April 25, 1947, is the day it all started for Defenders of Wildlife. As our 75th anniversary celebration begins, it’s worthwhile to look back on how far we’ve come and what life was like decades ago. Defenders of Wildlife was founded as Defenders of Furbearers in April 1947. With only a single full-time staff person and about 1,500 members, we were focused on the peril to coyotes and other furred animals from steel-jawed leghold traps and lethal poisons.
In 1947, people were only just awakening to the realization that our natural world is not boundless. Biodiversity was a phrase not yet used. “Climate change” simply wasn’t in society's lexicon back then. Few people recognized the need to protect wildlife and wild places, and our natural world was largely misunderstood.
Post-war Americans were enjoying a period of economic growth and cultural stability. We had won the war and the hardships of the previous fifteen years were replaced by rising living standards, increased opportunities and a newly emerging American culture confident of its future and place in the world.
Woody Guthrie released his famed “This Land is Your Land.” Guthrie wrote the song while traveling cross-country, perhaps enjoying the scenes of our national parks and wildlife refuges that continue to serve as sanctuaries for people and wildlife today.
Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play in Major League Baseball. He broke the color barrier in a sport that had been segregated for more than 50 years. He hit the field on April 15, as the first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers as they started the season at home against the Boston Braves.
Christian Dior presented his debut haute couture collection in Paris, defining post-war style. Dubbed the “New Look,” its most prominent features included rounded shoulders, a cinched waist and a full, A-line skirt.
Miracle on 34th Street and the Secret Life of Walter Mitty were playing in movie theaters and Meet the Press, the longest-running TV show in history, began broadcasting in November 1947.
Friends and neighbors debated about whether it was mysterious weather balloons or aliens in Roswell, New Mexico. The jury is, of course, still out.
Though conservation and climate change were not top-of-mind for most people 75 years ago, the first air pollution agency in the U.S. was created, the Los Angeles Air Pollution Control District. One of the first indications of the ill effects of smog was its damage to plants. In the early 1940s, Southern California farmers observed that sugar beets and many other leafy vegetables were shriveled and discolored with mottled silver or bronze-colored lower leaves that made them unappetizing and unattractive.
Farmers immediately pointed to industry as the offender for releasing toxic chemicals into the atmosphere, poisoning their crops below. But alas, it would take another 20 years for the Clean Air Act to pass.
As industry grew and human development continued to encroach on wildlife and their habitat, people began to wake up to the harm they were causing. Over the years, Defenders has been part of many important fights to protect species and their habitat. Some of our most outstanding successes include ensuring the passage of the Endangered Species Act, winning the enactment of the Wild Bird Conservation Act and restoring gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park.
Stay tuned…more on that in our upcoming anniversary blogs.