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History of the Izzak Walton League of America

One of the earliest conservation organizations in the United States

The Izaak Walton League of America (IWLA) was formed "to save outdoor America for future generations." We are one of the oldest conservation organizations and the first to set an aggressive course to defend wild America by changing public policy. Almost every major conservation program that America takes for granted today can be traced directly to a League activity or initiative.

In 1922, 54 sportsmen met in Chicago, Illinois, to discuss an issue of common concern: the deteriorating conditions of America's top fishing streams. Uncontrolled industrial discharges, raw sewage and soil erosion threatened to destroy many of the nation's most productive waterways.

Within hours, the group formed an organization to combat water pollution and other environmental abuses. As a constant reminder of this goal, they named the group after Izaak Walton, the 17th-century English angler-conservationist who wrote the literary classic "The Compleat Angler." Today, the Izaak Walton League of America's 30,000+ members fight to protect the nation's soil, air, woods, waters and wildlife.

Ensuring good water quality remains the IWLA's top goal. Since organizing the first national water pollution inventory in 1927 -- at the request of President Calvin Coolidge -- the League has won many important clean water battles. League members, or "Ikes," in the 1940s helped pass the first federal water pollution control act, followed by a decade-long campaign against acid mine drainage.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the League launched the Save Our Streams Program and broke the political ground necessary for passage of the landmark 1972 Clean Water Act. Currently, Ikes are leading the fight to fund and strengthen the Clean Water Act during its reauthorization and to fend off efforts in Congress to weaken wetlands protection provisions.

The League also spearheaded protection of public lands, such as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming, Everglades National Park, and Isle Royale National Park. In addition, the IWLA led the effort to create the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the major source of revenue for parkland acquisition and recreational facilities.

Wildlife protection remains a major focus as well. National projects include organizing the 1926 campaign to protect black bass, a late 1980s purchase of a helicopter to help wildlife law officers catch waterfowl poachers in the Gulf of Mexico, and a 19-year outdoor ethics campaign to improve behavior by outdoor recreationists.

Time after time, Ikes have won battles against all odds. There was never enough money. There were internal disagreements and even personal disputes, but through it all, the League kept focused on its mission: To conserve, maintain, protect and restore the forests, water and other natural resources and to strive for the wise stewardship of the land, its resources and humans' sharing in it.

During the past 75 years, no other conservation group in the country has had such a profound effect on the nation's conservation policies.

During the next 75 years, conservation will not keep pace with the daunting array of new challenges we face without more participation from America's political heartland. The conservation voice of the League is needed now more than ever. Our members and supporters recognize that the League's tradition of grassroots conservation activism will help ensure a clean, enjoyable environment for future generations.

A Note About Our History

These time lines represent only some highlights of the League's first 75 years of conservation accomplishments. They are by no means a complete record. Space does not allow us to list the hundreds of local and state accomplishments by past and present Ikes, whose individual and collective efforts are as critical to the League's success as the entries that follow.

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