By Lizzie Wasilewska

Theodore Roosevelt as Colonel in the 1st Cavalry, U.S.Volunteers, ca. 1898
Theodore Roosevelt as Colonel in the 1st Cavalry, U.S.Volunteers, ca. 1898

This weekend marked the birthday of Theodore Roosevelt, who once wrote of our nations natural beauty that “we have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.” In his years as president, he lived up to those words, establishing five national parks and helping to found the Forest Service. By doing so, he not only ensured the health and survival of several areas of wilderness, but set a valuable example for future conservation efforts.

In addition to founding several national parks, Roosevelt set aside more than 100 million acres of land for national forests. He did so after recognizing the tragic impact that humans had already made on these forests. Hunters, miners and loggers were threatening the survival of entire ecosystems. Roosevelt’s vision was practical: He believed that, in a conserved wilderness, humans should have the right to harvest timber and use water to irrigate farmland — but in moderation, and with care.

Lower Falls, Yellowstone River.
Lower Falls, Yellowstone River. Credit: v1ctory_1s_m1ne/Flickr

Therefore, in 1905, Roosevelt founded the Bureau of Forestry. Within this bureau, supervisors ensured that timberlands were managed strategically in order to avoid problems like soil erosion and over-harvesting.

This was among the first of many provisions that Roosevelt made in order to ensure the continuing health of wilderness areas. In Alaska, he founded the Tongass and Chugach reserves; in Hawai’i, he founded the Hawai’ian Islands Bird Reservation; in Arizona, he founded the Grand Canyon National Monument. Over time, more and more territories achieved the potential for brighter futures due to his conservationism.

American Forests continues to protect many of the ecosystems that Roosevelt saved over half a century ago. For example, as part of our Endangered Western Forests initiative, we work to restore damaged forest areas in the Greater Yellowstone Area, which Roosevelt once advocated for.