Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919)
T heodore Roosevelt’s vigorous support of conservation programs and wilderness protection was at least in part attributable to his desire to preserve a frontier ethic that had been part of “the pleasantest, healthiest, and most exciting phase of American existence.” While Roosevelt’s political legacy as a conservationist is often viewed with ambivalence by modern scholars of environmental history, there is little doubt that his presidential administration was the high water mark of the early conservation movement. Working closely with his chief forester Gifford Pinchot, Roosevelt created more national parks, forest preserves, and national monuments than any American president before or since. Roosevelt’s numerous books on outdoor life evince an appreciation of nature that goes well beyond the well-established and oft caricatured image of Roosevelt as hunter. Likewise, his friendship with John Burroughs, the nation’s most beloved nature writer was not simply political cover for his hunting, but arose in large measure from a shared love of birding. Even John Muir, who openly criticized Roosevelt’s hunting and frequently butted heads with Pinchot over conservation issues, seems to have developed a genuine fondness and respect for Roosevelt during a camping trip in Yosemite that the two men took in 1903, writing, “Camping with the President was a remarkable experience. I fairly fell in love with him.”
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