DVOC Main Page > History > Street Article > Conservation
Contact Information

Exert from
A History of the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club, The First One Hundred Years

by Phillips M. Street (as published in Cassinia No. 63 1988-1989 Centennial Edition)


Early efforts by members were mainly through the Pennsylvania Audubon Society. A note in the first issue of Cassinia states that the organization "has been doing excellent work in the interest of bird protection during the year, especially on education lines. A free traveling library on birds and nature was established, and ten sets of ten books are now circulating among the schools of the state which have no access to public libraries. The annual meeting was held at the Academy of Natural Sciences as usual, and Mr. W. L. Baily made an address on 'The Gulls and Terns of the Maine Coast,' illustrated by lantern slides. The officers for 1902 are: President, Witmer Stone; Secretary, Mrs. Edward Robbins; Treasurer, William L. Baily." The following year Cassinia reported that the membership had grown to over seven thousand persons and that Frank M. Chapman was the annual meeting speaker. A paragraph in the 1907 Cassinia reported that the Society had been reorganized, and Stone and Baily still held their offices. There is no further mention of the Society in later issues nor any hint as to why and when it ceased to exist as a separate organization.

Most conservation emphasis into the thirties was on bird protection. There are several mentions in the minutes of the passage of resolutions urging the continuation of protection for Whistling Swans, urging a one-year moratorium on waterfowl hunting, and calling for hawk protection.

Hawk shooting at Cape May and on the Pennsylvania ridges became of increasing concern. T. Gilbert Pearson, president of the National Association of Audubon Societies, wrote to Norman McDonald in April 1931 with an offer that the Society would defray the expense of a man to be stationed at Cape May during the fall migration to cooperate with the local game warden in an effort to stop the killing of protected species. Pearson also stated that a bill had been proposed in Harrisburg to extend the present bounty on Goshawks to include Broad-winged, Marsh, Cooper's and Sharp-shinned hawks and Great Horned, Barred, Snowy and Screech owls! A motion by Edward Weyl was passed that "an active and alert Conservation Committee be formed for the purpose of pursuing the matter of hawks at Cape May in particular, and for keeping the members posted as to legislative bills aiding or harming conservation."

Richard Pough and Henry Collins traveled to Drehersville in October 1932 to witness the slaughter at Hawk Mountain, and McDonald brought back photographs of the carnage at a subsequent visit. Two years later, Pough reported that Mrs. Rosalie Edge of the Emergency Conservation Committee had received a lease on some fourteen hundred acres of the mountain for a year with an option to buy the land outright for $2.50 an acre! Maurice Broun and an assistant had been engaged to police the property. On motion, the Club agreed to contribute a sum toward the purchase. And so the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary was born, and its success is history.

Shooting of protected birds elsewhere continued, particularly along the Blue Mountain and the shore of Lake Erie. The Club prepared and distributed a flier with silhouettes of hawks to educate hunters as to which groups are protected. A Pennsylvania Hawk Committee was formed and sponsored an open meeting at the Academy in April 1956 to discuss the problem, and five hundred persons attended. As an aftermath, the Committee was urged to expand and become statewide in scope and suggest necessary legislation. Phillips Street was chosen to be Chairman and McDonald Executive Director. Other Club members on the committee were Nelson Hoy, Albert Linton and Philip Livingston. Money was raised, and a bill with good bipartisan sponsorship was entered in the House to remove the Goshawk, Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks from the unprotected list. After much strenuous politicking, the bill passed the House by a wide margin but became stalled in the Senate when some unfortunate publicity and pressure from the Pennsylvania Sportsmen's Federation appeared. A compromise was eventually negotiated which granted protection to the three accipiters during the months of September and October along the ridges east of the Susquehanna River, and this effectively stopped most of the shooting. Complete protection came in 1972, when the Migratory Bird Treaty Act added the hawks and owls to the list of species protected by Canada, the United States and Mexico.

A major conservation effort, commenced by the D.V.O.C., was the rescue Of Tinicum. John Gillespie was advocating action as early as 1937, soon to be Joined by Hoy and others. In 1949 a committee of Hoy as chairman, along with McDonald and William Lukens, was appointed to explore ways of furthering the idea of having Tinicum made into a wildlife refuge. News in 1952 that the Bureau ot Engineers, as part of the Schuylkill River Cleanup Project, was planning to deposit silt dredged from the river into part of the Tinicum marshes owned by the Gulf Oil Corporation resulted in a new committee being formed to continue the effort. Allston Jenkins was named chairman, with David .Cutler. Hoy, James Fowler, Quintin Kramer and Edward Woolman the other members. Fund-raising commenced, and thousands of letters were sent to the Redevelopment Authority urging the selection of an alternate site. One cannot overemphasize the incredible patience and expertise which Jenkins showed in negotiating, step by step, over the next year, ways to make the dream a reality. It was dyring this period that the Philadelphia Conservationists was born. There were meetings with the Authority, the Army Engineers, the City Manager, and a sympathetic Mayor Joseph Clark. Jenkins persuaded the city to assent to the use of 160 acres on the old Model Farms area north of the airport as an alternate site and agree to the establishment of a wildlife preserve, the dredging company to accept the alternate site, and the Gulf Oil Corporation to transfer its land to the city for a refuge. This is an oversimplification of the story, for many problems, pitfalls and conditions arose which had to be resolved. But they were in the next two years, an enabling ordinance approved in 1955 and the formal agreement to transfer the land from Gulf to the city finalized in December just two weeks before the dark administration left office! The ensuing years brought more crises, with dumping along the Darby Creek, the placement of 1-95 and the viaduct for the airport railroad to be contended with. Then came the final satisfaction in 1973, when the Tinicum title was transferred from the city to the federal government to make the area a part of the National Wildlife Refuge system.

With Tinicum saved, Allston Jenkins and his Philadelphia Conservationists turned their efforts toward New Jersey's threatened wetlands with spectacular results. Some acquisitions were not too difficult; others required patience and even court appearances. The task was helped immensely by the passage of the Green Acres program in 1961, enabling land which they had committed for to be sold to the state. Other lands were sold to the federal government for incorporation in the National Wildlife Refuge system. Piece by piece, the land around Great Bay was acquired and transferred to the Brigantine Refuge The Holgate peninsula was one of the early successes, followed soon by the purchase of Little Beach Island. The Oyster Creek area came next and then the north end of Bngantine Island. This one thousand-acre tract was saved from a developer's bid through intervention by the Conservationists. Dick Pough then with the Nature Conservancy, gave freely of his time and talents in assisting in this endeavor. With the purchase of the Tuckerton marshes by Green Acres and the Barrel Islands by the Conservationists, a vast and immensely important area had been preserved and the threat of development arrested.

Equally impressive were the acquisitions of the Supawna Meadows-Goose Pond area where the Salem River enters the Delaware Bay and the Fortescue marshes, wintering areas for Snow Geese, Black Ducks and Bald Eagles Other major acquisitions by the Philadelphia Conservationists were the Trenton Marsh, several tracts of land and Herring Island at the northern end of Barnegat Bay, marshland at Stone Harbor, Cedar Island at Avalon and the tip of the peninsula at Corson's Inlet. Herbert Mills was active in some of these negotiations

That much of the Cape May area today enjoys protective status is due in no small part to the efforts of Club members. Among those most prominently contributing to the successes in having so much of this vital area save were Ernie Choate Pete Dunne, Norman McDonald, Frank McLaughlin, D'Arcy Northwood, Alfred Nicholson, Keith Seager, and Clay and Pat Sutton. I asked Pat Sutton if she could document the events leading to the present amount of and under protection, and a brief summary of her detailed comments follows J

A Witmer Stone Wildlife Sanctuary was established in 1935 when the National Audubon Society leased about seven hundred acres north and east of the town of Cape May Point. Two years later it was turned over to New Jersey Audubon, and subsequently some of it became a part of Cape May Point State Park. This park was a military base until a 1962 storm badly damaged much of it. The military moved out in 1964, transferring the land to the state to be made into a State Natural Area. Ernie Choate was a key figure in the establishment of the park, which today encompasses about two hundred acres. The Cape May Bird Observatory (CMBO) and the hawk watch platform are in the park, and the CMBO headquarters is in the Northwood home at Lily Lake, it having been willed to New Jersey Audubon by D'Arcy's widow, Ann.

Higbee's Beach, the last remaining dune forest along the bay shoreline, was ;purchased by the state in 1978, saving it from becoming a campground. Clay Sutton, as Cape May County's Environmental Planner, fought the proposed campground, and Pete Dunne and Clay documented the flight paths of migrants over Higbee's. This documentation led to the availability of federal funds for protection of endangered and threatened species habitat. Today the Higbee's Beach Wildlife Management Area encompasses 613 acres (417 owned by the state and 196 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers).

The 187-acre south Cape Mav Meadows, also threatened with becoming a campground, was purchased by the Nature Conservancy in 1981. The conservancy also purchased the 192-acre Hidden Valley Ranch, the largest privately owned tract remaining at the tip of the peninsula, in 1986. This farm is contiguous with Higbee's and becomes a part of that Wildlife Management Area.

Farther up the bayshore in Cumberland County, the Great Bear Swamp was saved through the combined efforts of many agencies and individuals, including the Cumberland County Conservation League, New Jersey Audubon,' the Philadelphia Conservationists and several D.V.O.C. members. Comments Pat Sutton: "Coupling Bear Swamp East Natural Area, Bevan Wildlife Management Area (WMA), Fortescue WMA, Egg Island WMA, Nantuxent WMA and Fortescue Glades, you have one of the largest assemblages of protected land in all of New Jersey".

The Cape May National Wildlife Refuge was dedicated on May 13, 1989. It, savs Pat "will be comprised of two divisions. The Delaware Bay Division will encompass seven thousand acres along the Delaware Bay from Norbury's Landing to Bidwell's Creek just north of Reed's Beach, as well as the headwaters of Bidwell's Creek, Dias Creek, Green Creek and Fishing Creek. The Great Cedar Swamp Division will encompass 7700 acres of Great Cedar Swamp running from Dennisville north to Petersburg."

DVOC Main Page > History > Street Article > Conservation