More than 100 years ago, Teddy Roosevelt worried so deeply about sustaining this nation’s natural resources that he established national parks and conserved wild critters and wild places at a breakneck pace that has yet to be equaled.
It helped that while he advocated for conservation, Roosevelt was president, and therefore carried a big stick. Also, he knew what he was talking about. Guns and horses, ranching, camping, hiking and hunting, Roosevelt had done it all, roughing it along the way.
Which is how he gained an appreciation for the vulnerability of the nation’s land, water and wildlife.
Today’s politicians by comparison are, shall we say … lame.
Most don’t ever reference conservation. And those who do, know that you and I expect so little of them in this regard, that they are only too happy to oblige.
The subject arises so the reader can compare in this election year what Roosevelt harped on vis-a-vis conservation when he was president on or about 1910 — when the U.S. population was 92 million — to what candidates say today about the same issues in a nation of 323 million.
More humans, of course, means more pressure on natural resources.
So does a bigger economy: The nation’s gross domestic product — one assessment of the rate at which natural resources are utilized — was barely calculable in 1910, compared to the U.S. GDP of $18.56 trillion in 2016.
One would think, therefore, that conservation should be at least as important in 2018 as it was in 1910.
Or maybe not.
The following are excerpts from Roosevelt’s conservation speeches and writings, taken from the book, “Theodore Roosevelt for Nature Lovers. Adventures with America’s Great Outdoorsman,’’ edited by Mark Dawidziak (Lyons Press, 2017. $17.95).
Recall these exhortations as November approaches, and especially when today’s candidates ask for your vote.
Defenders of the shortsighted men who in their greed and selfishness will, if permitted, rob our country of half its charm by their reckless extermination of all useful and beautiful and wild things sometimes seek to champion them by saying that “the game goes to the people.” So it does; and not merely to the people now alive, but to the unborn people. The “greatest good for the greatest number” applies to the number within the womb of time, compared to which those now alive form but an insignificant fraction. Our duty to the whole, including the unborn generations, bids us to restrain an unprincipled present-day minority from wasting the heritage of these unborn generations. 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.
A Book Lover’s Holidays in the Open. 1916.
The conservation of our natural resources and their proper use constitute the fundamental problem which underlies almost every other problem of our national life. Unless we maintain an adequate material basis for our civilization, we cannot maintain the institutions in which we take so great and so just pride; and to waste and destroy our natural resources means to undermine this material basis . . . Yet hitherto as a Nation we have tended to live with an eye single to the present, and have permitted the reckless waste and destruction of much of our natural wealth.
Jamestown, Va. 1907.
Of all the questions that can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us, and training them into a better race to inhabit the land and pass it on.
I ask nothing of the nation except that it so behave as each farmer here behaves with reference to his own children. That farmer is a poor creature who skins the land and leaves it worthless to his children. The farmer is a good farmer who, having enabled the land to support himself and to provide for the education of his children, leaves it to them a little better than he found it himself. I believe the same thing of a nation.
Conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of ensuring the safety and continuance of the nation. Let me add that the health and vitality of our people are at least as well worth conserving as their forests, waters, lands and minerals, and in this great work the national government must bear a most important part.
Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.
Osawatomie, Kan. 1910.
There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country. Just as we must conserve our men, women and children, so we must conserve the resources of the land on which they live.
Progressive National Convention, Chicago. 1912.
We of an older generation can get along with what we have, though with growing hardship; but in your full manhood and womanhood you will want what nature once bountifully supplied and man so thoughtlessly destroyed; and because of this want you will reproach us, not for what we have used, but for what we have wasted … So any nation which in its youth lives only for the day, reaps without sowing, and consumes without husbanding, must expect the penalty of the prodigal whose labor could with difficulty find him the bare means of life.
Arbor Day Letter to America’s Children. 1907
The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem, it will avail us little to solve all others.
Memphis, Tenn. 1907.
There should be certain sanctuaries and nurseries where game can live and breed absolutely unmolested; and elsewhere the laws should, so far as possible, provide for continued existence of the game in sufficient numbers to allow a reasonable amount of hunting on fair terms to any hardy and vigorous man fond of the sport, and yet not in sufficient numbers to jeopardize the interests of the actual settler, the tiller of the soil, the man whose well-being should be the prime object to be kept in mind by every statesman. Game butchery is as objectionable as any other form of wanton cruelty or barbarity; but to protest against all hunting is a sign of softness of head, not soundness of heart.
African Game Trails. 1910.