Protecting Vulnerable Natural Habitats

John Lacey was born in New Martinsville, in what is now West Virginia, in 1841. When he was 14, he and his parents moved to Iowa. His background was one of classical education, but he also had practical skills in agriculture and construction.

When he was 20 years old, he joined the Union Army. He was eventually promoted to assistant adjutant general. After the war, he studied law and began to practice law. Within 5 years, he was elected to the Iowa House of Representatives.

John was a conservationist. In 1888 he was elected to serve in the U.S. House. He lost the next election but won his seat again for seven additional terms. He was the chair of the Committee on Public Lands for 12 years.

As Chair of the Committee, he was the sponsor of legislation to protect Yellowstone National Park from poaching. This became the model for future legislation to protect against the trade of animals and plants. In 1900, the Lacey Act was passed and became a more universal protection of trade in wildlife and plants throughout the U.S.

Congressman Lacey lost the 1906 election, but his concern for the endangerment of plants and animals continued. Since his early efforts, there have been a series of further extensions of protections for endangered species.

In addition to his support for endangered species, Congressman Lacey also was the leader in passing legislation ensuring the integrity of tribal funds. He also passed legislation for the preservation of archeological sites in the southwestern U.S.

In our day, where there is a great challenge in reaching an agreement on legislation, the work of Congressman Lacey is very impressive. His work is a lesson in the beginnings of positive social change. Start by identifying a specific situation where there is general agreement that things must change. This sets a precedent and shows that can be done. Then expand the scope of the change as new situations warrant change. Over time, the scope can be broadened. Most positive social change has undergone a similar pathway.

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“All social change comes from the passion of individuals.” – Margaret Mead

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