Conservation Nation
Lesson Overivew

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GRADE LEVEL: Grades 9-12

TIME ALLOTMENT: Three 45-minute class periods

OVERVIEW: In the nineteenth-century Western frontier, the wolf was considered a menace – perpetually hunting farm animals and threatening frontier livelihoods. It was not unusual for bounty hunters to be hired to rid communities of this scourge. But one such bounty hunter, Ernest Thompson Seton, was influential in changing popular perspective on wild animals. Seton was hired to kill wolves – but one particular wolf, named Lobo, challenged Seton’s hunting abilities and piqued his more naturalistic interests. As his chase of Lobo stretched on, Seton came to believe that future generations of animals like the wolf should be protected. His focus became less on destruction and more on conservation. Seton was instrumental in spearheading environmental movements in the United States.

In this lesson, students will first learn about the “success stories” of species whose protection under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 saved them from extinction. They will then engage their knowledge of US History during the latter half of the nineteenth century to brainstorm reasons why so many of our wild species’ populations declined dramatically during this period. Students will use segments from NATURE’s The Wolf that Changed America to explore nineteenth-century attitudes toward wolves in the western United States, and will learn of the groundbreaking efforts of Seton to change the popular view of the American wilderness and to launch organizations concerned with the environment. In the Culminating Activity, students will use web resources to research conservation organizations active today, sharing their findings with the class.

SUBJECT MATTER: Life Science, Biology, Environmental Science, U.S. History


Students will be able to:

  • Describe how Ernest Thomas Seton and his pursuit of Lobo the wolf changed America’s view on predatory animals;
  • Describe how public opinion on animal management and endangered species protection has changed from the 19th century to today;
  • Understand the history of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and name some of the species the Act has helped protect;
  • Name a list of modern-day conservation organizations and describe their initiatives.


National Science Education Standards

Content Standard C: Life Science

As a result of their activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop understanding of:


  • Human beings live within the world’s ecosystems. Increasingly, humans modify ecosystems as a result of population growth, technology, and consumption. Human destruction of habitats through direct harvesting, pollution, atmospheric changes, and other factors are threatening current global stability, and if not addressed, ecosystems will be irreversibly affected.

Content Standard F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

As a result in their activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop understanding of:


  • Humans have a major effect on other species. For example, the influence of humans on other organisms occurs through land use-which decreases space available to other species-and pollution-, which changes the chemical composition of air, soil, and water.

US History Standards

National Center for History in the Schools

Era 6
The Development of the Industrial United States (1870-1900)

STANDARD 1: How the rise of corporations, heavy industry, and mechanized farming transformed the American people.

Standard 1D: The student understands the effects of rapid industrialization on the environment and the emergence of the first conservation movement.

Therefore, the student is able to:

  • Explain the origins of environmentalism and the conservation movement in the late 19th century.


NATURE: The Wolf That Changed America, selected segments.

Clip 1

“1893 New Mexico”

Clip 2

“The wolf problem”

Clip 3

“Trapping Lobo”

Clip 4

“Seton’s Legacy”

Access the streaming and downloadable video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.

Web sites

The following are major US and international organizations active in the field of environmental conservation. Students will research these organizations in the Culminating Activity (or substitute others of your choice).


For the teacher:

  • Video Organizer Answer Key (PDF) (RTF)
  • Computer with audiovisual projection system for showing video clips

For each student:


Preview all of the video segments and Web sites used in the lesson.

Download the video clips used in the lesson to your classroom computer, or prepare to watch them using your classroom’s Internet connection.

Bookmark the Web sites used in the lesson on each computer in your classroom. Using a social book marking took such as or diigo (or an online book marking utility such as portaportal) will allow you to organize all the links in a central location.

Make copies of the Video Organizer and Conservation Organizer for each student, and copy the Answer Key for yourself.


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.)


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