Note: The following is a transcription of this report, which originally appeared in the Bulletin in 1978. Original page numbers are inserted in brackets. Brackets are also used to indicate words whose spelling has been corrected from the original. Please advise us in comments below if you see errors that need to be corrected.
History of the Ecologists’ Union: Spin-off from the ESA and Prototype of the Nature Conservancy
By Ralph W. Dexter
Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, Vol. 59, No. 3 (Sep., 1978), pp. 146-147
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In 1917 the Ecological Society of America established a committee for the Preservation of Natural Conditions for Ecological Study, under the chairmanship of Victor E. Shelford, “to initiate and carry out action concerned with preservation of natural conditions” (Bulletin ESA 1 : 1). Dr. Shelford was one of the founders of the Society in 1914 and had served as its first president. Also, in 1926 The Naturalists’ Guide to the Americas was published under his editorship. This volume made a preliminary inventory of natural areas in the new world, and it served as a guide for pointing out areas in need of preservation. Later, another committee evolved, eventually called the Committee for the Study of Plant and Animal Communities. In a Bulletin of ESA in 1930 (11:6) it is stated that at the annual business meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, the “Committee on Preservation and Study of Natural Conditions in Plant and Animal Communities” was presented. This joint name indicates an expansion of the role of the original preservation committee. It also appears that the two roles were separated in 1931, as that date is listed as the time of establishment of the Committee for the Study of Plant and Animal Communities (Bulletin ESA 18:61) as an advisory group to the Preservation Committee. About this time the original committee for preservation was renamed the Committee for Preservation of Natural Conditions in the United States, and a similar committee for Canada was established (Bulletin ESA 16:7). V. E. Shelford was chairman of both committees for awhile, and the work of the committees complemented each other. In 1932 it was reported, “at the annual meeting of the Society held at Cleveland, Ohio, Dec. 31, 1930, it was decided to receive contributions of $1.00 or more from societies interested in the study and preservation of natural conditions. This money is to be used to further the work of the Committee for the Study of Plant and Animal Communities” (Bulletin ESA 13:3). This group in turn would advise the preservation committee which natural areas were in need of protection and would be feasible for ESA action. Over a period of 26 years these committees made efforts both directly and indirectly to save natural areas for scientific purposes (Bulletin ESA 24:31-32; 25:38-39). By 1943, however, some members of the Society were questioning this practice, believing the Society should be concerned exclusively with research, and serve only as a consultant in matters of preservation. Shelford circulated a questionnaire which demonstrated that a vast majority of those voting favored a program sponsored by the Society for actual preservation of natural areas. At a meeting of the Society held at Western Reserve University in Cleveland in the fall of 1944, the matter was discussed at length, and arguments presented pro and con on this issue. Shelford made a plea to continue active work (Bulletin ESA 25:12-15; 25:24-26), but a year later a mail ballot reversed the previous stand when a referendum was passed which prevented the Society from taking direct action, although it stipulated the Society should encourage preservation through other agencies by providing information and advice (Bulletin ESA 26[3-4]:12; 27:2). Subsequently, Dr. Curtis L. Newcombe and Dr. J. R. Dymond, chairmen of the two preservation committees, resigned with a recommendation that the committees be discontinued (Bulletin ESA 27:35). Dr. S. Charles Kendeigh, chairman of the Committee for the Study of Plant and Animal Communities, also resigned because of the altered role of his advisory committee (Bulletin ESA27:35-36).
At the same period of time, a movement to establish a National Conservation Council [later known as National Resources Council of America] headed by Dr. C. C. Adams was developing, and the ESA became a contributing member to give support to its program of preservation (Bulletin ESA 26[1-2]:2-5; 27:30-42; 28:13; 18-19). However, Dr. Shelford was firmly convinced that there should be a group of professional ecologists en-  gaged directly in practical work of preserving natural areas. With the elimination of this activity from the ESA, he organized an independent group called The Ecologists’ Union to continue the work of the defunct “action” committees. Its stated purpose was declared to be “Devoted to the preservation of natural biotic communities for scientific use.” At the meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science held at St. Louis, Missouri, in March 1946, an organizational meeting was held. Dr. Kendeigh served as general [chairman], Dr. Ralph W. Dexter was appointed secretary pro-[tem], and Dr. Harold M. Hefley was elected as secretary treasurer. A Board of Governors during the two formative years included the following (Bulletin ESA 27:58): Charles H. Abbott, V. E. Shelford, Lee R. Dice, C. T. Vorhies, A. S. Pearse, A. O. Weese, J. W. Scott, and Paul S. Welch.
Dr. Kendeigh became chairman of the Committee on the Study of Plant and Animal Communities (an advisory committee) while Dr. Newcombe became chairman of the Committee for the Preservation of Natural Conditions (an action committee) (and both agreed to serve on the “study” committee of the ESA). The ESA promised “fullest cooperation with the Ecologists’ Union and other conservation groups” (Bulletin ESA 28:13). Dr. Hefley took over the leadership of the new group and issued two circulars to the membership. These explained the purpose of the group, its preliminary organization, and called for increased membership and support. In addition to regular membership, an unfortunate type of membership, a nondues paying affiliation for “moral support,” was created which became a burden and contributed nothing to the objectives of the Union.
At the annual meeting held in Chicago in December 1947, Dr. Lee R. Dice was elected as the first president, Dr. O. A. Weese elected as the first vice-president, and Ralph W. Dexter replaced Hefley as secretary-treasurer for a term of three years. The new Board of Governors, in addition to the officers, consisted of V. E. Shelford, R. F. Daubenmire, and H. I. Baldwin, and a permanent constitution was adopted at that time (Science 107:189. 1948; Bulletin ESA 28:74).
In early 1949 Dr. Weese became president, and served for two years. F. W. Albertson became the new vice-president and was replaced the following year by George B. Fell. Richard H. Pough was added to the Board of Governors, replacing Shelford (Science 109:48. 1949). Pough tried unsuccessfully to obtain funds from the American Museum of Natural History to further the work of the Ecologists’ Union. The following year Pough became chairman of the “action” committee.
During the three years he served as secretary-treasurer, Dexter issued four circulars which reported minutes of the meetings, activities of the officers and members of the Union, financial standing, committee reports, etc. Balloting by mail was conducted and membership lists were issued. In addition, notices of the formation of the Ecologists’ Union and its objectives were published in many journals of national and state organizations devoted to conservation and natural resources. Also, the first number of “Living Museums of Primeval America” was published under the editorship of George B. Fell. Mrs. Barbara Fell contributed much time and energy to the Union in performing secretarial work and in making arrangements for the annual meetings.
At the annual meeting of the American Institute of Biological Sciences held in Columbus, Ohio, in September of 1950, the ESA and the Ecologists’ Union held a joint session entitled “Ecological Researches in Natural Areas” under the chairmanship of S. Charles Kendeigh. Following this symposium, the Ecologists’ Union held its annual meeting. The group was reorganized and changed its name to the Nature Conservancy. Dr. Stanley Cain was elected president, George B. Fell remained as vice president, and Dr. Joseph Hickey became the new secretary-treasurer (Bulletin ESA 31 :6; 31 :44-48, 1950). The Ecologists’ Union, terminated after five years of existence, served as a transition organization between the ESA Committees on Preservation of Natural Conditions and the Nature Conservancy, which soon became the leading national agency for the preservation and protection of natural areas for scientific purposes.
Ralph W. Dexter, Department of Biological Sciences, Kent State University Kent, Ohio 44242