As the 1900s began, one of the most contentious issues facing Illinois’ game commissioner was the destructive practice of spring shooting – permitting hunting during the critical breeding season. Only seven of the states that currently regulated waterfowl hunting ended their hunting season on or before Jan. 1; six additional states permitted hunting until April 1; five states, including Illinois, set April 15 as their closing date.
One of the top priorities of organized sportsmen early on was the elimination of trade in wildlife. State enforcement efforts, however, remained weak.
At the federal level, Congress had yet to insert itself into the wildlife protection scheme for two reasons. The first principle flowed directly from the passage of the Bill of Rights, and more specifically, the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”
During the 1890s, there was a surge in writings addressing the outdoors and nature. The nation’s conscience had awakened to the idea that more needed to be done to preserve and protect our natural jewels. Four new and powerful voices joined the discourse: John Muir, George Oliver Shields, Charles Sprague Sargent, and Ernest Seton Thompson.
Muir was a driving force behind the establishment of Yosemite National Park and a founding member of the Sierra Club (1892).
Throughout the late 1870s, state legislatures around the country were passing laws designed to protect fish and game from annihilation at the hands of market men. In Illinois, in 1873, the state legislature elevated game offenses to criminal misdemeanors and tasked county state attorneys with prosecuting the matters on behalf of the “people of the State of Illinois.”
Sportsmen – the group most championing broad protections for wildlife – viewed the changes as a step in the right direction. The next step, they argued, needed to be the appointment of specific persons to enforce the regulations.
Before the 1870s, in Illinois, market men – men who hunted for profit – exercised free reign over state natural resources deemed wildlife.
Despite economic downturns and social upheavals, Illinois’ fertile fields, ample transportation systems, and geographic proximity to two of the nation’s top five population centers (Chicago and St. Louis) all but guaranteed the state’s continued growth. The question asked, but not answered, was at what price to the natural resources would this growth occur?
In the coming weeks and months, I will expose readers to a small portion of the materials I uncovered and studied while writing my books. My objective is to educate the citizenry about past decisions regarding the state’s natural resources.
As philosopher George Santayana noted, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.