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John F. Lacey’s Iowa connection

contributed photo John F. Lacey, 1841 – 1913, called the Mahaska County City of Oskaloosa home. Lacey distinguished himself while serving in the U.S. Congress for seven consecutive terms as a member of the Fifty-third through Fifty-ninth Congresses. He is still known today nation wide for his pursuit of and passage of the Lacey Act of 1900. This federal law prohibits trade in wildlife, fish and plants that have been illegally taken, possessed, transported or sold. The Act was signed into law by President William McKinley on May 25, 1900.

oday is your chance to learn a bit of history about a man, his vision, his observational skills, and his position within government to provide a tool for law enforcement. His work made a huge impact on breaking down the impact of poachers and other illegal taking of wildlife and wild plants during the early stages of America’s growth as a nation.

JOHN F. LACEY was born May 30, 1841 in West Virginia. His family moved to Iowa in 1856 and settled on a farm along he Des Moines River in Mahaska County near the City of Cedar Bluffs. As an impressionable teenager at the age of 14, the family’s move into Iowa territory was awesome. Lacey commented later in life of how he considered that trip through Iowa’s prairie landscapes one of his most memorable experiences. He was developing an environmental awareness and keen interest in all things of nature. And he developed a sense of the need and concern for conservation matters. While at his new Iowa home he studied diligently during his academic years in Oskaloosa.

To summarize Lacey’s life, he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1865. He was highly respected across the state. He considered Oskaloosa home for most of his life. He did serve 16 years in the United States Congress. He did author and support over 30 acts of conservation legislation. And William T. Hornaday noted in 1913 that “Lacey was the first American Congressman to become an avowed champion of wildlife.” Lacey also served four years in the civil war in the army, obtaining the rank of Major. He was discharged from the army in 1865.

It was Lacey’s support for federal legislation to protect wildlife, the Lacey Act as it came to be known, that became a cornerstone for wildlife conservation by making it a crime to take game animals illegally killed across state lines. That law is still used today by conservation officers to catch poachers today.

The Lacey family traveled extensively and made adventures into many other states. He visited Yellowstone National Park and witnessed the problems at that time of law enforcement’s under staffed soldiers who attempted to enforce conservation laws. Park administrators were unable, though they tried, to be successful at catching and punishing poachers. As a result of Lacey’s observations at Yellowstone, he used his congressional position to begin conservation legislation. It was in 1894 when congress passed “An Act To protect the birds and animals in Yellowstone National Park, and to punish crimes in said park, an for other purposes.” This law was the initial cornerstone for future law enforcement policies within the park.

It was his sponsored legislation of 1900, prohibiting transport of illegally taken wildlife, fish or plants that he most well known for. Lacey also supported the Antiquities Act that President Theodore Roosevelt used to begin a long series of national parks, forests and monument site designations across America. Iowan John Fletcher Lacey rose to the cause that benefited many conservation efforts. Thank you.

There are many other Iowans that history has noted who made their mark. To list them all would be a huge task. However, here are just two notable names that easily come to the forefront: Aldo Leopold of Burlington, IA, an author and educator who is well known for his book A Sand County Almanac; and J.N. “Ding” Darling whose editorial cartoons in the Des Moines Register eloquently illustrated political hypocrisies of all kinds including conservation related subjects.

During 2021 I will conduct more research into other Iowans who made conservation milestones of achievement. So stay tuned as we learn more together of men and women of Iowa’s past who’s foresight for long term conservation made a big difference. It is an Iowa connection.

During the depths of our central Iowa winter season, wildlife hangs onto life quite well. Mother Nature has adapted them to make it through lean times. She has accomplished this task among various species over eons of time. Now is no different. Some birds have traveled great distances to warmer places where food can be obtained that meets their needs. However, for year round resident wild critters, a strategy employed to some extent is staying as inactive as possible, foraging for tid- bits of nutrition, and living off body fat built up over this past summer and fall.

Wildlife sightings of recent include an otter finding fishes to catch and eat in a farm pond. Bald eagles are defending and building or adding to existing nests high in a tree top. Ringneck pheasants explore small bare patches of soil in farm fields as warm temperatures melt through the snow cover to expose old crop residue. Deer scratch and scrape in farm fields also to find morsels to eat. That is in addition to their normal browsing winter diet of woody or weedy plant material. Fat reserves on deer is what allows them to survive just long enough to the time when eventually spring makes its seasonal transformation known. Mother Nature has a plan and she knows what she is doing.

Conservation had a beginning. It has no end.

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