A Year for the Birds
Compiled by Marla Mertz, Marion County Conservation

This is an important year for birds with many celebrations upcoming across the nation. Birds are common and often taken for granted, but each individual species, their history, and shared worlds have played an important role in human life.

Last month on this site, we shared a tiny introduction to what makes a bird a bird, “Feathers...of course.” This brief introduction to feathers brings forward global awareness of how birds have inspired significant environmental conservation actions in the Americas.

Many conservation pioneers throughout history have Iowa ties, each having a deep concern for our local and global species, lands, and waters. To continue celebrating birds, International Migratory Bird Day, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Centennial, we introduce you to John F. Lacey, known as the Pioneer of federal conservation legislation. Lacey moved to Mahaska County, Iowa at the age of 14. He was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1888. Prior to his arrival, there were very few pieces of legislation concerning the environment and very few voices for wildlife protection. In 1894, Lacey wrote and sponsored the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act. One of Lacey’s most important successes was the protection of migratory birds, known as the Lacey Bird Act of 1900.

John F. Lacey

Reprinted with permission from the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, photo courtesy Mahaska County Conservation

Before Silent Spring...
Before Ding Darling...
Before Teddy Roosevelt...

There was Major John F. Lacey!

Here you can learn about this unsung hero -- the first strong Congressional voice for conservation in America. A century ago, he led the passage of legislation that still protects wilderness areas, wildlife, and migratory birds today! The lasting success of this "Iowa boy" in environmental policy should inspire us common folk to speak out for conservation today, too.

"The great cause--the protection of the forests, game, and the preservation of antiquities--had little interest to the average citizen of Iowa, but to the nation as a whole, in particular to generations yet to come, it will mean much. Today, we have him to thank for many of our scenic national parks and monuments, the vast national forest system, and the priceless federal wildlife refuges. We can see the results of his conservation efforts from coast to coast."

- Louis Pammel, the father of Iowa's state park program

Thanks to Greg Beisker and Jay Olson, who gathered and wrote most of the information contained on this website.

John F. Lacey: Champion for Birds and Wildlife Iowa's (Almost) Forgotten Conservationist
by Greg Beisker, reprinted with permission from the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation

Father of American Conservation.

This title could apply to many great early conservationists. Among them would be: Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, Theodore Roosevelt and Steve Mather. Each excelled in their own field of conservation. However, this title has also been bestowed upon the relatively unknown Major John F. Lacey, who was called superlative titles: "Father of Federal Conservation Legislation," "First Congressional Champion for Birds and Wildlife," and "Father of Federal Game Protection."

Lacey served as U.S. Representative for Iowa's Sixth District for 16 years (1889-1891,1893-1907). As chairman of the House Public Lands committee for 12 years he helped usher in the turn-of-the-century conservation movement by authoring and sponsoring most of the early legislation affecting our national parks, forests, and wildlife. His environmental concern, legal know-how, and political savvy established him at the right man in the right place at the right time to do a great and lasting work for his fellow countrymen. While Lacey's first concern was for the care of wild birds, he also secured protective legislation for other wildlife, national forests, and national parks and monuments. He truly was a prominent brain child and actuator of the early conservation movement. (Photo at left courtesy Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives)

In 1888 Lacey was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. While he received ridicule from his fellow Congressmen for his early concerns about wildlife protection, he soon silenced them by proving himself to be one of the ablest legislators in Washington. By 1907 when Lacey returned to private life, he had become recognized as THE Congressional authority on all conservation fronts. Lacey himself admitted that during his 12 year tenure as chairman of the Public Lands Committee very few pieces of conservation legislation passed Congress which he had not authored or at least rewritten. Theodore Roosevelt leaned heavily on Lacey during these years in pursuing his conservation policy. By this time, conservation issues had become an important and legitimate concern of the nation and congress could no longer consider them trivial or laughable.

Lacey's conservation concerns were many and diverse. Those areas in which he expressed the greatest concern included bird protection, wildlife protection, establishment of federal wildlife sanctuaries, management and expansion of federal forest reserve system, management and expansion of the national park system, proper management of the rest of the public domain (unsettled federal lands), and preservation of antiquities (Indian ruins).

The Lacey Bird Act of 1900 was the Major's first effort as far as bird protection was concerned. This act was an extension of interstate commerce regulation. It outlawed the interstate transport of game taken illegally according to state laws. Before this law went into effect, once illegally taken game was transported across state lines, both state and federal law enforcement officials became powerless to do anything to stop the lawbreakers. This law helped eliminate the huge, illegal portion of the game market enterprise. Many consider this law to be Lacey's greatest legislative victory.

great egret in breeding plummage
At the turn-of-the-century, it was fashionable for women to wear hats adorned with bird plumage and sometimes even entire birds. As grotesque as it may seem, this was the millinery fashion rage. Lacey tried to raise the conscience of women in that day towards conservation of the wild birds via a change in fashion. On May 12, 1905, Lacey addressed the Iowa Federation of Women's Clubs in Waterloo, Iowa. After praising them for their many good deeds and thanking them for their support of forest preservation he then chided them. "In the preservation of our birds, the women of America were slow to act, but they are now doing a great part. We have a wireless telegraph, a crownless queen, a thornless cactus, a seedless orange, and a coreless apple. Let us now have a birdless hat!" His appeal was heard and the Federation went on to become one of Iowa's strongest conservation organizations in the 1910s and 1920s.

Lacey was successful in initiating federal wildlife protection. He authored the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act in 1894. This act turned the park into the first national wildlife preserve in which all hunting and trapping was forbidden. He secured funding for the creation of two federal buffalo herds. The establishment of Witchita Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, the first Congressionally-designated area of this type outside a national park, was largely Lacey's doing. Lacey was also responsible for several other wildlife protection measures and national park areas like Crater Lake, Yosemite, and Yellowstone National Parks.

Forest protection and management was an area of much interest to Lacy. He helped draft the legislation which created the forest reserve program in 1891. If it weren't for Lacey, the entire program may have been scuttled in 1897. He was continually calling for the proper administration of the reserve system. The Major worked closely with Gifford Pinchot, the father of American forestry and the head of the Bureau of Forestry (predecessor of the U.S. Forest Service), in securing a workable federal forestry program.

Lacey's record of conservation and human rights legislation marked him as a man of great vision, concern, and drive. Unfortunately, the esteem held for Lacey by political leaders in Washington and conservationists and sportsmen across the nation did not pervade his constituents back in Iowa. He had labeled himself a Standpat Republican, opposed to most economic and foreign trade reform measures being advocated by the increasingly popular Progressives. The voters of Iowa viewed him as being out of step with their wishes on "pocketbook" issues. Consequently they handed him a stunning defeat in 1906. While Iowans correctly identified Lacey with old fashion, reactionary economic policies, they largely failed to credit him for his monumental legislative work for conservation.

The election loss did not stop Lacey's work for conservation reform. He concentrated his efforts on approval of a migratory bird law and expansion of the wildlife reserve system. As a member of the American League of Sportsmen Committee on Conservation, Lacey had a platform from which to "preach" his message.

Lacey lived to see the enactment of the Weeks-McLean Migratory Bird Act. He even served on the National Advisory Council which formulated the regulations by which this act came to be enforced. The growth and management reforms of the wildlife reserve system came slowly until finally in 1934 the National Wildlife Refuge System Act was enacted. At last the nation had "caught up" to where Lacey had been 32 years earlier when he was proposing that all forest reserves have a wildlife reserve within them.

The results of Major John F. Lacey's selfless dedication to conservation issues are still evident to us today in the form of national forests, national wildlife refuges, national monuments, migrating waterfowl, and many other outdoor wonders.

Learn more:

International Migratory Bird Day is officially held the second Saturday in May. It is a day to celebrate world bird migration and bird conservation. Although many of us celebrate birds 365 days a year, it hasn’t always been that way in history. 

In 2016 the Migratory Bird Treaty celebrates 100 years of migratory bird conservation. The Migratory Bird Treaty is the convention between the United States and Great Britain (for Canada) for the Protection of Migratory Birds and was signed on August 16, 1916. The treaty connects the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service with our federal, state, private, non-government, tribal, and international partners who share a long, successful history of conservation, protection, and management of migratory bird populations. 

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Raptor Viewing Etiquette

We should all observe good raptor viewing etiquette, not only during the nesting season, but also during this time of migration. 

Remember that raptors are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and bald and golden eagles have additional protections under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.


Upcoming Programs and Opportunities

3-5 June  40th Annual Loess Hills Prairie Seminar - This free event gives people of all ages, including children, the chance to enjoy a weekend in the Loess Hills. Attend all of the weekend or any part of it. Educators who plan to attend the entire weekend may register to receive credit on the Northwest AEA website. Experience birding, insect and plant walks, natural history and ecology talks, photography sessions, or many other outdoor activities at the Loess Hills Wildlife Management Area northeast of Onawa. Join field trips to birding hot spots, a nearby farm, and local prairie sites. A complete list of supporters, the entire program, and the optional registration form can be found on the NWAEA website at: http://www.nwaea.k12.ia.us/en/educators/loess_hills_prairie_seminar/. 
13-14 June  Taking STEM Outside: WILD Project-based Learning in Your Schoolyard. The 2-day workshop will feature the Guthrie Center School outdoor classroom and focus on developing school-based projects and investigations. This course is being offered as part of Heartland AEA's Professional Development program. Register by 8 June 2016, use: Activity #: ST001727541701 If you would like to attend, but do not want credit, you can register directly with Barb Gigar (Barb.Gigar@dnr.iowa.gov) and pay only the workshop fee
23-24 June  2016 Quad Cities Pollinator Conference: From Row Crop to Right-of-Way, River Center in downtown Davenport, IA. Visit the conference website for details.  


Mystery Critter for the week of 23 May

So, let’s get down to it. Put on those thinking caps, grab your friends and family, and let’s play Mystery Critter! And remember — no cheating!

CLUES:
  • I hibernate,
  • You won’t see me during the day, 
  • I make my home in rural areas, cities and townsand
  • I can be found throughout North America.
What am I? Make your guess, and then go here for the answer and more interesting facts. Did you get it right?! If not, no worries — you’ll have another chance next week!

Thanks to The Grass Stain Guru for giving us permission to re-post past "mystery critter" posts here on this site! As a hint, we'll only pick out the "mysteries" that can be found in Iowa. 


In the news...


Check these out!

Iowa Young Birders - Check out this group formed in 2011 to help young people experience the joy and wonder of finding, seeing, and identifying birds!  The Iowa Ornithologists Union is helping to sponsor birding field trips for young people age 8-18 in conjunction with their spring and fall meetings. Check out the details and the Iowa Young Birders website for other field trip opportunities! <jealous!>

Developmentally-appropriate activities for early childhood learners to explore the natural world can be found at KinderNature!

Healthy and Happy Outdoors - Learn more about this new Iowa Department of Natural Resources initiative here. Register with the program and record your outdoor activities in Iowa parks and recreation areas with each recorded activity a chance to win outdoor gear in a drawing.  The site also has a search feature for finding outdoor activities in Iowa.

Visit MyCountyParks.com to check out a park or wildlife area you might want to explore managed by one of Iowa's 99 county conservation boards! Look here for events and activities, too!