In 1894, while serving on the Civil Service Commission, Theodore Roosevelt had fought to protect Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Even though it was already a national park, laws allowed for partial destruction of the Yellowstone land by railroads and mining. He pushed for a new law that would keep businesses and industries out of Yellowstone. Roosevelt also saw the danger of pollution to streams and lakes and the wildlife that lived near them. As governor of New York, he had called for laws to limit pollution in the state.
As president, Roosevelt made protecting the environment of the entire country one of his biggest priorities. He helped create five new national parks and preserve 150 national forests. By setting aside this land and allowing the federal government to control it, he ensured that no further development or destruction could take place. He also created national monuments, such as Arizona’s Petrified Forest. He did more than any president before him to protect the environment.
Roosevelt also wanted trained people taking care of the public lands, to reduce the risk of forest and brush fires. These rangers also made sure hunters killed only the number of birds and animals allowed by law. And when Congress wanted to let business cut more timber in the West, Roosevelt acted quickly. In 1907 he issued an order to protect millions of acres of forests before Congress could pass a law that might have destroyed them.
One of his conservation efforts came at the urging of Frank Chapman, who worked at the American Museum of Natural History. Chapman was the museum’s ornithologist. He knew that Roosevelt had loved and studied birds, since as a teen he had donated some of his own birds to the museum. Roosevelt’s father, Theodore Sr., had helped create the American Museum of Natural History in New York in 1869.
Chapman now hoped that President Roosevelt would support his idea to create a bird sanctuary, off the coast of Florida. Roosevelt learned there was no law that stopped him from simply creating the sanctuary on his own. So, he created Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, the first of fifty-three bird sanctuaries that he would ultimately create. In 2012 the American Museum of National History honored Theodore Roosevelt’s contributions to the conservation effort. It unveiled a new statue of Roosevelt, showing him as he looked on a camping trip to Yellowstone in 1903. He had said that year, “We are not building this country of ours for a day. It is to last through the ages.”
Michael Burgan studied history at the University of Connecticut before embarking on his career of writing about history, current events, geography, science, and more for children. He worked at Weekly Reader for six years before becoming a freelance author. He is a member of Biographers International Organization and edits its monthly newsletter, The Biographer's Craft. A produced playwright, he is also a member of the Dramatists Guild.
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