Honoring the People Who Have Made a Difference

National Wildlife Federation's Conservation Hall of Fame®

12-01-1999 // NWF Staff

Rachel Carson is one of 23 esteemed environmentalists and pioneers in natural-resource protection who have been inducted in recent years into the National Wildlife Federation's Conservation Hall of Fame. "I think it is critical to remember the origins of the nation's conservation movement and the people who have been the leaders, both intellectually and philosophically," says NWF President Mark Van Putten. "They are a source not only of invaluable knowledge but also of great inspiration."

The Hall of Fame was established in 1963 at NWF's former Washington, D.C., headquarters building. "There were halls of fame in this country for everything from baseball players to musicians. We thought it was high time for Americans to honor those citizens who have made a major contribution to conservation," recalled the late Thomas L. Kimball last spring. Kimball was the Federation's executive vice president in 1963.

Late that year, NWF's board of directors approved the first inductee: Theodore Roosevelt. "He didn't invent conservation," observed this magazine in the August/September 1964 issue. "But what he did was channel the various streams of activity into a single river that, with direction and momentum, could no longer be ignored."

Indeed, during his presidency, Roosevelt established the U.S. Forest Service, the nation's first national wildlife refuges, three national parks and dozens of national monuments. "He created a framework for the modern conservation movement," said Kimball. "We all agreed that he was a logical first choice for our new program."

Twelve months later, John Muir, Aldo Leopold and J.N. "Ding" Darling joined President Roosevelt in the NWF Hall Of Fame. They were followed in subsequent years by such well-known naturalists as John James Audubon, Henry David Thoreau and John Wesley Powell. Rachel Carson was inducted in 1972.

Over the years, NWF has also recognized several conservationists whose names are less familiar to most Americans, but whose accomplishments clearly are impressive. Ira Gabrielson, for instance, became the first director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1940, a position that enabled him to preserve more wetlands for North American waterfowl than anyone else in history. In the late 1880s, Anna Botsford Comstock founded the nation's first nature-education program in New York that later was adopted by Cornell University and schools across the country. Sigurd Olson, the most recent inductee, was an acclaimed nature writer who worked tirelessly in the mid-twentieth century to protect the Great Lakes ecosystem.

"To be successful in conservation, you must have good science-based information and strong public policy, but you also must have passion and commitment," says Van Putten. "In selecting people for the Conservation Hall of Fame, NWF has sought to honor Americans who represent a good balance of scientific knowledge and passionate spirit."

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