Theodore Roosevelt: The Great Environmentalist Essay

This essay has a total of 1887 words and 15 pages.

Theodore Roosevelt: The Great Environmentalist

This Paper will outline President Theodore Roosevelt’s role in helping to
conserve
our environment during his administration (1901-1909). It will also examine
his theory of
a stronger American democracy through environmental conservationism.


“The movement for the conservation of wildlife, and the larger movement for
the conservation of all our natural resources, are essentially democratic in
spirit, purpose, and method.” (Roosevelt 274)


As president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt made conservation a
central
policy issue of his administration. He created five National Parks, four Big
Game
Refuges, fifty-one National bird Reservations, and the National Forest
Service. Roosevelt
advocated for the sustainable use of the nation's natural resources, the
protection and
management of wild game, and the preservation of wild spaces. Considering
America's
landscape to be the source of American wealth and the American character,
Roosevelt
believed conservationism was a democratic movement necessary to maintain and
to
strengthen American democracy.
Roosevelt recognized America's vast natural resources as the source of the
country's
economic wealth and subsequent political strength globally. The abundance of
land,
timber, waterways, and mineral deposits fueled the continuing expansion of
American
industry. In a speech addressed to a national conference on conservation held
at the White
House in 1908, Roosevelt stated, "Our position in the world has been attained
by the
extent and thoroughness of the control we have achieved over nature; but we
are more,
and not less, dependent upon what she furnishes than at any previous time of
history."
(Internet 1) The United States had built its economic and political strength
by exploiting
the nation's natural resources; but Roosevelt, like other leading
conservationists, no
longer believed that these natural resources were infinite in their
abundance.
The end of the nineteenth century brought the closing of the frontier, the
near
extinction of the buffalo, and the extinction of the passenger pigeon. Both
species had
symbolized America's endless natural abundance, and their destruction forced
many
Americans to question the myth of nature's infinitude. Understanding the
finite quality of
America's natural resources, Roosevelt felt that the nation's dependency on
them could
now become the nation's weakness if the reckless and wasteful exploitation of
these
resources continued. The conservation and management of the nation's natural
resources
was urgently necessary to ensure their future availability. Roosevelt went on
to say in his
speech to the conference on conservation, "It is equally clear that these
resources are the
final basis for national power and perpetuity." (Internet 1) Concerned about
the long term
well being of the nation, Roosevelt regarded the land as an economic resource
which
must be conserved and managed to protect the long term economic and political
strength
of the nation.
Roosevelt believed that conservation, as a utilitarian tool for sustained
economic
growth, strengthened American democracy. He hoped that conservation would
achieve
the economic goal of providing the greatest good, for the greatest number,
over the
greatest period of time. Roosevelt stretched the concept of a democratic
society to include
its future members. Considering it undemocratic to exploit and squander the
nation's
natural resources for present profit, he believed that a democratic society
should work to
protect the economic strength of future generations. Conservation, having the
goal of
sustainable resource use for successive generations, was for Roosevelt
inherently
democratic.
Roosevelt encouraged the federal government's acquisition and management of
public
lands and the natural resources within them. He wanted to use this government
acquisition and management to prevent the exploitation of the nation's
natural resources
by industry and the wealthy for industrial or private gain and to ensure a
more equal and
democratic distribution of the public lands and its resources. Describing the
public land
use policies of the federal government prior to his presidency, Roosevelt
writes that
decisions were made "in favor of private interests against the public
welfare." (Roosevelt
430) He clearly states the principles guiding the land use policies of his
administration:
"The principles thus formulated and applied may be summed up in the statement
that the
rights of the public to the natural resources outweigh private rights, and
must be given its
first consideration." (Roosevelt 438) Roosevelt enacted land policies
consistent with this
democratic value of greater land distribution and resource access for the
lower
socio-economic classes he opened up National Forests lands suitable for
agriculture to
small farmers and challenged the exclusive grazing rights of large ranchers
on the public
lands of the West. Despite the opposition of "land grabbers and the great
private
interests," (Roosevelt 440) Roosevelt demanded that those who used public
land and
resources for private profit pay the government for their usage. This measure
further
strengthened the principle that public lands and natural resources belong to
the public,
and that they do not exist for the unrestricted use of private industry.
Government land management was not only a means to achieving a greater
economic
equity of land and resource use, but for ensuring access to wilderness for
recreation and
hunting to all classes. Roosevelt wrote in his essay on Yellowstone National
Park:


It is entirely in our power as a nation to preserve large tracts of
wilderness...as playgrounds for rich and poor alike, and to preserve the
game...But this end can only be achieved by wise laws and by a a resolute
enforcement of the laws. Lack of such legislation and administration will
result in harm to all of us, but most of all harm to the nature lover who
doe not
possess vast wealth. Already there have sprung up here and there through
the country, as in New Hampshire and the Adirondacks, large private
preserves. (Internet 2)


Roosevelt's commitment to federal action to ensure land access to all
socio-economic
classes was fostered in part by his belief that wilderness recreation, and
hunting
specifically, engendered in men the qualities essential for good citizenship.
He wrote,
"The establishment of the National Park Service is justified by
considerations of good
administration, of the value of natural beauty as a National asset, and of
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