
early 20th century.
Alaskan efforts attempted to protect northern fur seals at the Pribiloff Islands and fish, sea lions, and sea otters at Afognak Island.
A more systematic
protection of wildlife habitat began during Theodore Roosevelt’s
Presidency. As a keen ornithologist and an ardent conservationist, Roosevelt was easily persuaded of the need to create
a series of public lands to protect and enhance our nation’s wildlife.
On March 14, 1903 Roosevelt established Pelican Island as the first
Federal Bird Reservation. The first warden of the refuge was Paul Kroegel, a German immigrant and energetic defender of
the rookery on this small island on the Atlantic side of Florida.
By the end of his
Presidency in 1909, Roosevelt had created
55 bird and game reservations, which became the foundation of the National
Wildlife Refuge System.
Over the next two
decades the refuge system continued to expand, slowly adding new refuges
for migratory waterfowl and other wildlife species. The Biological Survey
maintained oversight of these preserves and game ranges, but staff remained
low and habitat protection chronically underfunded.
It would take a combined economic and ecological disaster to redirect the
Biological Survey to a more wildlife-directed approach.
A New Deal for Conservation: The Creation of the
Fish and Wildlife Service (1934-1960).
A. The Dirty Thirties. Waterfowl habitat had been in drastic decline
since World War I, when the Government urged farmers to “plow to the
fences.” The 1920s saw a continuation of drainage, clearing, and other habitat
destruction, which, combined with large bag limits, began to decimate
waterfowl populations. Waterfowl numbers plummeted to new depths in the
1930s with the arrival of catastrophic dust storms, the resulting habitat
loss, and a new found mobility for hunters to reach those places that still
had birds. This problem did not go unnoticed by President Franklin
In 1934 a number of
sportsmen’s groups encouraged Roosevelt to
convene the "President's Committee on Wild Life Restoration”
(popularly known as the "Duck Committee") consisting of Thomas
Beck, Aldo Leopold, and Jay “Ding” Darling.
Darling became the
new Chief of the Biological Survey and, working with Chief of Refuges J.
Clark Salyer II, began to greatly expand the
B. Bucks for Ducks. To get the money his program would need, Darling
worked with allies in the Senate and through his personal correspondence
with President Roosevelt, he obtained emergency funds for his beloved
(1) The Migratory Bird Hunting
and Conservation Stamp Act. Six days after Darling took office,
Congress passed a bill he had long championed—the Migratory Bird Hunting
and Conservation Stamp Act (popularly known as the Duck Stamp Act). The Act
provides funds for acquiring migratory bird habitat. Funded by duck
hunters, this Act created the Federal Duck Stamp Program, which almost
immediately provided substantial funding for the purchase and protection of
wetlands across the country. The focus lay on developing a coherent system
for waterfowl that followed three areas of interest:
restoration in the North and Northwest;
and staging areas along the length of each of four major flyways (Atlantic, Mississippi,
Central, and Pacific); and
from the Chesapeake Bay to the Mississippi
delta to California’s Central
In less than 2 years, Salyer and his staff were able to create 45 new refuges
and protect more than 1.5 million acres of land across the continent.
(2) The Civilian Conservation
Corps (CCC). Other important initiatives in the 1930s included the
posting of a large number of CCC enrollees to National Wildlife Refuges and
National Fish Hatcheries. By 1939 there were 35 CCC camps on refuges
providing valuable labor, infrastructure, and habitat improvement services.
C. From Game to Wildlife Management. The 1930s witnessed a move from
a purely game management outlook to a more inclusive program of wildlife
protection. To support this growth in wildlife management, the Biological
Survey built the Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, Maryland
in 1939. This was the first Federal wildlife research center and it later
became a pioneer in long-term wildlife studies and early contaminants
research, including new work on DDT and captive breeding.
(1) Fish and Wildlife
Coordination Act. As the realm of wildlife protection expanded, Federal
oversight of habitat also grew in this era. The Fish and Wildlife
Coordination Act of 1934 required Federal agencies to consult with the
Bureau of Fisheries before constructing or licensing new dams. An amendment
to the Act in 1946 expanded Biological Survey oversight to any body of
water that a federally sponsored project would modify. This led to the
creation of the Division of River Basin Studies, which was renamed the
Division of Ecological Studies in 1974.
(2) Federal Aid in Wildlife
Restoration Act. The 1937 Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act
(popularly known as the Pittman-Robertson Act) initiated a modest excise
tax on firearms and ammunition to support State wildlife management
programs. States used funds from this program for wildlife habitat
acquisition, scientific studies, and wildlife restoration in the field.
This program solidified the partnership with sportsmen that had marked some
of the earliest conservation efforts.
D. War and Peace. As part of Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal" for
conservation, in 1939 the Bureau of Fisheries was moved from the
Department of Commerce to the Department of the Interior, and the Bureau of
Biological Survey was moved from the Department of Agriculture to the
Department of the Interior.
(1) On June 30, 1940,
the Department of the Interior merged the Bureau of Biological Survey and
the Bureau of Fisheries to create the Fish and Wildlife Service. This expanded agency finally
brought fish and wildlife resources under one Federal manager. However,
World War II presented new challenges to the Service. By 1942 the
Government closed all the CCC camps and drafted many employees into the
military, which exacerbated labor shortages within the Service. The
Department transferred Service headquarters from Washington
causing many of the staff to resign rather than relocate. The headquarters
did not return to Washington
until 1947, extending the period of exile 2 years beyond the end of World
(2) As veterans returned from WWII,
pressure was put on fish and wildlife resources to increase hunting and
In 1950 the Federal
Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act (popularly known as the Dingell-Johnson
Act) imposed a Federal excise tax on fishing equipment to support State projects
to restore or manage marine or freshwater fish resources.
In 1956 the Fish
and Wildlife Act renamed the agency the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and
divided it into two bureaus: the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries and the
Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife. The Fish and Wildlife Act was
designed to expand the commercial fishing industry, increase public
recreational use of fish and wildlife resources, and allow greater
expansion of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
An amendment to the
Duck Stamp Act in 1958 created the Small Wetlands Program, which expanded
tremendously beginning in the 1960s.
century saw the agency expand outward in its partnerships, wildlife work,
and management of habitat under its protection.
The Expanding Ark: Endangered Species, Wilderness, and
International Conservation (1960 to 2009).
A. From Silent Spring to Endangered Species. The number of species and their
habitat that the Service needed to protect expanded even more in the 1960s.
Rachel Carson, a Service employee from 1936-1952, helped usher in the
modern environmental movement with the publication of her book Silent
Spring (1962). Carson built on nearly 20 years of research at Patuxent Research Refuge to identify the deleterious
effects of DDT on birds, fish, and mammals and to make a strong case for
better protection of wildlife against this and similar, new threats. The
modern environmental movement expanded these protections exponentially.
(1) In the 1960s Congress clarified
the National Wildlife Refuge System mission.
The 1962 Refuge
Recreation Act continued trends from the 1950s by allowing increased
recreational uses on refuges as long as they did not interfere with the
refuge’s primary mission.
Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966 systematized the diverse
units of wildlife protection (e.g., game ranges, waterfowl production
areas, wildlife ranges) under the refuge system and allowed for multiple
uses on refuges as long as they were compatible with the establishing
legislation. Debates quickly emerged about what compatible use was at
(2) In 1966 the Endangered Species Preservation
Act directed the Service to begin creating a list of endangered species and
to acquire refuges for these species. In 1969 Mason Neck National Wildlife
Refuge (renamed Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge) in Virginia was the first
refuge established under this act for the protection of bald eagles. The
Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969 made it illegal to trade in any
(3) Congress took a more
comprehensive approach in 1973 by passing the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The ESA is designed to prevent future wildlife extinctions. It protects
both endangered and threatened plants and animals and the critical habitat
necessary for their survival. A truly pioneering piece of legislation, the
ESA was the most comprehensive wildlife protection anywhere in the world.
(4) In 1970 the Bureau of
Commercial Fisheries was moved back to the Department of Commerce and
renamed the National Marine Fisheries Service. This removed most marine
fisheries management from the Service and split enforcement of the ESA and
the Marine Mammal Protection Act (1972) between the two agencies.
(5) In 1975 endangered species
protection took an important global step when the Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES)
entered into force after the tenth signatory nation ratified it (the United States
was the first nation to sign the agreement). CITES mandates sustainable use
and management of wild and captive populations of threatened and endangered
wildlife. Currently more than 160 countries have signed the CITES treaty.
The ESA and CITES have led to an increase in the role of Service Law
Enforcement and the creation of its International Affairs division. CITES
international cooperation in species protection, and
Was the culmination
of a century of cross-border protection originally extending beyond State
borders and now extending internationally.
B. Wilderness and a New Refuge System. Refuges also experienced new
growth in this environmental era.
(1) The 1964 Wilderness Act added a
new designation to many of our nation’s refuge lands. Howard Zahniser, a former Service employee, contributed to
writing the Act. It defined wilderness as “an area where the earth and its
community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor
who does not remain.” In 1968 Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey became
the first refuge that Congress designated as wilderness. Since 1968
Congress has designated over 20 million acres of refuge lands as
wilderness, including parts of the oldest refuge, Pelican Island.
(2) The Alaska Native Claims
Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971 added acreage to Alaska refuges. The Alaska National Interest
Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) of 1980 was the greatest expansion in
refuge history. ANILCA added nine new refuges, expanded seven refuges, and
added 53.7 million acres to the refuge system, nearly tripling the acreage
of refuge lands. With ANILCA certain large-scale ecosystems were suddenly
within refuge boundaries. The expanded refuges included the nation’s
largest refuge, the 19.6 million acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
(3) The refuge system had existed for
94 years without an “organic act” or comprehensive legislation outlining
how it should be managed and used. On October 9, 1997 the National Wildlife
Refuge System Improvement Act gave guidance for management of the entire
system. The Act defined the refuge system’s mission as “the conservation,
management, and where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife and
plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit
of present and future generations of Americans.”
(4) In 2009, President George Bush
created three Marine National Monuments in the Pacific
Ocean—adding approximately 53 million acres to the National
Wildlife Refuge System. These remote coral reef ecosystems are the largest
fully protected area in the world, providing important habitat for birds
and marine fisheries.
(5) Currently there are more than
545 refuges managing more than 150 million acres of habitat, the largest
and most effective wildlife habitat program in the world. The refuge system
is a great ongoing scientific experiment to protect at least a small
percentage of the planet where wildlife can survive and thrive.
C. Tomorrow’s Conservation. The U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service has seen its role and mission
grow tremendously since 1871. When wildlife has faced new and unexpected
challenges, the Service expanded and evolved to meet these needs, always at
the forefront of conservation. Although it has undergone many
reorganizations and name changes, its mission has remained remarkably
consistent—to protect the nation’s fish and wildlife resources for today