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:
Crater Lake National Park
The act that created this park was the result of a 17-year
effort by William G. Steel.
WindCave National Park
Also designated a National Game Preserve - August 10, 1912.