Joseph Heiser founded the Outdoor Nature Club in 1923, with the aim of strengthening bonds among nature lovers, studying local flora and fauna, and working with local initiatives aimed at civic improvement through beautification. The ornithology group, who produced the Spoonbill newsletter, was the ONC’s most active study group. Although the Texas Gulf Coast region is abundant in birdlife and significant wilderness resources, Texas is rarely known for its environmental stewardship. Articles in the Spoonbill span nearly a century and cover an array of wilderness preservation topics, demonstrating the dedication of Houston and Texas residents to environmental and wildlife issues during the 20th century.
Joseph Heiser, often labeled Houston’s John Muir, was synonymous with the ONC for the first half of the twentieth century and produced a number of the early newsletters. In the 1930s, Heiser, along with other members of the ONC, spearheaded preservation of a wildlife sanctuary on Vingt-et-un Islands in Trinity Bay, where ONC birders discovered one of the largest colonies of nesting roseate spoonbills in America. Working with the National Audubon Society, ONC members proposed to lease the island from the state of Texas and hire a warden. By 1931, the ONC had successfully established the sanctuary, banded the roseate spoonbills, and adopted the spoonbill as their organizational symbol.
For the environmental historian, the Spoonbill and ONC history offer parallels between the evolving ethos of the Sierra Club, established originally as a wilderness recreation group in California, and the ONC, the first wilderness recreation group founded in Texas. The newsletters of the Outdoor Nature Club include several publications: Zephyr (1924-1926), The Bulletin (1931-1937), Trailblazer (1948-1950), and Spoonbill (1952-2007). The original materials are available in UH Libraries’ Special Collections in the Outdoor Nature Club Records.