For over 100 years, the Izaak Walton League of America has carved out a unique role, promoting conservation and volunteer science locally while advocating for strong state and national policies to protect our air, water and wildlife. From community conservation to groundbreaking legislative victories, no other organization has done more to protect our nation's woods, waters and wildlife.

Here, learn about our greatest accomplishments from our first century of conservation leadership.

Watch the milestones as videos

  • On January 14, 1922, 54 hunters and anglers met in Chicago to establish a national organization dedicated to taking action to combat water pollution and threats to wildlife and habitat. They named their new organization the Izaak Walton League of America – and what happened next was nothing short of remarkable.

  • In August 1922, the League launched a magazine that has continuously published articles about conservation and the League’s work for 100 years. While the format, the focus, and even the title changed from time to time, the magazine – now called Outdoor America – regularly featured prominent writers and information on the most important environmental topics of the day.

  • In 1923 the League – already numbering tens of thousands of members – hosted its first annual convention in Chicago. Hundreds of attendees discussed and agreed on the principles and goals of the organization, laying out a fourteen-plank platform for the protection of natural resources and outdoor recreation. Today, the League’s national convention still features this type of member-driven direction-setting.

  • Within two years of the League’s founding, Ikes secured their first advocacy victory when Congress established the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. The refuge, which follows the Mississippi River through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois, protects one of the most diverse and complex ecosystems in America. This rich habitat likely would have been drained and converted to farmland if not for the League’s efforts.

  • In the early 1920s, articles in Outdoor America exhorted League members to request bass fry from the Bureau of Fisheries, pick them up at the nearest railroad station, and put them in any water body. To facilitate rapid action, the articles included a sample request form and ideas about where to release the fish. The campaign was a success, helping to restore populations of largemouth and smallmouth bass across the country.
Elk in Jackson Hole - credit USFWS
Elk in Jackson Hole - credit USFWS
  • During the 1920s, the League helped save the now-thriving Jackson Hole elk herd by purchasing several thousand acres in Wyoming to provide food and range land for the struggling, dwindling herd. The League donated the land to the federal government, allowing for the expansion of the National Elk Refuge.

  • In its early years, the League worked to correct a loophole in the Lacey Act, which banned interstate shipment of wildlife taken in violation of state law. States interpreted the Act as applying only to mammals and birds, and overfishing continued – so much so that largemouth and smallmouth bass, collectively known as black bass, were threatened with extinction. The League’s advocacy on this point resulted in the Black Bass Act of 1926, which made it clear that the Lacey Act protected fish as well. The League then immediately tackled the other obvious loophole: the lack of state laws prohibiting commercial bass fishing.

  • The creation of the Outdoor Writers Association of America occurred at the Izaak Walton League national convention in 1927. Possibly the first organization to spin off from the League, OWAA is still thriving today, with an active community of writers, photographers, podcasters and other outdoor communicators.

  • In 1927, President Calvin Coolidge commissioned the Izaak Walton League to conduct the first national survey of water pollution in the United States. The League sent questionnaires to state health officials, and all 48 states responded (Alaska and Hawaii had not yet joined the Union). The results showed that millions of Americans were dumping raw sewage into waterways, as most sewer systems were not yet connected to even basic treatment facilities. In response to the findings, seven states rapidly passed laws to address water pollution.

  • In the 1920s and ‘30s, the League led a national push to build sewage treatment plants in every community. Individual victories by numerous chapters led to widespread success on this front. As just one example, the Sioux Falls Chapter in South Dakota persuaded local voters to approve a $600,000 bond for a sewage plant. A plaque commemorating that plant, and the League’s role in its construction, still hangs in the chapter’s clubhouse.
Boundary Waters - credit Alan Strakey
Boundary Waters - credit Alan Strakey
  • The League helped develop and pass into law a 1930 bill to prevent damming of the Boundary Waters and flooding in the Superior National Forest, a region that would ultimately become the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Recognizing the conservation and recreation values of the region, the League worked to acquire land, which was donated to the Forest Service, to preserve the forest as wilderness.

  • In 1932, the League adopted a resolution to create an annual migratory bird stamp as a means of raising funds for waterfowl sanctuaries. Waterfowl populations had suffered due to drought, agricultural expansion and unregulated hunting. In 1934, Congress passed the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act, a landmark law based on the League’s proposal. League member Jay “Ding” Darling designed the first of what would be known as the Duck Stamp.

  • In the early 1930s, Grover Ladner, president of the League’s Philadelphia chapter, proposed a federal agency to combat water pollution in every principal watershed in the U.S. and enforce uniform standards. The League found an ally in Senator Augustine Lonergan, who introduced a bill in 1936 to achieve these goals. In 1948, a weak version of this bill passed through Congress. Not satisfied by half-measures, the League continued fighting for clean water, right through the 1972 Clean Water Act and the still-ongoing battle over the Waters of the United States rule.

  • In the 1930s, sportsmen were aware that many game birds were lost when hunters wounded them and then were unable to retrieve the still-fleeing bird. To address this problem, League chapters began offering skeet shooting facilities, where hunters could hone their marksmanship in conditions that mimicked what they faced in the field. The practice paid off and led to other benefits as well: League members from California almost immediately placed second in a national skeet competition.

  • League advocacy led to the passage of the Pittman-Robertson Act in 1937 – indeed, Senator Absalom Willis Robertson was himself an Ike! The Act directed tax revenues raised from the sale of firearms, ammunition, bows and arrows to state wildlife agencies, to fund wildlife restoration, habitat conservation, and hunter education. That’s provided a steady stream of funding for these important programs, adding up to more than $2 billion over time.
Kankakee River Grand Marsh
Kankakee River Grand Marsh
  • After more than a decade of work with leadership from the Indiana Division, the League celebrated enactment of a law designed to restore the Kankakee River Grand Marsh. In the 1960s the League successfully advocated for preservation of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which was redesignated as a national park in 2019.

  • In 1943, the Izaak Walton League Endowment was created as a separate nonprofit entity to help raise funds for conservation. Initially, the Endowment purchased lands for later transfer to the U.S. Forest Service. In the 1960s, the Endowment shifted to providing grant funds to League chapters to support conservation projects of every kind.

  • As early as 1945, the League published concerns about the pesticide DDT and its effect on wildlife. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the League was increasingly vocal about the dangers of DDT. In 1962, the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring brought the issue to a head. The League seized the moment, testifying to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1964 and then suing the agency over its failure to respond. In 1972, the newly created EPA banned the use of DDT in America.
  • The great success of the Pittman-Robertson Act in funding wildlife management led to the passage of the analogous Dingell-Johnson Act in 1950. Dingell-Johnson uses funds raised by taxes on fishing gear to support protection of fish habitat. Later amendments expanded the Act to receive the revenues from taxes on motor boat fuel and to fund boating access and angler recruitment.

  • The League’s Portland (Oregon) Chapter created a program in the early 1950s called “Don’t Be a Litter Bug,” endorsed by the national leaders at the 1953 convention. The program grew in popularity and by the late 1960s, thousands of students were pledging to fight litter.

  • At the 1953 national convention, the League launched a program to include more youth in natural resource issues. The first honorary chair of the “Young Outdoor Americans” program was actor Gary Cooper. While the program ended in 1959, the practice of including youth grew over the years and remains a top priority for the League.
Hunters - credit Howard Communications Photo Library
Hunters - credit Howard Communications Photo Library
  • In Oregon during 1954, 13 hunters were killed and 37 injured by mishandling firearms. In response, the League’s Portland Chapter launched a program called “Red Hat Day” to encourage safe hunting and adherence to Red Hat safety rules. The idea was adopted nationally by the League, endorsed by Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, and embraced broadly by many outdoors organizations in the years following. The program, later called “Hunt America Time,” grew to encompass outdoor ethics as well as safety.

  • In the 1950s, League Conservation Director Joe Penfold brainstormed the concept of an Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission, which would assess the nation’s need for public lands to support growing demand for outdoor activities. Congress implemented Penfold’s idea in 1958. The Commission then proceeded to set forth various outdoor policy recommendations that would guide the nation for decades. It also inspired creation of historic conservation statutes including the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the National Trails System Act.

  • By the 1950s, American farmland was in trouble. Farmers had increased production – mainly by plowing more acres – to support the war efforts. After the wars, the government began buying up the surplus, which helped farmers in the short term but didn’t solve unsustainable agricultural practices. In 1955, the League created a soil conservation plan and presented it to key government leaders, who promptly formed a new committee to study the idea. The following year, Congress passed the Soil Bank Act, which incorporated key League priorities into a conservation reserve program.
  • In the 1950s and early 1960s, the League – and especially its conservation director, Joe Penfold – was instrumental in pushing the concept of federally protected wilderness. That idea culminated in the Wilderness Act of 1964. Through congressionally approved additions over the decades, the Act now protects more than 700 wilderness areas covering 111 million acres.

  • Due to the hard work and inspiration of League Conservation Director Joe Penfold, the Land and Water Conservation Fund was enacted in 1965. One of the nation’s most effective conservation programs, LWCF takes a small amount of revenue from drilling in public offshore waters and invests those dollars in local parks, rec centers and ball fields, as well as national parks and other public lands.
Nestucca River - credit Greg Shine, BLM
Nestucca River - credit Greg Shine, BLM
  • The League was a key proponent of the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which protects rivers with outstanding value for present and future generations. This landmark conservation law was another brainchild of the League’s indefatigable conservation director, Joe Penfold.

  • In 1969, the League launched Save Our Streams as a stream cleanup campaign. Ikes were asked to adopt a local stream and work to keep it clean. The program, originally conceived by the Rockville Chapter, spread throughout the Maryland Division and then rapidly expanded to 22 states.

  • In 1972 Congress passed the Clean Water Act, a landmark conservation law that incorporated many of the key principles the League had been advocating for since the 1930s. Among other provisions, the Act establishes a comprehensive national law to limit water pollution and improve water quality, and it provides federal funding to build and upgrade sewage treatment systems. The Act, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, remains one of the most important environmental laws in America.

  • In the early 1970s, the League’s West Virginia chapters mobilized to stop widespread clearcutting in the region’s national forests. Victory in a lawsuit about excessive logging in the Monongahela National Forest changed U.S. Forest Service management practices all over the country. Still today, national forests are managed for wildlife and public use as well as for wood products.
Water Wagon
Water Wagon
  • In 1975, the League transformed a motor home into the “Water Wagon” and sent national director Dave Whitney around the country to tell the Save Our Streams story. Within six months Whitney had traveled 25,000 miles and talked to 75,000 people.

  • In the 1970s, recycling awareness was a key issue for the League. Many chapters served as recycling centers or dropoff locations. League volunteers filled this important role until municipal recycling programs with curbside pickup were established in later decades.

  • After key victories in the 1930s, the League continued working to save the Boundary Waters region. Led by Sigurd Olson and other legendary conservationists, Ikes defeated efforts to build roads and exploit mineral resources, stopped unsustainable logging, and secured a first-of-its-kind ban on flights in and out of the area. In 1964 the Boundary Waters were designated as wilderness, and in 1978 a half-century of tireless efforts were capped off by the expansion of the protected acreage. The fight goes on, however, as the League is still working today to protect the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining that could permanently contaminate this pristine landscape.

  • By the 1980s, the Clean Water Act had largely put an end to unregulated discharge of chemicals from “point sources” like factories or sewer pipes. Instead, the biggest threat to water quality was invisible forms of pollution running off of lawns and farm fields. The Izaak Walton League was already poised to combat this new challenge, having spent the 1970s building Save Our Streams into a community science program that taught ordinary people to uncover water pollution and report the problem to their local leaders. The idea that volunteers could collect data that would be accepted as scientifically valid was a big gamble at the time – and one that paid off. Today, Save Our Streams continues to engage conservation advocates across the country in standing up for clean water in their communities.

  • In 1985, the League won three major provisions for protecting soil health: that year’s Farm Bill included Sodbuster, Swampbuster, and the Conservation Reserve Program. The Sodbuster rule says that farmers must create soil conservations plans for their highly erodible soil, or they can’t benefit from taxpayer-funded programs like discounts on crop insurance, conservation program incentives and subsidized farm loans. Swampbuster, analogously, requires farmers to agree not to drain or fill wetlands. CRP, meanwhile, directly pays farmers to take marginal cropland out of production and instead plant grasses or trees that eliminate erosion, reduce polluted runoff and provide habitat for wildlife. These three programs are still in effect today, providing 22 million acres of wildlife habitat, protecting tens of millions of acres of wetlands on farms, and conserving soil on 100 million acres of highly erodible farmland.
Fish - credit iStock
Fish - credit iStock
  • In the late 1990s, the League created the Fish Kill Advisory Network to inform the public about fish kills in the Upper Mississippi River – and about the reasons for these catastrophic events. As part of the program, the League published the first report that systematically collected and analyzed state agency data on the water-quality impact of animal feedlots. In the following years, state and federal agencies used the League’s data to develop and enforce environmental protections.

  • In 1998, the League helped America take a step towards renewable energy by publishing a report to educate utility managers about how they could incorporate wind into their community’s energy mix. The report, “Wind on the Wires,” soon evolved into a comprehensive program focused on harnessing wind energy in the Midwest. That program set in motion transmission line upgrades that would allow Midwestern wind to meet energy needs all across America. Wind on the Wires then joined the growing ranks of organizations spun off from the Izaak Walton League; today it’s still going strong under the name of the Clean Grid Alliance.

  • Though our slogan – “Defenders of soil, air, woods, waters and wildlife” – has evolved over the years, the core principle has remained the same, and our chapters have always been at the heart of carrying it out. In 1999, the League launched the Defenders Chapter Achievement Awards to honor broad-based excellence in membership, financial support of League programs, education, conservation, youth engagement and communications. Over the years, a total of 66 chapters have cleared the high bar to earn this prestigious award.

  • In 2000, the League became the national coordinator for American Wetlands Month, an annual event originally created by EPA. And we ran with it – over the next several years, the League hosted conferences and workshops, tackled invasive species in wetlands, produced two television programs, and launched a major campaign to ensure wetlands would remain protected by the Clean Water Act. Today, we still celebrate American Wetlands Month each May and work all year round to conserve these incredible natural resources.

  • In 2001, Charlotte “Char” Brooker blazed a new trail by becoming the first female chair of the League’s Executive Board. Brooker had previously served as the president of the League’s Minnesota Division and as a member of the Game and Fish Oversight Committee of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Her time as chair is remembered for her focus on making sure the League welcomed conservationists of all kinds, whether or not they were frequent participants in traditional outdoor recreation.

  • In 2002, the League released a groundbreaking report about the environmental impacts of irresponsible ATV use. The report, “Caught in the Treads,” focused on the advertising practices that encouraged unethical behavior among recreationists. Written from the League’s trademark common-sense, non-partisan perspective, the report earned praise even from ATV advocacy groups.
Scholarship winner - credit IWLA
Scholarship winner - credit IWLA
  • Since 2005, the League has awarded scholarships to undergraduate students pursuing degrees in conservation or the environment. Thanks to funding from the Izaak Walton League Endowment, the program has supported 36 future natural resource professionals since its inception. The two $2,500 scholarships given out each year complement the roughly $125,000 awarded annually by chapters and divisions.

  • In April 2007, the League started the Clean Boats campaign with a bang: a print ad reached 1.7 million people, a press conference resulted in media coverage, and an online quiz and contest attracted over 8,500 entries. The League even hosted a boat-cleaning demonstration at the Mall of America and ran radio ads during major-league baseball games. All of it was aimed at teaching boaters and anglers how to properly clean their gear and avoid spreading aquatic invasive species.

  • In 2007, the League collaborated with the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks; the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission; and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to create the Missouri River Initiative. That quickly led to the formation of the Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee (MRRIC), which works with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to manage the river for the benefit of fish and wildlife as well as for people. Paul Lepisto, our Missouri River Conservation Coordinator, became a founding member of the committee. Paul still holds his positions with the League and with MRRIC.

  • Since 2008, the League has helped to coordinate Missouri River cleanups in Pierre-Fort Pierre, Yankton, and Omaha-Council Bluffs. Through these events, thousands of volunteers have removed over 70 tons of litter and trash from our nation’s longest river. That makes the river healthier for fish and wildlife and a more pleasing place for people to recreate.

  • In 2009, in partnership with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service, the League began to develop a curriculum to teach kids ages 10 to 14 about clean water. The following year, that curriculum became known as Creek Freaks. By 2014, the League had trained over 600 educators and reached more than 12,500 young students with hands-on learning activities.

  • In 2010, the League doubled down on its commitment to youth and added to its growing family of child organizations by helping to launch the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK). The following year, the League worked to get the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act introduced in Congress. With OAK’s ongoing support, a similar law called the Every Kid Outdoors Act passed in 2019. Every Kid Outdoors is the program that provides free entrance to public lands for fourth graders and their families.
Ginny Thrasher with Olympic gold medal
Ginny Thrasher with Olympic gold medal
  • In 2016, the Izaak Walton League added an Olympic gold medal to its list of accomplishments. Virginia “Ginny” Thrasher, who began practicing shooting sports at a League chapter after a family hunting trip piqued her interest, captured gold in women’s air rifle at the Rio Games. Lucas Kozeniesky, another young Ike, took home silver in the 10-meter air rifle mixed team event in Tokyo in 2021. With well over 100 chapters offering top-notch shooting sports facilities, the League is poised to produce more champions in Paris and beyond.

  • In January 2018, the League established what has become the popular Salt Watch program. Salt Watch raises awareness about chloride pollution and helps volunteers across the country submit the results of water quality tests to a national database.

  • In 2018, the League launched the Clean Water Hub with help from partners at the Water Data Collaborative. The Hub is a flexible, user-friendly database that stores and displays water quality data from all types of volunteer monitors. This first-of-its-kind resource brings together the findings from disparate monitoring programs, puts all that data on the same national map, and helps people all across the country understand water quality in America today.

  • In 2020, Congress passed the Great American Outdoors Act, which for the first time provided permanent status and full funding for the League-inspired Land and Water Conservation Fund. LWCF has been one of the most effective and far-reaching conservation laws since it was created in 1965.

  • Women have been part of the Izaak Walton League since the very beginning, and a woman held the League’s executive director position as early as the 1950s. But it took until 2021 for the League to celebrate the election of its first female national president. Vicki Arnold, a League leader from Dubuque, Iowa, served in the position until 2023.

Watch the milestones as videos.

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