When the Europeans came to North America, they carried out practices that were devastating for animal life on the continent.Before the Europeans came, between 40-60 million bison lived in North America. As European traders began to hunt heavily for meat and later hides, the bison population dwindled. Now, only a small number of herds remain.
Previous Indian populations inhabiting North America often
hunted animals which later became extinct. However, the limited hunting by the Indians usually did not kill enough of the animals to outweigh the population increases resulting from natural replacement.
As many as 5 billion passenger pigeons once lived in North America. The Indians and early colonial settlers hunted the pigeons, but not until the late nineteenth century did massive commercial hunting severely reduce the
population. The last passenger pigeon died in 1914.
European settlers brought many new animals with them to the Americas. Pigs were brought to many areas of Latin America, and horses and cattle also came across the ocean.
Plant life was also introduced from Europe. Ferns, thistles, nettles, and plantain
all came to the United States from European countries.
Shortly after Lewis and Clark's exploration of the West, beaver and otter populations nearly became extinct due to hunting. Other animals with fur quickly went into extinction as well, as their skins were used domestically or exported to foreign markets.
In Canada, about 40 million seals were killed between 1800 and 1915. Even before then, Russians had hunted seals in large numbers on the West coast.
By the end of the nineteenth century, opposition to the extinction of so many species was beginning to build. This led to the establishment of National Parks and environmentalist groups, which remain important in the United States today.
The passenger pigeon