One hundred and fifty-two years after his birth, Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy as a conservationist lives on in the nearly 230 million acres of land he helped place under public protection. During his 2 terms as the 26th President of the United States of America he established 150 National Forests, 51 Federal Bird Reservations, 5 National Parks, 18 National Monuments, 4 National Game Preserves, and 21 Reclamation Projects, in many cases designated the first of their kinds.
Roosevelt was passionate about nature since boyhood. He collected and observed everything from insects to large mammals, developing an expertise that would continue throughout his life. His visits to the wilderness areas with other conservationists such as John Muir were an inspiration, but Roosevelt’s own words after camping in what is now Yosemite National Park imply that Muir was preaching to the converted…
It was like lying in a great solemn cathedral, far vaster and more beautiful than any built by the hand of man.
In addition to the land protection resulting from the National Parks, Forests, Monuments and the like, Roosevelt’s other work for conservation as President included the withdrawal of coal, mineral, oil, phosphate, and water-power site lands from private exploitation.
Defenders of the short-sighted men who in their greed and selfishness will, if permitted, rob our country of half its charm by their reckless extermination of all useful and beautiful wild things sometimes seek to champion them by saying the ‘the game belongs to the people.’ So it does; and not merely to the people now alive, but to the unborn people. The ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ applies to the number within the womb of time, compared to which those now alive form but an insignificant fraction. Our duty to the whole, including the unborn generations, bids us restrain an unprincipled present-day minority from wasting the heritage of these unborn generations. The movement for the conservation of wild life and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method.
Theodore Roosevelt, excerpted from A Book-Lover’s Holiday in the Open, 1916
All photos via the U.S. Library of Congress