studies had given him an enormous respect for C. Hart Merriam, then head of the
U.S. Biological Survey. He rated Merriam with Agassiz and Jordan. But the
knowledge of coyotes gained on his ranch led him into a heated discussion when
Merriam revised the coyotes into 11 distinct species. Roosevelt, having watched
coyotes in the field and having thrilled to their high-pitched wail, could not
believe they were so different, and said so. He thus enrolled himself in the
ranks of the "lumpers" (those who regard minor differences in animals
insufficient to separate them into different species), as opposed to the
"splitters," like Merriam, who hold that slight differences are of
substantial significance. He later debated with Merriam at Washington's Cosmos
Club (Roosevelt was then Assistant Secretary of the Navy) and surprised that
august institution's gathering of biologists and naturalists with his knowledge
distinguished political career, Roosevelt never failed to keep up with the
literature of natural history. He apparently read everything and maintained a
voluminous correspondence with workers in the field. His letters to Frank M.
Chapman of The American Museum of Natural History show a broad and deep
knowledge of animals and a great appreciation of them. Birds were a particular
delight to him, and many of his letters to Chapman describe their colors and
songs ecstatically. Said Chapman later: "The growing demands of official
life on Colonel Roosevelt's time never drove the bird from his heart. Rather
did he become increasingly dependent on the friendship of nature for relief
from the cares of office."
While in the
White House, Roosevelt spent hours watching birds and listening to them and
took long walks in Rock Creek Park. He often invited foreign diplomats to join
him and, flattered, they were usually eager to do so. But, by the time they had
followed at his breathless pace for an hour or so, many were exhausted—and
viewed the President with a new respect and admiration. The walks in the park
thus served a political as well as a scientific purpose.
interest in conservation started in a small way, but grew rapidly. He had begun
it as Governor of New York, by strengthening the Fisheries, Forestry and Game
Commission, tightening regulations, controlling stream pollution and
recommending that the Catskills and Adirondacks be set aside as park areas. But
it was as President that he became truly the father of American Conservation.
The surface had hardly been scratched up to his inauguration; by the time
Roosevelt left the White House it was a powerful and permanent policy. He began
with reclamation. His first (1901) message to Congress stated: "The western
half of the United States would sustain a population greater than that of our
whole country today if the waters that now run to waste were saved and used for
irrigation. Great storage works are necessary.... Their construction has been
conclusively shown to be an undertaking too vast for private enterprise."
The Reclamation Service (later the Bureau of Reclamation) was founded; by 1904,
16 reclamation projects were well started. By the time Roosevelt left office,
in 1909, the 25,000-odd western acres which had previously been under
irrigation had grown to more than a million. Today, over five million acres are
supplied with water by the 58 projects of the Bureau of Reclamation.
autobiography, Roosevelt remarked that the pioneer American "had but one
thought about a tree, and that was to cut it down." By 1900, almost half
the original timber—which once covered almost 50 per cent of the nation's land
surface-had fallen before this primitive urge. And more was falling every
Ten years before
Roosevelt took office, an Act of Congress allowed the President to establish
Forest Reserves: 50 million acres had been so set aside. But forest
administration was weak and divided, and government powers quite inadequate.
Practical forestry existed only in a few isolated places, and the public was
far from ready to accept it. Powerful lumber interests fought government
interference with money and influence. When America's pioneer forester, Gifford
Pinchot, took over the Forestry Division in 1898, he was anything but
enthusiastic about its prospects. At that time, Roosevelt was Governor of New
York. Pinchot, as forester, was asked to inspect an area in the Adirondacks and
called on the Governor in Albany on the way. He reported, in his Breaking New
Ground: "T.R. and I did a little wrestling, at which he beat me; and some
boxing, during which I had the honor of knocking the future President of the
United States off his very solid pins."
Thus they were
old friends and, when Roosevelt entered the White House, Pinchot had a solid
and determined supporter: a survey of the forest lands of the entire nation was
begun. From this survey came recommendations as to precisely which areas should
be set aside by the President as National Forests.
Just at this
time, a group of senators—opposed to nationalization of forests—tacked a rider
onto the Agricultural Appropriations Bill, forbidding the President to
establish any more National Forests in the Northwest. The bill couldn't be
vetoed without disastrous consequences, and the senators who had slipped in the
rider thought they had dealt a death blow to National Forests.
They were wrong.
Roosevelt immediately called Pinchot, who gave him the forest survey's
boundaries of appropriate areas in those states. The President immediately
established these new forests—totaling 16 million acres—and afterward signed
the bill, with its "trick" rider. It was an outstanding coup for
conservation, and one which conservation's enemies had brought upon
the number of National Parks (from five to 10) and, under a new act, set up 16
National Monuments (similar to National Parks, except that Congressional action
is not required for their establishment). He created 51 Federal Wildlife
Refuges. He called the North American Conference on Conservation, and he helped
organize the National Conservation Commission. In seven and a half years, he
made American conservation a living thing, and by his speeches and writings won
acceptance—even enthusiasm—for it.