The Role of Wildlife
Services During World War II
On December 11, 1941, just four days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States entered World War II. The war took part on two separate but interconnected fronts: the military front and the home front. An American government report from 1939 stated that “War is no longer simply a battle between armed forces in the field,” but rather, “it is a struggle in which each side strives to bring to bear against the enemy the coordinated power of every individual and of every material resource at its command. The conflict extends from the soldier in the front line to the citizen in the remotest hamlet in the rear.”
Across the United States Americans willingly participated in the war effort through blackout drills; recycling metals, paper, and cooking fats; and using ration cards to buy items such as coffee, sugar, meat, and gasoline. The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its Wildlife Research Laboratory in Denver (the predecessor to the NWRC) contributed to this home front effort through their own research and by aiding average citizens in their wartime duties.
During the war years (1941-1945) the Fish and Wildlife Service focused its attention on the wartime effort at home by maximizing the country's resources to aid defense and maintain morale. The Service used its Wildlife Leaflet to provide information about alternate sources of meat and vegetables for the average family, since most of American resources were being shipped overseas to soldiers.In Wildlife Leaflet 218, “Domestic Rabbits in the Food For Freedom Program,” writers offer advice on killing, dressing, and cooking domestic rabbits.
Similarly, Wildlife Leaflet 229 recommends muskrat as an appropriate replacement for beef. Suggested recipes include, Wine-Fried Muskrat, Muskrat a la Terrapin, and Muskrat Salad. Leaflet 236 offers advice on how to protect “victory gardens,” (a home garden that provides for the family) from pests, including cottontail rabbits, moles, rats, and woodchucks. While these efforts were aimed at the household level, the Wildlife Research Laboratory in Denver focused on national control of predators and rodents.
In June 1940 Vannevar Bush made the following statement: “The methods and mechanisms of warfare have altered radically in recent times…The country is singularly fitted, by reason of its scientists…to excel in the arts of peace, and excel in the arts of war if that be necessary. The scientists and engineers of the country in close collaboration with the armed services, can be of substantial aid in the task which lies before us.” As a direct result of this assertion, Franklin Roosevelt created the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) to promote scientific advancement of the war effort.
The Wildlife Research Laboratory worked directly with the OSRD to develop new chemicals for controlling rodents and predators during the war. This became especially important because the food shortage made it imperative that only a minimal number of food crops would be lost to animals. New research was also essential because the usual agents, strychnine, red squill, and thallium, were cut off from import during the war. Due to the collaboration with the OSRD all reports regarding new pest control methods were kept confidential. Quarterly reports, however, show that the head of the Wildlife Research Laboratory, E.R. Kalmbach, met frequently with the OSRD and members of the armed services to discuss advances in rat baits and other means of control. Some of the proposed solutions included importing red squill from North Africa and examining the utility of newer, synthetic chemicals as possible rat baits.
Not only did scientists at the Wildlife Research Laboratory support U.S. war efforts, but the war itself stimulated investigation into new and promising areas of inquiry.