Theodore Roosevelt, environmental activist and conservationist, wasn’t just a president and military leader. He spent many of his years in office making the best use of his presidential power, in order to protect our country’s most valuable asset: the environment.
During his time as a child and young man, Teddy witnessed the ravages of coal, oil, and steel production on America’s natural habitats. The resulting pollution, waste, and indifference of the citizenry were causes for great alarm to Theodore and his friend, George “Bird” Grinnell, editor of Field and Stream magazine. Like Theodore Roosevelt, environmentalist before his time, Grinnell shared in the concerns for America’s wildlife and land. Sharing a desire to change the overall attitude of Americans, by fostering personal investment in their environment, the two men combined resources to create the Boone and Crockett Club, in 1887. This club served to raise awareness about the vital and pressing need for conservation, preservation, and prevention of damaging man-made pollution.
As part of their efforts to engender support for a fledgling environmental concern, they took up the fight for Yellowstone Park. Having been designated a national park, those in power had erroneously believed it to be safe from predatory corporate interests. It wasn’t long, however, before coal and mining entrepreneurs were knocking at the proverbial door to destroy the park for their own profits. Determined to protect this irreplaceable resource, the men rallied support by writing essays, giving speeches, and garnering support from the rich and powerful elite of Washington, D.C. In 1894, their success was confirmed by President Grover Cleveland’s signing of a protective bill, ensuring Yellowstone would remain the pristine natural beauty it is.
Although most people consider him to be just a politician and family man, Theodore Roosevelt and the environment go hand-in-hand. While he was president, Teddy used his executive power to sign into law more than 50 wildlife refuges, 18 national monuments (including the Grand Canyon), and the U.S. Forestry Service, as well as increasing the forest reserves to 194 million acres, and passing the 1906 Antiquities Act to allow those serving after him to create similar laws. His activities as president were also the beginnings of what would later become the National Park Service (1916).
With a country in environmental crisis, and conservation efforts underway for wildlife and nature alike, the small seeds of effort planted by Teddy in the early 20th century, are finally beginning to bear fruit. Living in a time of conservation and environmental ignorance, Theodore Roosevelt was a pioneer in his attempts to conserve and preserve, for future generations. He saw the need to protect the environment during times of industrial and technological advancement, no matter the modernizations of the current time. Roosevelt’s prophetic warnings about proceeding with caution now (in order to prevent environmental and conservation disasters later) were first ignored, then excused, then accepted, and subsequently regretted. Thankfully, his tireless efforts to protect the environment were not in vain, as his legacy still continues today, evidenced by the hundreds of refuges, preserves, monuments, and reserves in such a beautiful country.