Darling Founds the National Wildlife Federation Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Jay Darling founded the National Wildlife Federation, an organization that united local and state wildlife concerns into one association. Since its inception, the National Wildlife Federation has played a key role in the creation of laws controlling the pollution put forth by humans’ use of air, water, and hazardous chemicals.

Summary of Event

On February 3, 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt officially proclaimed the opening of a conference dedicated to organizing all public and private institutions involved with conservation. The conference was the brainchild of nationally acclaimed cartoonist Jay Darling, whose hope was to not only establish a national federation of conservation clubs but also to form strong state conservation organizations where they did not exist or where they were weak. He also encouraged the participation of organizations that already had been working toward conservation of natural resources. Darling hoped that Canada and Mexico would also participate in the new federation and that a spirit of ecological cooperation among the two countries and the United States would be fostered. [kw]Darling Founds the National Wildlife Federation (Feb. 4, 1936) [kw]National Wildlife Federation, Darling Founds the (Feb. 4, 1936) [kw]Wildlife Federation, Darling Founds the National (Feb. 4, 1936) National Wildlife Federation Wildlife conservation Conservation;organizations Pollution;control Environmental organizations [g]United States;Feb. 4, 1936: Darling Founds the National Wildlife Federation[09140] [c]Environmental issues;Feb. 4, 1936: Darling Founds the National Wildlife Federation[09140] [c]Organizations and institutions;Feb. 4, 1936: Darling Founds the National Wildlife Federation[09140] Darling, Jay Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Theodore Leopold, Aldo

Darling was born in 1876 in Norwood, Michigan, where his father was a minister. His father’s profession took the family to a number of different areas of the Midwest. This opportunity for travel allowed Darling to get a firsthand view of the region’s geographic diversity and to observe the variety of changes that occur on its terrain. As a child, Darling took a great interest in his environment and was an admirer of John James Audubon, Gifford Pinchot, and other conservationists. He also enjoyed sketching, and when he entered college he became the art director of the Beloit College yearbook, where he gained notoriety for the caricatures he fashioned of the Beloit College faculty. Later, he distinguished himself as an artist who caricatured famous legislators and corporate chiefs who did not favor conservation efforts.

In 1900, Darling began his career as a cub reporter for the Sioux City Journal. He soon began drawing cartoons, many of which incorporated his hero, Theodore Roosevelt. By 1906, Darling had taken a position with the Des Moines Register. His first cartoon for the newspaper depicted a polluted Des Moines, Iowa. He left the Des Moines Register in 1911 for a brief stint at the New York Globe, but he returned to Des Moines and the Register two years later. He enjoyed the autonomy he was afforded at the Iowa paper, and his fans rewarded him with dedication to his work. He became so popular that the Herald Tribune syndicate issued Darling an offer that he could not refuse, and so he worked diligently for both papers. It was through his affiliation with the syndicate that Darling was able to gain fame nationwide. He used his popularity to draw cartoons that depicted the despoliation of the landscape as well as the damage caused to wildlife by lack of attention.

Darling’s interest in conservation and his love of the outdoors led him to place pressure on the Iowa legislature to enact legislation creating an Iowa Fish and Game Commission. He became a charter member of this commission and went on to exert his influence nationally as a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1932. In 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Darling to a seat on a three-member commission whose mission was to study factors that threatened wildlife. The committee was named the Beck Committee Beck Committee in honor of the editor of Collier’s magazine.

Recognition of the need for human attention to wildlife preservation was apparent and had received its first support in the nineteenth century. In the mid-nineteenth century, the New York State Game Protective Association was formed. At the same time, a number of naturalists began exhorting the public to find legal means to protect wildlife. In 1886, the New York Audubon Society was founded by George Bird Grinnell. The early efforts of the Audubon Society and similar organizations were aimed at hunters whose primary motive was to kill birds and other wildlife for the feathers or furs they yielded for market. In 1900, the first federal law regulating wildlife was passed. This legislation made it a violation to kill game for shipment in interstate commerce. In 1902, the International Association of Game, Fish, and Conservation Commissioners was formed. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the growth of the wildlife refuge movement began. The first park designated as a refuge was Yellowstone National Park, which served as a haven for the last herd of buffalo residing in the nation. Subsequently, other national parks and forests were established as refuges.

Under President Theodore Roosevelt, the conservation movement began to evolve into a coherent national program. A number of federal bills were passed to regulate wildlife, and all received the overwhelming support of Roosevelt, who was an ardent lover of the outdoors. Roosevelt was instrumental in instituting a system of wildlife refuges. In 1908, he convened a conference of governors which dealt, in part, with preservation issues. This led the governors to go back to their home states and initiate agendas that included the establishment and expansion of state wildlife departments.

By 1911, attention began to be paid to the issue of protection for migratory game birds. In that year, an organization known as the American Game Protective and Propagation Association was formed; its main tasks involved the safeguarding of migratory game birds. This organization was responsible for drafting a number of pieces of federal legislation that were designed to give federal attention to pressing wildlife issues. Among the most important of these legislative concerns was the 1916 Migratory Bird Treaty, Migratory Bird Treaty (1916) which was negotiated by President Woodrow Wilson and a representative from Great Britain. This treaty placed many species of birds under federal protection and banned the killing of sandpipers and shorebirds. It also gave migratory birds federal protection and invested the secretary of agriculture with the authority to regulate the hunting of game birds and gave the federal government authority to enforce the legislation.

During the 1920’s, concentration was placed on the prevention of the depletion of the wetlands of waterfowl. This led to the realization that a concentrated effort would have to be made in order to provide safe refuges for waterfowl. Aldo Leopold, one of Jay Darling’s co-commissioners on the Beck Committee, articulated the relationship between wildlife and its habitations, and this led to the concept of managed wildlife. As a result, the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge Act Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge was passed in 1924. The bill gave Congress the authority to buy bottomlands that would provide sanctuary to waterfowl. This act was followed in 1929 by the Norbeck-Andresen Act, Norbeck-Andresen Act (1929)[Norbeck Andresen Act] which established a series of waterfowl refuges.

The Beck Committee met in 1934 in the wake of these accomplishments. The committee made a number of important recommendations, including the proposal to use lands that were considered less than optimal for other purposes as wildlife refuges. The committee also diverted money from other resources and used it to employ workers who performed many vital functions relevant to wildlife preservation. As a result of the work that Darling accomplished on the Beck Committee, Roosevelt asked him to head the Bureau of Biological Survey, Bureau of Biological Survey, U.S. which was the precursor to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Darling had been a critic of the Biological Survey and was ready for the task of reorganizing it. In doing so, he was careful to choose the most qualified researchers rather than naming political appointees. His accomplishments at the helm of the organization were considerable; they included the establishment of limits on the amount of hunting that could take place in certain areas, the elimination of the use of live decoys and other objectionable practices, and the procurement of cash resources for the preservation of wildlife.

Darling was also able to establish the Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit Program, Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit Program a federal program similar to the one he had successfully established on the state level in Iowa. This project created a program of wildlife research and training for students attending land-grant colleges. Darling gained funding for this project by inviting a group of industrialists to a dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. The financial backing that the program needed emerged from this monumental meeting, and so did ideas for a number of wildlife organizations, some of which soon materialized. Darling, for example, got the idea for the National Wildlife Federation from a similar organization that existed in Indiana. In that organization, local conservation clubs reported to county associations, which in turn were accountable to a state organization.

The historic North American Wildlife Conference North American Wildlife Conference took place in Washington, D.C., from February 3 to February 7, 1936. The delegates to the conference voted unanimously to form the General Wildlife Federation, the name of which was changed to the National Wildlife Federation in 1938. Darling directed this assembly, which included more than one thousand members, and was elected the temporary head of the new organization. The membership decided that the federation would become permanent once federations were established by the individual states. The purposes of the General Wildlife Federation were to assemble into one organization all who had an interest in the conservation and refurbishment of wildlife and other natural resources, to produce a policy designed to promote the conservation of wildlife, and to involve the public in a search for solutions to the problems that existed. The conference was considered an overwhelming success and led to a successful program of wildlife conservation.

The founding of the National Wildlife Federation changed the entire scope of the wildlife conservation movement, and the new group—under Darling’s leadership—adopted a bold legislative agenda. Darling stressed to the organization’s members that political action was necessary to achieve the goals set forth by the organization’s constitution. At the first annual meeting of the organization in 1937, seven resolutions were passed, one of which led to the Pittman-Robertson Act, Pittman-Robertson Act (1937)[Pittman Robertson Act] one of the most important pieces of wildlife legislation in U.S. history. This act served two important functions: It placed a federal excise tax on guns and ammunition and provided the state with funding to promote wildlife management. Among some of the other measures discussed at the annual meeting of the National Wildlife Federation were trapping restrictions, expansion of wildlife research, and national attention to the issue of water pollution. The delegates also voted to set aside one week per year to be known as National Wildlife Restoration Week. This week would bring the subject of wildlife preservation to the attention of the public, would help to educate them concerning important conservation issues, and would raise money to fund these issues.


National Wildlife Federation members have engaged in legislative activities to reach their goals, and their legislative triumphs have been numerous. For example, in 1947 the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act required the labeling of chemicals to avoid contamination of creatures not targeted by the chemicals. This was the first act to deal with the issue of toxins and their effects on the environment. In 1956, the Water Pollution Control Act stated that the federal government could designate funds to build water treatment plants. The 1963 Clean Air Act authorized the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and the Environmental Protection Agency to take whatever action they deemed necessary to gain compliance with clean-air standards. In 1966, the Endangered Species Preservation Act set aside as much as $15 million to be used to encourage the breeding of certain endangered wildlife. This act was expanded in 1969. In 1972, the Clean Water Act established strict standards to control pollution of bodies of water in the United States. In 1986, the Superfund Reauthorization Act was passed; it set forth a timetable for the cleanup of toxic materials from accidents caused by human beings. This act also required chemical companies to report to the public any toxic emissions as well as a schedule for the alleviation of the problem of toxic emissions.

Over the years, the National Wildlife Federation has considered the education of the public to be its foremost aspiration and has worked toward that goal in many ways. National Wildlife Week, for example, serves as an educational tool. During that week, the organization distributes educational kits to schools throughout the country. Beginning in 1968, the National Wildlife Federation introduced a new character named Ranger Rick to its educational kit; this character has served an important function in educating children about the environment both through books and through Ranger Rick’s Nature Magazine, a publication that came to symbolize the organization’s recognition that the environmental issues of tomorrow are in the hands of today’s children. In 1980, the National Wildlife Federation designed another publication for children who are not yet of reading age, and it continues to publish thousands of documents, books, pamphlets, and films aimed at diverse audiences.

Another important educational function of the National Wildlife Federation is served by the Conservation Summits, which began in 1970. These summits are educational vacations that provide entire families with the opportunity to learn more about the environment. Each year, hundreds of thousands of people are recipients of the fruits of the work of the National Wildlife Federation, which boasted four million members and supporters throughout the United States as of 2005. National Wildlife Federation Wildlife conservation Conservation;organizations Pollution;control Environmental organizations

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Allen, Thomas B. Guardian of the Wild: The Story of the National Wildlife Federation. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987. Discusses the organization’s founding in great detail, addressing its historical origins as well as the environmental conditions that led to the need for its establishment. Emphasizes the federation’s position as an umbrella organization linking local and state conservation organizations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Clepper, Henry, ed. Origins of American Conservation. New York: Ronald Press, 1966. Twelve conservationists trace the evolution of the conservation movement and illustrate the manner in which management of natural resources came about in order to address environmental issues such as wildlife regulation, soil, water, range, park, and aquatic preservation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cronon, William, ed. Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1996. Taken from a series of essays presented at the University of California at Irvine in 1994, this interesting volume examines modern conceptions of nature and its role in modern society. Useful for understanding the reasoning behind our views toward the natural world.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lendt, David L. Ding: The Life of Jay Norwood Darling. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1979. An insightful biography of cartoonist and conservationist Darling. It follows Darling from his boyhood in Michigan and Iowa through his six-decade association with the Des Moines Register. The biography successfully integrates Darling’s career as a cartoonist with his environmental activities.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nash, Roderick Frazier. Wilderness and the American Mind. 4th ed. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2001. Brilliant intellectual history of Americans’ relationship with the wilderness begins with the earliest days of European contact.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Norton, Bryan G., ed. The Preservation of Species: The Value of Biological Diversity. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986. Collection of essays presents an interdisciplinary exploration of the reasons for conservation. The contributors go beyond scientific explanations of conservation of vanishing wildlife and delve into the philosophical issues that impact decision making with regard to endangered species.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Street, Philip. Vanishing Animals: Preserving Nature’s Rarities. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1963. Discusses some of the causes of and solutions to the problem of diminishing species of certain animals throughout the world. Street discusses those varieties of wildlife remaining in the wild as well as those living in captivity.

First U.S. National Wildlife Refuge Is Established

Migratory Bird Treaty Act

Izaak Walton League Is Formed

Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act

Marshall and Leopold Form the Wilderness Society

Pittman-Robertson Act Provides State Wildlife Funding

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Is Formed

Categories: History