They were distinct from the contemporary environmental movement which had anti-political goals and was more closely associated with indigenous peoples. However, the two have grown together in modern times, as the Sierra Club, National Geographic Society, and Audubon Society have come to reflect the broader ethics of a more diverse society.
They continue to admire and use nature, and assign it varying ethical significance. Today it is more correct to say that there is no clear distinction between the conservation movement and environmental movement in the United States, but rather a distinction between these and the ecology movement which gave rise to such strongly political groups as Greenpeace and the Green Parties.
Conservation as such has historically been associated strongly with religion - Zoroaster, Tao, Islam in particular - but only in the 19th century became explicitly associated with Christian morality, which was formed in part in opposition to Pagan nature worship.