Press Release

Izaak Walton League of America Top 44 Achievements from 101 Years of Leadership


1924—Led Campaign to Create the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge

Within two years of its founding, the League’s 100,000 members successfully lobbied Congress, the White House and four states to establish the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge which protects wetlands along the river through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. The League’s action saved one of the nation’s most diverse, complex ecosystems from being drained and converted to farmland.

1926—The Black Bass Act of 1926

Overfishing of largemouth and smallmouth bass (black bass) threatened the two species with extinction. So the League worked to enact the Black Bass Act of 1926, expanding the Lacey Act to prohibit illegal shipment of fish as well as protected mammals and birds. The League then tackled the other loophole: the lack of state laws prohibiting commercial bass fishing.

1927—First national survey of water pollution in the U.S.

President Calvin Coolidge commissioned the Izaak Walton League in 1927 to conduct the first national survey of water pollution. The results showed that raw sewage was being dumped into America’s waterways. In response to the findings, seven states rapidly passed laws to address water pollution.

1927—Outdoor Writers Association of America

The creation of the Outdoor Writers Association of America occurred at the Izaak Walton League national convention in 1927. One of the first organizations to spin off from the League, OWAA thrives today, with an active community of writers, photographers, podcasters and outdoor communicators.

1928—Restoring threatened bass populations

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 stock them in a local water body. The campaign helped to restore dwindling populations of largemouth and smallmouth bass across the country.

1928—Saving the Jackson Hole elk herd

The League helped to 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.

1920s and 30s—Making water treatment a priority

In its early decades, the League led a national push to build sewage treatment plants in every community. Action by numerous League chapters led to widespread success on this front. The Sioux Falls Chapter in South Dakota persuaded voters to approve a $600,000 bond for a sewage plant.

1930—Vital protection for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area region

The League helped develop and pass a 1930 bill to prevent damming and flooding in a portion of the Superior National Forest that later became the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Recognizing the area’s conservation and recreation values, the League worked to acquire land that was then donated to the Forest Service to preserve the area as wilderness.

1932—The Duck Stamp (Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act)

In 1932, the League proposed a bird stamp to fund sanctuaries for waterfowl, which were suffering due to drought, expansion of agriculture and unregulated hunting. In 1934, Congress passed the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act, a landmark law based on the League’s proposal. Member Jay “Ding” Darling designed the first of what would become known as the Duck Stamp.

1936—Proposals to create federal agency and laws to combat water pollution

Grover Ladner from the Philadelphia chapter proposed a federal agency to combat water pollution and enforce uniform standards. Senator Augustine Lonergan introduced a bill to achieve those goals in 1936. In 1948, a weak version of that bill passed in Congress. But the League kept fighting, until enactment of the 1972 Clean Water Act and continuing today in the battle over the Waters of the United States rule.

1937—The Pittman-Robertson Act

To fund wildlife restoration, habitat conservation and hunter education, the League led the push to pass the Pittman-Robertson Act in 1937. The Act directs tax revenue from the sale of firearms, ammunition and bows and arrows to state wildlife agencies. Since it was enacted, the law has delivered more than $20 billion to wildlife agencies. Bill sponsor Senator Absalom Robertson was a League member.

1940s and 50s—Protection of the Kankakee River and Indiana Dunes

After more than a decade of work with leadership from its Indiana Division, the League worked to restore the Kankakee River Grand Marsh. And in the 1960s, the League successfully advocated for preservation of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, redesignated as a national park in 2019.

1945—Banning the pesticide DDT

As early as 1945, the League published concerns about the pesticide DDT and its harmful impact on wildlife. In the 1950s and ‘60s, the League grew increasingly vocal. The 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring raised widespread awareness, and the League seized the moment, testifying to USDA in 1964, and then suing the agency. Finally in 1972, EPA banned use of DDT.

1950—Dingell-Johnson Act

The 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 motorboat fuel and added funding to support boating access and fishing.

1950s—“Don’t be a Litterbug”

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

1953—Young Outdoor Americans

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 engaging youth grew over the years and remains a top priority for the League.

1954—“Red Hat Day” hunter safety

In Oregon during 1954, 13 hunters were killed and 37 injured by the mishandling of firearms. In response, the League’s Portland Chapter launched the “Red Hat Day” program to encourage safe hunting. The League adopted the program nationally, and it was endorsed by Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy. Later called “Hunt America Time,” it grew to encompass outdoor ethics too.

1955—The Soil Bank Act

By the 1950s, American farmland was in trouble due to increasingly unsustainable farming practices. In 1955, the League created a soil conservation plan and presented it to key government leaders. Experts studied the idea and the following year, Congress passed the Soil Bank Act, which incorporated key League priorities into a conservation reserve program.

1958—Outdoor Recreation Commission inspires LWCF, Wild and Scenic Rivers

Izaak Walton League Conservation Director Joe Penfold launched the idea and the drafted legislation to create an Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission to assess the need for public lands to support outdoor activities. Congress agreed and passed the law creating the Commission in 1958. The Commission’s recommendations guided policy for decades and inspired bedrock laws like the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the National Trails System Act.

1964—The Wilderness Act

In the 1950s and early 1960s, Howard Zahniser at the Wilderness Society toiled through 60-plus drafts of this bill.  At the same time, the League’s Conservation Director Joe Penfold was a key ally and was instrumental in pushing Congress to adopt this concept of protecting wild public lands as wilderness. Through congressionally approved additions over the decades, the Act now protects more than 700 wilderness areas in every corner of the U.S. covering 111 million acres.

1965—The Land and Water Conservation Fund

One of the most effective conservation programs in America, the Land and Water Conservation Fund takes a small amount of revenue from drilling in public offshore waters and invests those dollars in national and local parks, rec centers and ball fields, as well as other public lands. League Conservation Director Joe Penfold first articulated the idea during his service on the Outdoor Recreation commission.

1968—Wild and Scenic Rivers Act

The League was a key proponent of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which protects rivers with outstanding value for present and future generations. This landmark law was another inspiration that came out of the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission, established by Congress in 1958 thanks to the leadership and guidance of League conservation director, Joe Penfold.

1969—Save Our Streams program monitors health of local waterways

In 1969, the League launched a clean-up program called Save Our Streams. Members were asked to adopt a local stream and work to keep it clean. The idea, conceived by the Rockville Chapter in Maryland, spread rapidly to other states and SOS thrives today especially in Virginia and Iowa.

1972—Clean Water Act

The Clean Water Act is another bedrock conservation law that incorporated key principles the League had been advocating for since the 1930s. The Act established a comprehensive approach to limiting water pollution and improving water quality and federal funding to build and upgrade sewage treatment systems. The League’s amicus brief in Sackett v. EPA sought to defend the CWA and its protections of wetlands.

1973—Izaak Walton League v. Butz, lawsuit curtails clearcutting

In the early 1970s, the League’s West Virginia chapters mobilized to stop excessive clearcutting in the Monongahela National Forest. The League filed and won a lawsuit against the National Forest Service (Izaak Walton League v. Butz). As a result, Congress enacted the National Forest Management Act, and forest policy shifted away from clearcutting to a broader range of management outcomes including wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation.

1975—The Water Wagon

The League converted a Coachmen RV into a vehicle for education and outreach dubbed the “Water Wagon.” Dave Whitney took to the road to spread the League’s clean water message. Tens of thousands of people at schools, chapters and lakesides learned about clean water and Save Our Streams thanks to Whitney and the wagon, which logged 130,000 miles.

1970s—Recycling Centers

The importance of recycling was a key issue for the League beginning in the 1970s. Many chapters served as recycling centers or drop-off locations for materials. League volunteers filled this important role until municipal recycling programs with curbside pickup were established in later decades.

1978—Expansion of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

The League has worked to conserve the Boundary Waters region of Minnesota since the 1920s. Led by Sigurd Olson and other conservationists, Ikes defeated efforts to build roads and exploit mineral resources. In 1964, the area was designated as a federal wilderness, and in 1978, that acreage was expanded through congressional action. The fight goes on. The League is now working to prevent sulfide-ore copper mining that could permanently contaminate this pristine landscape.

1985—Sodbuster, Swampbuster, Conservation Reserve Program

The League achieved big wins in the 1985 farm bill: The Sodbuster rule requires farms to create soil conservation plans for highly erodible soil if the farmers want to benefit from taxpayer-funded programs like crop insurance discounts. Swampbuster requires farmers to agree not to drain or fill wetlands. The Conservation Reserve Program pays farmers to take marginal land out of crop production and instead plant grasses or trees that reduce erosion and polluted runoff and provide wildlife habitat. These programs help to conserve millions of acres across the nation.

1990s—Fish kill advisory network advances wildlife protection

This network informed the public about fish kills and their causes in the Upper Mississippi River. 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 years that followed, state and federal agencies used the League’s data to develop and enforce environmental protections.

1998Wind on the Wires push for renewable energy

The League pushed for renewable energy in a 1998 report for utility managers about how to incorporate wind into their community’s energy mix. The report evolved into a program focused on harnessing wind, which spurred upgrades in power transmission lines. Today, the work continues under the name of the Clean Grid Alliance.

2000—American Wetlands Month

The League became the national coordinator for American Wetlands Month, originally created by EPA. Hosting conferences and workshops, the League 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.

2002—Combatting irresponsible use of all-terrain vehicles

The League released a groundbreaking report about the environmental impacts of irresponsible use of all-terrain vehicles, ATVs. 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.

2005–Scholarships for undergrads in conservation

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 34 future natural resource professionals since its inception.

2007—Clean Boats Campaign combats aquatic invasive species

In April 2007, the League started the Clean Boats campaign that has informed millions of boaters and anglers how to properly clean their gear to avoid spreading aquatic invasive species.

2007—Missouri River Initiative

Working with its Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota divisions, the League partnered with state natural resource agencies  to create an initiative focused on managing the Missouri River for the benefit of people as well as fish and wildlife. A major focus is engagement with the Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee, which provides guidance to the Army Corps of Engineers on habitat restoration. The League coordinates major river cleanups that have removed over 70 tons of litter.

2009—Creek Freaks STEM education program

In partnership with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service and Forest Service, the League began a nationwide effort to engage kids ages 10 to 14 in hands-on, STEM education using streams and other waters as living classrooms. Some of the very first participants thought “Creek Freaks” would be a cool name—and it stuck.

2010—Outdoors Alliance for Kids

The League doubled down on its commitment to youth by helping to launch the Outdoors Alliance for Kids. The following year, the League worked to get the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act introduced in Congress. A similar proposal called Every Kid Outdoors Act passed in 2019, creating a program that provides free entrance to public lands for fourth graders and their families.

2018—Salt Watch monitors waterways for excess use of de-icers

Salt Watch raises awareness about chloride pollution of our streams and lakes which happens when too much salt and other chemicals are applied to roads, sidewalks and parking lots during winter weather. To date, the League has received 11,000 data submissions from thousands of volunteers and partner organizations in 24 states.

2018—Clean Water Hub provides data to the public

The Clean Water Hub is a website the League helped develop to ensure the public has access to easy-to-understand information about the health of streams and other waterways. The Hub now includes data on 54,000 water samples from more than 15,000 sites. This first-of-its-kind resource brings together data from disparate monitoring programs on the same national map.

2020—The Great American Outdoors Act funds the League-inspired Land and Water Conservation Fund

The law provided, finally, permanent funding for the League-inspired Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). One of the most important and far-reaching conservation laws in the nation, LWCF uses royalties from offshore energy production and invests those dollars in national parks and local recreation centers, improving access to the outdoors and public lands. 

2022—A century of leadership by women

Since 1922, women have served vital roles at the Izaak Walton League, beginning with the author and film-maker Gene Stratton-Porter. Women held the League’s executive director position as early as the 1950s. In 2021, the League elected Vicki Arnold, a leader from Dubuque, Iowa, as national president. The current national president is Jodi Labs.

2022—Conservation funding for farm practices in the Inflation Reduction Act

Included in the Inflation Reduction Act is an investment of $19.5 billion, championed steadily for years by the Izaak Walton League, for USDA conservation programs that help farmers and ranchers adopt soil-health and climate-friendly practices and systems.

2023—Nitrate Watch, volunteers test water to report nitrate pollution

Nitrate Watch mobilizes volunteers to monitor nitrate levels in surface water and drinking water to raise awareness about the effects of this carcinogen on humans and the environment, identify hotspots and advocate for solutions that reduce nutrient pollution nationwide. Research suggests that prolonged exposure to levels below 10 mg/L can lead to increased health risks. Nitrate pollution is a national problem and is particularly severe in parts of the Midwest and in private wells.

Since 1922, the Izaak Walton League has fought for clean air and water, healthy habitat and conservation of our natural resources for future generations. Today, the League plays a unique role in supporting local community-based science and conservation and shaping national policy.  

Media contact: Michael Reinemer,, 301-548-0150 ext 220; Cell 703-966-9574

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