U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Historic Preservation
Skip to main page content



A Bit of History

The Homestead Act of 1862 changed the natural environment of the United States more than any law in our country’s history.  The law and the homesteads that were established set in motion events that would ultimately lead to the establishment of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

For homesteaders, the land was their source of shelter and food so the landscape of the country changed quickly during this period.  Where the homesteaders settled, forests were cleared to make homes and fields, fish and game were taken for food and wetlands were drained to make them useful for farming.  Most of the homesteaders would be from areas or countries where farming was practiced.  When they moved to the western United States, they found that these practices either did not work or had to be changed in order to produce year after year.  Some areas in the west were suitable for growing small grain but would not produce during periodic droughts causing the homesteaders to rapidly leave their farms.  Other areas such as deserts and high elevation areas would not produce crops in amounts that could be sold, but would produce hay to feed cattle. 

An Oregon Example
A Nevada Example

As homesteads continued to be established, the effects on the land were becoming large enough to change some attitudes toward settlement.  Beginning in the 1870s, the Federal government noticed a fall in fish populations and in 1871 created the U.S. Fish Commission which would later grow into the Bureau of Fisheries.  One of the Fish Commission’s goals was to raise fish to replace fish that were being removed from the natural environment by the homesteaders.  In 1903 the Bureau of Biological Survey was formed to deal with wildlife issues not related to fish.  These bureaus would eventually be combined to form the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Miller   Idaho
A Wyoming Example
An Idaho Example

The History of the Homestead Act

About the Homestead Act Law

For Kids: Frontier Life


Last Updated: May 14, 2012

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Logo National Wildlife Refuge System Logo Historic Preservation Home Contact Us link Sitemap link