The presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) had a profound impact on the environment of the United States. Through the effective promotion of public works projects, energy initiatives, natural resource management, hydrological planning, and the reform of industrial and agricultural practices, FDR framed the terms, conditions, and power relations that formed the basis for the development of national environmental agencies, policies, and regulations that followed his presidency for years to come. Yet, as William Leuchtenburg has noted, much of FDR’s impact on the environment remains unrecognized and obscured, due in large part to contemporary criticism of many of the New Deal’s efforts to harness our nation’s resources for social and economic benefit, and the tendency of those who admire FDR’s environmental achievements to focus on his efforts as a conservationist in the tradition of Theodore Roosevelt (TR). Certainly, as a great lover of the land, and as an individual who often characterized himself as a “forester,” FDR’s association with his famous cousin is well deserved. But FDR’s approach to nature was less romantic than TR’s. Although FDR actively led the nation in expanding protection of natural areas, preserving the national patrimony and pioneering conservation policies, he saw the environment not as a realm set apart from humans, but as the field for human action, inextricably linked with the human community, economy, and system of values. It was this complex and pragmatic understanding of the relationship of nature and humanity—made manifest through such projects as the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), rural electrification, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and the Soil Conservation Service—that informed and motivated the New Deal, and which set it apart from previous conservation movements.
KeywordsDust Depression Harness Hyde
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