February 17th, 2012 by

By Michelle Werts

On Monday, America celebrates Presidents Day, a holiday that is specifically meant to honor our nation’s first president, George Washington, who was born on February 22, 1732. But it’s also a good time to remember many of the other men who held our nation’s office. I particularly like to celebrate the man who is an icon for environment lovers everywhere: Theodore Roosevelt, aka TR and Teddy.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota. Credit: Vicki Watkins (jakesmome)/Flickr

When schoolchildren visit Mt. Rushmore, I’m guessing many of them have the same reaction I did: Who is that fourth guy? Which is a crying shame. Growing up, textbooks regal us with tales of our founding by Washington, Adams and Jefferson; mourn the loss of men like Lincoln and Kennedy; and remember the infamous like Jackson and Nixon, but often, everyone else gets lost in the shuffle with no major scandals, wars or conflicts to define them. Luckily, though, their legacies quietly live on and Teddy’s shines brightly.

Our 26th president took office upon President McKinley’s assassination in 1901, and he used his almost eight years in office for some major conservation activities, including designating:

  • 150 national forests
  • Five national parks
  • the first 51 federal bird reservations
  • the first 18 national monuments
  • the first four national game preserves
  • the first 21 reclamation projects

Put them all together and Roosevelt gave federal protection to almost 230 million acres across America. And he enabled dozens of presidents with the ability to follow in his footsteps with 1906’s Antiquities Act, which allowed presidents to proclaim historic landmarks and other objects of historic or scientific interest as national monuments — TR used this act to protect a large portion of the Grand Canyon before it became a national park. And these actions barely scratch the surface of the man’s impact: He was considered a leading expert on large mammals and small birds, teddy bears are named after him for his refusal to shoot a bear cub on a hunting trip, he authored dozens of books, and we haven’t even begun to touch his non-conservation activities.

Needless to say, there is a reason that a century after his presidency, he was able to garner a TIME magazine cover story, “The Making of America – Theodore Roosevelt.” So, on Monday, I’m offering a toast to the Rough Rider who led a strenuous life and saved so many of our beautiful spaces and creatures.

Curious about other environment-loving, and not so much, presidents? Check out The Daily Green’s lists of the 10 Greenest Presidents and the 10 Presidents With the Worst Environmental Records.