Conservation Nation
Lesson Activities


1.      Tell the students that you are going to write a list on the board. The students’ task is to try to deduce what the items on the list have in common.

2. Begin writing the following list of species from the column on the left on the board (don’t share the rest of the chart yet). Allow the students to make guesses at any time as to how the species are related (the correct answer is that they are species whose protection under the Endangered Species Act allowed for their recovery – they are Endangered Species Act “success stories”).

Population -  From: Population – To:
Hawaiian Goose 400 in 1980 1,275 in 2003
Whooping crane 54 in 1967 513 in 2006
Peregrine Falcon 324 pairs in 1975 1,700 pairs in 2000
Bald eagle 416 pairs in 1963 9,789 pairs in 2006
Virginia big-eared bat 3,500 in 1979 18,442 in 2004
Gray Whale 13,095 in 1968 26,635 in 1998
Florida Key Deer 200 in 1971 750 in 2001
California southern sea otter 1,789 in 1976 2,735 in 2005
Grizzly Bear 224 in 1975 500 in 2005 (Yellowstone Area)
San Clemente Indian Paintbrush 500 in 1979 3,500 in 1997

(source: 100 Success Stories for Endangered Species Day 2007,, 3/31/2009.)

3.      Explain the list you wrote on the board – these are all species whose protection under the Endangered Species Act has led to recovery. Share some of the data from the right two columns of the chart as examples of the recovery.

4.      Explain that the facts you’ve shared track the population since the 1960s and 1970s, when data became available as the government passed laws to protect species. But going back further in time to the 19th century, some of the species that are exceedingly rare today were once extremely common. Species populations have changed dramatically from the 19th century to today (for example, the now-extinct passenger pigeon was once one of the most abundant birds in North America, with a population that may have reached 6 billion individuals. During the 19th century these numbers declined dramatically, and by 1900, the bird was extinct in the wild).

5.      Ask the students to brainstorm a list of factors that might have led to these species’ decline from the 19th century to today. What was going on in late 19th century America that would have led to these dramatic declines in species’ population? (This was an era of westward expansion and intense development of industry and agriculture on a grand scale. Also, attitudes toward species other than humans were generally very different. There was largely no public concept that species should be protected – and no laws or governmental agencies that tried to protect animals or plants other than humans. Excessive hunting and rampant habitat destruction had an adverse effect on many, many species.)


1.      Explain that in the next activities, students will be learning about the gray wolf. This is an example of a species that was once very common and declined precipitously in the 19th century.  Historically, wolves were common throughout the American West. By 1973, wolves had been completely exterminated from the western lower 48 states, existing only in small pockets in Minnesota and Michigan.

2.      Distribute the Video Organizer (PDF) (RTF) to each student. This contains focus questions for each of the four video segments the students will watch. The students should read the questions for each segment prior to watching it, and after each segment should write (or discuss) their responses.

3.      FRAME Video Segment 1: “1893 New Mexico” by telling the students that they will be introduced to a man named Ernest Thompson Seton, who was hired to do a job in New Mexico in 1893. Have the students read the FOCUS questions for the segment, then PLAY it for the class. FOLLOW UP by allowing the students some time to compose their responses to the focus questions, then discuss as a class. A Video Organizer Answer Key (PDF) (RTF) is provided.

4.      FRAME Video Segment 2: The “wolf problem,” by explaining that Seton thought that killing Lobo would be an easy task, but became increasing frustrated as weeks passed and all his trapping methods were outsmarted by the wolf. Remind students to read the FOCUS questions. After playing the clip, FOLLOW UP as a class.

5.      FRAME Video Segment 3: “Trapping Lobo:” Explain that Lobo, who was known as the “King of the Carrumpaw,” continued to evade Seton as the weeks dragged into months. Each method Seton tried failed – first he planted poisoned meat all around Lobo’s territory, but the wolf never took the bait. Then he buried metal traps in all of Lobo’s haunts, but he would return to find each trap set off but the wolf nowhere to be found. Fall turned to winter and Seton STILL hadn’t managed to fulfill the task he was hired to do. Eventually, however, Seton did trap the elusive wolf. This clip will show how he did it. (Remind the students to read the FOCUS questions. Then FOLLOW UP after playing the segment).

6.      Provide the students with a brief synopsis of how Lobo’s final days ended. Seton did not kill Lobo after he was trapped with four traps. Seton’s resolve to shoot Lobo faltered, and he brought the animal back to his camp alive. It was, however, too late for Lobo. The wolf died within days, according to Seton of “a broken heart.” Seton later said that he strongly regretted killing Lobo and his mate, Blanca – and the bounty hunter never killed another wolf.

7.      FRAME Video Segment 4: “Seton’s Legacy.” Explain that Seton’s experience with Lobo greatly changed him and the course of his life. Have students read the FOCUS questions, and FOLLOW UP with a class discussion about Seton’s groundbreaking environmental accomplishments after playing the last segment.

8.      Fill the students in on the gray wolf’s story in the 20th century: despite the efforts of Seton and others, bounty hunting of wolves continued until as late as 1965. While the wolf once ranged free throughout all of North America, by 1973 wolves had been exterminated from the lower 48 states of the US, with the exception of small populations in Minnesota and Michigan. In 1973, the gray wolf was protected by the Endangered Species Act. The state of wolves remained precarious for decades, but the ESA protections enabled a slow recovery of wolf populations, especially in Yellowstone National Park and the Rocky Mountain region.


1.      Ask the students to recall the last video segment, “Seton’s legacy.” Discuss the laws and organizations that came about in part because of Seton’s advocacy (Interstate legislation protecting migrating birds, Woodcraft Indians, Boy Scouts of the UK and the US). Explain that in the late nineteenth century, organizations whose goal was to protect the environment and wild animals were few and far between, as were laws to protect the environment (such as the Endangered Species Act, only enacted in 1973). Ask what would might have happened if these laws and organizations had never come into being? (Most likely, there would be many more extinct species today, and fewer natural places for us to appreciate).

2.      Explain that due to a surge in environmental action from the 1960s to today, there are now hundreds of non-profit conservation organizations active throughout the world. Have the students name some environmental and/or conservation organizations they know about.

3.      Distribute the “Conservation Organization” Research Organizer (PDF) (RTF) to each student. Assign students (individually or in groups) to research the web site of a conservation organization active today, using the organizer to collect their research (a list follows, but feel free to add or substitute other conservation organizations).  The students should prepare to give a 5-minute oral report on their organization to the class. Possible organizations include:

4.      After the oral reports have been given, collect the organizers and assemble them in a binder for future student reference.

  • Jackie

    how come pbs never put up something about pigeon pigeon is a hobby that had change many people

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