Theodore Roosevelt and Conservation

It had long been believed in the United States that the supply of new lands and natural resources was unlimited. In 1890, however, the Director of the Census announced that a western frontier no longer existed. The last remaining reserved area, the Oklahoma Territory, had been opened for settlement in the previous year. Other remaining unoccupied lands were largely either arid or mountainous.

A bitter debate followed—and continues today—between those who argued that America should exploit its resources to the fullest for as long as they last and those who favored conservation as a means to sustain supply over a longer time and preserve natural beauty.

By the turn of the century, several things were evident:

  • Forests throughout the country were depleted; some estimates indicated that only about 20 percent of the original woodlands remained in 1900
  • Much of the nation’s farmland, particularly in the South and East, had been exhausted by overuse and was marginally productive
  • Extractive industries such as oil, gas, and minerals were proceeding at an unfettered pace
  • Water rights were increasingly coming under the control of private parties, who often operated without concern for flood control or the preservation of natural features.

Theodore Roosevelt, a sportsman and naturalist, sided emphatically with the conservationists. Legislative effort was devoted to changing the way America used its land, especially in the West. The Newlands Act of 1902 placed the federal government in an activist role in the areas of water management and reclamation.

The president, with the aid and encouragement of Chief Forester Gifford Pinchot, worked to preserve more than 170 million acres, mostly in the West, in the forms of national parks and monuments. The following constitute a portion of Roosevelt’s legacy:

Item

Location

Remarks

1902

Crater Lake
National Park

Oregon

The act that created this park was the result of a 17-year effort by William G. Steel.

1903

WindCave
National Park

South Dakota

Also designated a National Game Preserve - August 10, 1912.

1904

Sullys
National Park

North Dakota

Re-designated a National Game Preserve, March 3, 1931.

1905

 

 

Creation of U.S.Forest Service

1906

Platt
National Park

Oklahoma

Noted for its numerous cold springs.

Mesa Verde
National Park

Colorado

The cliff dwellings here represent the last 75 to 100 years of occupation at Mesa Verde.

Devil’s Tower
National Monument

Wyoming

The nearly vertical monolith known as Devil’s Tower rises 1,267 feet above the meandering Belle FourcheRiver.

El Morro
National Monument

New Mexico

"Inscription Rock" is a soft sandstone monolith, rising 200 feet above the valley floor, on which are carved hundreds of inscriptions.

ChacoCanyon
National Monument

New Mexico

ChacoCanyon was a major center of ancestral Pueblo culture between AD 850 and 1250.

Petrified Forest
National Monument

Arizona

The park features one of the world's largest and most colorful concentrations of petrified wood.

MontezumaCastle
National Monument

Arizona

Nestled into a limestone recess high above the flood plain of Beaver Creek in the VerdeValley stands one of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in North America.

1907

Cinder Cone
National Monument

California

Later would become part of Lassen PeakVolcanicNational Park.

Lassen Peak
National Monument

California

Later would become part of Lassen PeakVolcanicNational Park.

Gila Cliff Dwellings
National Monument

New Mexico

A glimpse of the homes and lives of the people of the Mogollon culture who lived in from the 1280s through the early 1300s.

Tonto
National Monument

Arizona

Home to the prehistoric Salado people, named in the early 20th century after the lifegiving Rio Salado, or Salt River.  

1908

Grand Canyon
National Monument

Arizona

TR acted to prevent construction of railway along rim; 1919 became Grand CanyonNational Park.

Pinnacles
National Monument

California

Later transferred to Department of the Interior.

Jewell Cave
National Monument

South Dakota

With more than 127 miles surveyed, JewelCave is recognized as the third longest cave in the world.

Natural Bridges
National Monument

Utah

Where meandering streams cut through the canyon walls, three natural bridges formed: Kachina, Owachomo and Sipapu.

Tumacacori
National Monument

Arizona

Comprises the abandoned ruins of three ancient Spanish colonial missions.

Wheeler
National Monument

Colorado

A few hundred acres of enchanting rock formations. Monument later abandoned.

1909

MountOlympus
National Monument

Washington

TR acted two days before leaving office.


See other Theodore Roosevelt domestic activity.

---- Selected Quotes ----

Quotes by Theodore Roosevelt and Conservation.

Regarding The Strenuous Life
I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life.
Speech at the Hamilton Club, Chicago, 1899

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