Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Green Meadow Club Bird Sanctuaries Campaign

The best documentation of the early stages of the People's Home Journal crusade for bird sanctuaries was published by the People's Home Journal itself, in a remarkable little booklet, titled A Conspicuous National Service. I've embedded it below (internet archive this time).

In 1917, in close association with Hoover's Food Administration (the PHJ had earlier promoted a "little gardens" campaign), the Green Meadow Club embarked on a campaign to encourage the creation of "bird sanctuaries." These were not the permanent sanctuaries we think of today (Audubon, Nature Conservancy etc.) but were pledges made by property owners to protect insectivorous birds and other helpful wild life on their land. The Journal provided a model anti-hunting sign that could be posted on the property.

Members of the Green Meadow Club were encouraged to encourage others (particularly farmers) to sign the pledge. (Some entire school systems got involved). The incentive--the opportunity to win one of four medals from William Hornaday's Permanent Wild Life Protection Fund, plus a variety of other prizes, including Hornaday's wild life encyclopedias.

Hornaday credits Burgess with coming up with the contest idea, and the magazine's editor, Moody B. Gates, for its implementation. Among other things, Gates donated a full advertising page an issue for the promotion of the contest.

It is useful to note that this was a campaign that employed straight-forward economic arguments for bird protection, using hard calculations about the number of insects eaten and the amount of crops saved to make its points. It largely avoided the "sentimentalism" of the "friend" language (though you can see it still on the sanctuary signage).

In terms of sheer pledged acreage, the campaign was a remarkable success.

Almost 2.5 million acres after the second year of the campaign. The campaign won kudos from Herbert Hoover himself.

The campaign would run for seven years total, from 1917 to 1924. After the end of the war, the rhetoric would shift away from birds as "feathered soldiers." The key concept in 1921, for example, was birds as "feathered insurance agents" that insure the perpetuation of life on the face of the earth.

Tomorrow: The Burgess Bird Book for Children

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