A fascinating look at how a commercial market for birds in the late nineteenth century set the stage for conservation and its legislation.
Between the end of the Civil War and the 1920s, the United States witnessed the creation, rapid expansion, and then disappearance of a commercial market for hunted wild animals. The bulk of commercial wildlife sales in the last part of the nineteenth century were of wildfowl, who were prized not only for their eggs and meat but also for their beautiful feathers. Wild birds were brought to cities in those years to be sold as food for customers' tables, decorations for ladies' hats, treasured pets, and specimens for collectors' cabinets. Though relatively short-lived, this market in birds was broadly influential, its rise and fall coinciding with the birth of the Progressive Era conservation movement.
In The Market in Birds, historian Andrea L. Smalley and wildlife biologist Henry M. Reeves illuminate this crucial chapter in American environmental history. Touching on ecology, economics, law, and culture, the authors reveal how commercial hunting set the terms for wildlife conservation and the first federal wildlife legislation at the turn of the twentieth century. Smalley and Reeves delve into the ground-level interactions among market hunters, game dealers, consumers, sportsmen, conservationists, and the wild birds they all wanted. Ultimately, they argue, wildfowl commercialization represented a revolutionary shift in wildlife use, turning what had been a mostly limited, local, and seasonal trade into an interstate industrial-capitalist enterprise. In the process, it provoked a critical public debate over the value of wildlife in a modern consumer culture.
By the turn of the twentieth century, the authors reveal, it was clear that wild bird populations were declining precipitously all over North America. The looming possibility of a future without birds sparked intense debate nationwide and eventually culminated in the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Scholars, environmentalists, wildlife professionals, and anyone concerned about wildlife will find this new perspective on conservation history enlightening reading.
Prologue. For the Birds
1. The Hunter
2. The Dealer
3. The Hunted
4. The Sportsman
5. The Criminal
6. The Conservationist
Epilogue. The Culture of Conservation
Andrea L. Smalley is a professor emerita of history at Northern Illinois University. She is the author of Wild by Nature: North American Animals Confront Colonization. Henry M. Reeves (1927–2013) was the chief of migratory bird management for the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the coeditor of Flyways: Pioneering Wildfowl Management in North America.
"The Market in Birds painstakingly documents how market hunting became a modern industry, how each stage in the process of securing, transporting, and selling birds was accomplished, and how the rapid growth of the commercial trade in birds shaped debates and policies surrounding wildlife decline at the turn of the twentieth century. Smalley's groundbreaking work also shows how the meteoric rise of the modern commercial market in birds spawned a growing awareness of the fragility of America's wildlife populations and new ways to think about the value of wildness. Quite simply, there is nothing that compares to this work in terms of illuminating the full scope, scale, and consequences of bird commodification in America."
– Mark V. Barrow Jr., Virginia Tech, author of Nature's Ghosts: Confronting Extinction from the Age of Jefferson to the Age of Ecology
"What a remarkable collaboration of strangers is this magnificent book. It emerged from the inspiration, wisdom, and tenacity of the late Henry M. (Milt) Reeves, wildlife biologist, author, and nonpareil researcher. Reeves provided a manuscript platform for historian Andrea L. Smalley to organize and augment his material and provide creditable context to the commercialization and conservation of American wildlife."
– Richard E. McCabe, Executive Vice President (retired), Wildlife Management Institute, author of The Unique Wood Duck
"Evaluating today's relationships with nature is greatly aided by reflecting on historic relationships. But meaningful evaluation requires accurate histories whose textured complexity matches the times they chronicle. The Market in Birds provides just such a history for an important episode in American conservation."
– John Vucetich