The Wilderness Warrior

Wilderness Warrior
The days are getting longer, but slowly, and there are still plenty of dark, rainy evenings this winter for reading.
If, as a member of the Institute community, you wish to broaden and deepen your knowledge of conservation history – We are into “conserving and restoring northwest environments through education” are we not? – then I have the perfect read for you. As a bonus, this one book will take you through to spring. It is Douglas Brinkley’s The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America (Harper, 2009, 940 pages).
While there are multitudes of books about Theodore Roosevelt, no one has explained and dissected how natural history and conservation were central to his life and work with the thoroughness and insight Brinkley brings to the task. He describes the young Roosevelt’s fascination with the natural world, the influences on his interests of his eccentric Uncle Rob, the centrality of Darwin’s theorizing upon his thinking, and how his fascination with the American West formed many of his ideas about land in general and public land in particular.
When you, today, visit a national monument, national wildlife refuge, and many national forests and parks, there’s a good chance the land is still public and managed as it is because of Theodore Roosevelt.
Summing up, Brinkley writes, “In seven years and sixty-nine days, Roosevelt had saved more than 234 million acres of American wilderness. History still hasn’t caught up with the long-term magnitude of his achievement.” An appendix lists 150 national forests “created or enlarged by Theodore Roosevelt,” 51 federal bird reservations created by him – the beginning of our system of national wildlife refuges – along with 4 national game reserves, 6 national parks, and 18 national monuments. What a legacy!

Theodore Roosevelt
The legacy of 26th President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt still lives

Brinkley introduces other fascinating characters from the heyday of conservation who helped Roosevelt with this work. Among them are the writer John Burroughs, editor, writer, activist George Bird Grinnell, C. Hart Merriam who made the Biological Survey (later the Fish and Wildlife Service) the player it has become, and of course John Muir and Forest Service founding chief Gifford Pinchot. Leading them all was Roosevelt, the indefatigable and irrepressible politician, writer, naturalist, outdoorsman and advocate of “the Strenuous Life.”
Two weeks ago I saw a bird I never expected to see – an aplomado falcon, long ago extirpated in the 48 contiguous states by destruction of habitat among other stressors. This endangered falcon is slowly returning to the Southwest, and the one I was fortunate to encounter was in the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico (over 100,000 waterfowl were also present there). Having read Brinkley’s book, one of my first thoughts was how wonderful that we have places like the Bosque for these birds, and while it is not one that Theodore Roosevelt “created,” had he not started the National Wildlife Refuge System, the Bosque would not be a refuge, and the falcon would not be there.
Thank you, President Roosevelt!

Body photo courtesy of


  1. Christian Martin

    Can’t wait to read this book John, especially having recently read Tim Egan’s “The Big Burn”, which tells the story of Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot’s joint quest to preserve America’s natural resources through the creation of National Forests. It is interesting to note that they did this together as a bulwark against corporate control and profiteering off of our country’s natural resources, and they sold it to the electorate using populist sentiments about preserving the our shared natural heritage for future generations (vs. short term profits).
    With the mood in our country so furious against banks, Wall Street and most of Big Business, I wonder if Obama couldn’t make headway on his conservation agenda using similar tactics and language?
    Wanna trade books? 😉

  2. vida morkunas

    This book is now on my list John, thank you for your lovely article about it.
    I would welcome more book reviews / recommendations on Chattermarks. I am always wondering what the nice folks at NCI are reading!

  3. John Miles

    There will be more to come!

  4. Deb Davis

    I too recently read The Big Burn (there’s a review at my blog: dedavisart. and was struck by the parallels in history. TR was a remarkable character–I’ll be watching for this book to turn up at my local library!

  5. Carolyn

    I’m putting this one on my list to read! I look forward to more of your recommendations.

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