The 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 â€œconserving and restoring northwest environments through educationâ€ 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 Brinkleyâ€™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 Rooseveltâ€™s fascination with the natural world, the influences on his interests of his eccentric Uncle Rob, the centrality of Darwinâ€™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, thereâ€™s a good chance the land is still public and managed as it is because of Theodore Roosevelt.
Summing up, Brinkley writes, â€œIn seven years and sixty-nine days, Roosevelt had saved more than 234 million acres of American wilderness. History still hasnâ€™t caught up with the long-term magnitude of his achievement.â€ An appendix lists 150 national forests â€œcreated or enlarged by Theodore Roosevelt,â€ 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!
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 â€œthe Strenuous Life.â€
Two weeks ago I saw a bird I never expected to see â€“ 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 Brinkleyâ€™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 â€œcreated,â€ 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!