Want to honor Teddy Roosevelt's legacy? Here's how.

Want to honor Teddy Roosevelt’s legacy? Here’s how:


Theodore Roosevelt was many things, but perhaps most of all he was a public lands champion. He used his authority as President to establish 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, four national game preserves, five national parks and 18 national monuments on over 230 million acres of public land.


Yeah, he liked public lands...and our country is greater for it.




We’ve often found ourselves wondering what Theodore Roosevelt might think of today’s conservation landscape and controversies over the management of America’s public lands.


No doubt things have changed since he occupied the oval office but many threats have stayed the same when it comes to public lands. The greed of a few to take the right of many, for example.


So when President-elect Donald Trump vowed to honor his legacy last week, it made us wonder, “What Would Teddy Do?” Here’s our take:




1.     He’d tell those who want to sell public lands to take a hike. Literally. And on public lands: TR knew better than anyone the impact of an untrammeled landscape and the power of place. He often tested his mettle and found solace in wild places. If you truly immerse yourself in public lands and cannot find at least one overwhelming reason to keep them in the public trust, then the future of those lands probably isn’t your area of expertise.


(Photo: Roosevelt hunting party outside Meeker Hotel in Colorado/Library of Congress)


2.     He’d honor the will of the people. And fight like hell. TR was a fighter and he firmly believed that public lands are a fundamental right for ALL Americans, regardless of race, creed, economic status or political party. These lands are engines that drive local economies, the source from which we draw inspiration, a refuge when we need to escape. More than anything, they are what makes America great now. TR defended that right in his day and undoubtedly would continue to do so in ours by any means necessary.


3.     He’d see the big picture. Public lands are not just about recreation. Or environmentalism. Or conservation. Or resource development. Public lands are vast reserves producing clean air and clean water. And when you rank national priorities? Just seems like you can’t really do much without air and water.


4.     He’d fund the agencies tasked with caring for these lands. Agencies such as the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service are chronically underfunded. TR created the modern-day Forest Service and we’re pretty sure he’d want his agency to have the resources it needs to do it’s job. If we don’t give them the tools to care for these places, we place the burden of neglect on future generations.


5. He’d embrace science-based management. When the Forest Service was created in 1905, its first Chief and friend of TR’s, Gifford Pinchot, grounded the new agency in the scientific management of forests and natural resources. More than ever, we need trained professionals, guided by the best available science, to make decisions affecting our public lands. This is true from the top to the bottom of our public land management agencies, from the biologist in the field to the appointee in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Roosevelt and his favorite "hunting pony"/Library of Congress)   


6. He’d find friends in the right places. TR was a centrist, believing that “conservation” meant both preservation and where appropriate, the wise development of natural resources. Ever the savvy politician, we would think that TR would be a modern collaborator. Across the country we are seeing stakeholders of all stripes come to the table to solve some really hard questions. THIS is American ingenuity at work.


7. He wouldn’t undo his own achievements. Many of our biggest and best conservation achievements are because of TR. He championed and signed into law the Antiquities Act, a law that some in Congress want to dismantle. Because of the Antiquities Act and the ability for presidents to designate national monuments, we have protected many of America’s special places, including the Upper Missouri River Breaks (MT), Browns Canyon (CO), Rio Grande del Norte (NM) and numerous other places that offer all Americans world class hunting and fishing opportunities. What would TR say to those who want to undo this legacy? See #1.  


8. He would tackle tough issues and not be afraid to make a stand for conservation. TR had his critics in Congress and the public, but he let his conscience be his guide. In one well known speech, he noted that it was not the critic who counts, but the “man in the arena”, the one “who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” TR would stand with hunters and anglers for conservation, not because it is popular (often it is not, especially among some in Congress), but because America’s outdoor traditions are worth fighting for.


9. He would create lasting protections for future generations of sportsmen. TR protected for future generations some of America’s most iconic landscapes: Grand Canyon, Muir Woods, and Yosemite. But in the early 1900’s tools for conservation like the Wilderness Act and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act were several decades from inception. Had these laws been at his disposal, we think that Roosevelt would have worked closely with Congress to permanently protect TR-worthy public lands and would have embraced proposals like the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project in Montana and Frank Moore Wild Steelhead Sanctuary in Oregon.


10. He wouldn’t give up. Famously, TR was once shot by a would-be assassin and continued to deliver a scheduled 90 minute speech. The bullet proved to have “only” caused a flesh wound, but how many of us would carry on undeterred? Now is a time to remain focused on America’s public lands conservation heritage, for as TR once quipped, “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired in value.” Bully!


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