Republican Party goes after Theodore Roosevelt's legacy

Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir
Public Domain Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir

The two greenest presidents were Republicans; David Roberts wrote in Corporate Knights a few years back about a survey of major environmental groups that concluded:

As a vigorous outdoorsman, Roosevelt was a proud, vocal champion of the first phase of U.S. environmentalism: conservation, aimed at protecting tracts of wild land from industrialization. The second phase of U.S. environmentalism – protecting people from industrialization, through public-health regulations – found a much less likely champion: our second place winner, Richard Milhous Nixon.

Roosevelt studied natural history at Harvard, and was a skilled hunter and taxidermist. According to The American Experience on PBS:

… many of the people closest to nature had come to realize that the wilderness could only suffer so much exploitation. Hunters, miners, and timber cutters threatened not only individual species, but entire ecosystems. Fortunately, forward-thinking sportsmen began to organize for the conservation of game and game habitat. Theodore Roosevelt, an avid hunter, joined the fight.

grand canyonGrand Canyon/ wikipedia/Public Domain

As President he created the Bureau of Foresty to promote scientific management, put 16 million acres of western forest lands under protection, and much more:

Year by year, act by act, proclamation by proclamation, Roosevelt built his natural empire. In Alaska, he created the Tongass and the Chugach forest reserves. In Hawaii, he set several small islands aside as the Hawaiian Islands Bird Reservation. Everywhere, it seemed, TR added acreage. Mount Olympus in Washington State. Lake Malheur in Oregon. Culebra Island in Puerto Rico. Mosquito Inlet in Florida. And perhaps his greatest achievement -- Grand Canyon National Monument in Arizona.

Ammon Bundy, center, speaks to reporters at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 4© Rob Kerr/Getty Images

That Malheur National Wildlife Refuge would be in the news again this year, as the site of an occupation by a group believing that the US government should give up authority over public land. They were considered by many to extremists; many are now in custody and one is dead, but their goal is now official policy of the Republican Party, which just passed this amendment:

Congress shall immediately pass universal legislation providing a timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to the states,” reads the adopted language. “We call upon all national and state leaders and representatives to exert their utmost power and influence to urge the transfer of those lands identified.

This would open them up to the exploitation by hunters, miners, and timber cutters that worried Roosevelt so much. According to Jenny Rowland, writing in Think Progress,

The provision calls for an immediate full-scale disposal of “certain” public lands, without defining which lands it would apply to, leaving national parks, wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, and national forests apparently up for grabs and vulnerable to development, privatization, or transfer to state ownership.

Devils TowerDevil's Tower/ Wikipedia/Public Domain

The Republican platform also tries to undo another of Roosevelt’s accomplishments, the Antiquities Act of 1906. According to PBS:

Under the auspices of the Antiquities Act, he signed the Grand Canyon National Monument into being on January 11, 1908. It was the 11th such monument he had created to date. He would create 18 in all, among them Montezuma Castle, Arizona -- Gila Cliff Dwelling, New Mexico -- Devil's Tower, Wyoming -- and Muir Woods, California.

However according to Rowland in Think Progress:

Delegates also approved an amendment aimed at curbing the Antiquities Act of 1906, a law which has protected national monuments ranging from the Statue of Liberty to the Grand Canyon. The amendment requires “the approval of the state where the national monument is designated or a national park is proposed,” which would severely limit the President’s ability to protect at-risk places.

I wonder what Teddy would say. Or Dick Nixon for that matter, that their greatest legacies would be gutted by the party they led.

Tags: Nature | Preservation

WHAT'S HOT ON FACEBOOK

treehugger slideshows