A man and a day for all Americans

This Saturday we celebrate National Hunting and Fishing Day and National Public

Lands Day.

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.

That

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.

Dissatisfied

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.

Roosevelt

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

Americans.

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.

I know

firsthand that conservation of our natural resources can be learned.

We all

need to accept the responsibility and accountability to the public trust to use

wisely the God-given natural resources we’ve been blessed with.

As

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.

Theodore

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.

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