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Theodore Roosevelt, Conservation Pioneer

Theodore Roosevelt, Conservation Pioneer

We are very lucky in the United States to be able to enjoy our wilderness.  We take for granted that we can all have access to the beautiful scenery and nature in our National Parks.  We have public lands in every state where people can enjoy hiking, hunting, fishing and camping.  If it wasn’t for the foresight of those who came before us, most of that land would be owned by private interests and misused for profit.

It was an uphill battle for early conservationists in the fight to save those wild places for us to use.  In the early industrial age it was hard to convince people that it was important to leave some wild places for their children’s children to enjoy.

One of the people who made saving nature a lifelong cause was our 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt.

As a boy, Theodore Roosevelt was curious about nature, animals, and the wilderness.  Although his body was sickly, his mind was healthy.  He read many books and educated himself about wildlife.  As he got older, his health improved and he spent many happy hours hunting and fishing.

He worked hard as a young man to log all of the species he encountered in his adventures in the wild.  Although he lacked experience, he taught himself taxidermy so he could preserve the birds and animals he collected.  He eventually donated his natural collection to the Smithsonian Institution. 

In the mid-1800’s, people who were closely connected to nature began to understand that the large number of loggers, and miners were threatening whole ecosystems.  One of the first people to draw attention to this growing problem was George Bird Grinnell, the editor of Forest and Stream Magazine.  He used his publication as a way to promote the controlled use of our natural resources; to use scientific forest management and encourage the safeguarding of clean water.

Because of their shared desire to save the land, and preserve game animals and their environments, Teddy Roosevelt, and George Bird Grinnell founded the Boone and Crockett Club in 1887.  One of the club’s most powerful efforts was to fight for the defense of Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone had already been granted the status of a national park, but there was no provision to save it from misuse by commercial businesses.  With their lobbying, editorials and convincing speaking engagements, the Boone and Crockett Club persuaded those in power that Yellowstone must be kept as it was.  President Grover Cleveland signed a bill in 1894 that gave the park that defense.

When he became President in 1901, Theodore Roosevelt was able to use his determination to save as many of the beautiful, natural places in the United States as he could. 

As President, he created the new United States Forest Service.  He also established 230 million acres of public lands—150 million of which were chosen as national forests.  He created 51 Federal Bird Reserves, which are known today as National Wildlife Refuges.  These are managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. 

Roosevelt’s feelings about the importance of conservation can be summed up by this message he gave at the 1908 Conference on the Conservation of Natural Resources, “We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources and we have just reason to be proud of our growth. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have been still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields, and obstructing navigation. These questions do not relate only to the next century or to the next generation. It is time for us now as a nation to exercise the same reasonable foresight in dealing with our great natural resources that would be shown by any prudent man in conserving and widely using the property which contains the assurance of well-being for himself and his children.”

Theodore Roosevelt dedicated a great deal of his life to ensure that future generations could enjoy the majesty of nature that we still enjoy to this day.