This Saturday we celebrate National Hunting and Fishing Day and National Public
It’s appropriate that both celebrations occur on the same day,
because hunting, fishing and public lands have a 100-year history of being
intertwined like a well-made rope. But a third cord makes that rope stronger
today than it was 100 years ago when the public lands system was in its
infancy. The individual most responsible for fashioning these three cords into
that strong rope was Theodore Roosevelt, a man for all Americans.
Theodore Roosevelt is considered the icon of the success of America’s public
lands system wouldn’t surprise hunters and anglers. Roosevelt was an avid
sportsman. He hunted and fished in this country and throughout the world. He
used his influence to court the support of hunters and anglers to champion the
birthing of the public lands system. Yet those who don’t hunt or fish should be
equally comfortable with Roosevelt and thankful, too, that he fathered our
public lands system. Though he enjoyed the strenuous life of the outdoors, he
also sought refuge there and a time for reflection. He retreated to the wide
open West and spent a soul-searching two years in its wildlands to sort out his
life following the same-day deaths of his first wife and mother, in 1884. This,
too, impacted his love of the land, not only as a place for vigorous activity
but also as a refuge for reflection and spiritual healing.
Like so many
other Americans, I, too, sought Roosevelt’s woods to soothe my soul after 15
restless years trapped on a 1/4-acre lot in a Chicago suburb.
with urban life I left for Montana to pursue a career as a forest ranger. Four
years at the University of Montana opened my mind and gave me an appreciation
for the outdoors.
Roosevelt’s curiosity of nature also drew him from New
York City to the outdoors. Like many hunters and anglers I know, he was a
naturalist; one constantly interested in how the natural world around him
worked. His youthful experience roaming New York’s Adirondack mountains fed
his thirst for knowledge of the outdoor world and shaped his love for it.
Birding was a lifelong interest. A prolific writer best known for his books and
magazine articles detailing his numerous hunting experiences; Roosevelt’s first
published work, in 1877, was a pamphlet, “The summer Birds of the
Adirondacks in Franklin County,” when he was 18. He, too, like many of us
who hold dear our memories of things like summer camp, vacations to national
parks and weekend trips to the woods, enjoyed the simple pursuits of the
outdoor life viewing wildlife, floating, hiking and camping.
My father, a
telephone system employee and inveterate golfer, quickly found that the woods I
liked were the Oak-hickory forest of the Ozark Mountains, not the ones found in
his golf bag. So my summers were spent as an outdoor apprentice of my
grandfather who taught me to hunt and fish and instilled in me a conservation
ethic. It was the love of one generation passed to another.
passed similar beliefs into the rearing of his six children. The outdoors was
their playground. Hiking, obstacle courses, hunting, fishing, camping, birding,
raising pets and other lessons on the natural world, were just some of the
outdoor activities the Roosevelt children inherited from their father’s
youthful experiences. That a legacy of public lands set aside for our children
and grandchildren to enjoy in the same way is not the residue of mere chance.
Roosevelt, like many of us, felt that need deeply.
With the gift of six
grandchildren, I, too, now recognize even more clearly the legacy and
responsibility of the public lands passed on to us by Roosevelt. We the
American people, do not need to be restricted to owning only 1/4-acre lots.
Because of Roosevelt, we own so much more. Our public lands are ours to enjoy,
enhance and protect for our grandchildren and future generations of
Protection helped draw up the Roosevelt public lands blueprint.
He was also driven by the realization that “old wasteful methods’ of
exploiting our nation’s natural resources could no longer continue. Roosevelt
was so appalled at the destruction of our nation’s forests, pollution of our
waters and loss of productive soil from erosion that he called the conservation
of these natural resources “…the weightiest problem now before the
nation.” Today such talk would label him in some circles as a
Chicken-Little-the-sky-is-falling wacko environmentalist. Yet his speech before
the Conference on the Conservation of Natural Resources on May 13, 1908 would
shame those same people into silence. Such wisdom is timeless.
firsthand that conservation of our natural resources can be learned.
need to accept the responsibility and accountability to the public trust to use
wisely the God-given natural resources we’ve been blessed with.
Roosevelt so succinctly stated, “This land of ours was not built for a
day. It is to last through the ages.” That Theodore Roosevelt was a devout
hunter and angler, as well as a conservationist, naturalist and, yes, in
today’s terms — an environmentalist — should not confuse or put off any
Americans. All parts know the value of an untrammeled outdoors. That he
experienced the soul soothing restorative powers of the great outdoors, the
wonder of its creation and saw its value to future generations through the eyes
of his children; make him as unpretentiously common as you and I. That is the
strength of his public lands legacy which is the envy of the world. The
ordinary emotions of an extraordinary man for Tel and are something we all
possess and feel deeply. That is the third cord of the rope he fashioned that
is stronger today than it was a century ago. Our common attraction to the land
is inseparable from who we are as Americans. It defines us.
Roosevelt had the vision to see it and our public lands are his legacy that all
Americans can enjoy.
Bob Munson is Executive Director of the Theodore
Roosevelt Conservation Alliance, www.trca.com.