Author: Elise Lange, AWF Communications Manager
Happy first day of Women's History Month! This month, we will highlight various female conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts — from the past to the present.
Let's go back in time to just over a century ago. Several species of wildlife existed in the early 1900s that no longer exist today. To name a few: the passenger pigeon, Carolina parakeet, great auk, and the Merriam's Elk, the last of which was killed in Arizona. Over-harvesting of game animals was a severe problem — not just in New Mexico, but Arizona, and many other U.S. states. The main issue was that game laws were too lenient and often swayed by politicians with selfish motives.
Hunters and anglers wanted change — as the first conservationists, they knew that overharvesting could not continue. Species like the American Bison had dwindled from some 30 million prior to the western movement of European settlers to just 1,091 in 1889.
Market demand for bison, deer, pronghorn, beavers, mountain lions, bighorn sheep, and many game birds were driving those species to extinction.
However, famous conservationist Aldo Leopold, who helped organize the Arizona Wildlife Federation in 1923, also helped New Mexico's Game Protective Association (today known as the New Mexico Wildlife Federation) in 1914. New Mexico was ahead of many states for this reason. They were also ahead in another way — they hired the first female game warden in the country.
Grace Melaven was elected game warden of New Mexico in 1923 — the same year we were founded.
When the governor at the time was asked why he chose Melaven for the position, he simply stated, "Well, there were 27 men and one woman after the job. But when a woman wants a job which 27 men are after, and the women of the state are backing her 'to a man', about the only thing to do is give it to the woman."
Melaven was passionate about enforcing game laws and not allowing any wardens to give 'parties' the allowance to hunt beyond the bag limit. Conservation was her ultimate goal. She aimed "To conserve the fish and game resources of the state through a proper administration of the laws and to increase the supply to a point where New Mexico will offer sporting opportunities second to none."
Happy Women's History Month and thank you to Grace Melaven for her efforts in enforcing effective wildlife management!