By Serge G. Mihaly Jr.
Posted: 01/19/16, 3:26 PM EST | Updated: 3 weeks, 5 days ago in The New Haven Register
When I was in my teens, I remember reading a passage in my middle school history book. In it was described the actions of President Theodore Roosevelt who promoted what he called the “strenuous life.” Roosevelt believed that constant physical exertion was the basis for a sound character. His love of the outdoors was a large part of this lifestyle as he conducted seemingly endless marches in and through the woods with international dignitaries following close behind tired and flustered. This world view would lead to his precedent setting actions regarding America’s natural wonders. Roosevelt understood the responsibility man had within nature. It was a serious and practical responsibility he believed must be passed from generation to generation.
During his presidency, Roosevelt established 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, four national game preserves, five national parks, and 18 national monuments. In total, he protected approximately 230 million acres of public land. Roosevelt was a conservationist, a term that means “wise use” — a philosophy practiced all across the nation at both state and federal levels.
Today, some people may interchange the term “preservation” with conservation, but it has a significant different meaning. Preservation is like a photograph that “freezes” life. There is no movement, no process, no action just an unchanging pretty image. Nature, though, is something that is always changing, always moving and always in flux. Everything in it, even the soil in which trees take their nutrients, is in a constant state of evolution. Fallen and rotting leaves decompose to infuse nutrients into the soil. Even in death, the decomposition of carrion becomes food for crows, coyotes, hawks and even mice. Nature is the greatest system of “wise use.”
Even with the establishment of nature preserves, we are doing nothing more than protecting prime habitat where creatures, large and small and of all species, can continue to participate in the circle of conservation. We may, in our “civilized” worlds, want to believe every creature lives forever in peace and mutual harmony, but the cruel reality is that they do not. Conservation also includes consumption, especially the consumption of one species of another such as a hawk and a rabbit or a lion and an antelope. There is no justice in nature, just survival.
One thing we can do is protect nature from over use, something that Roosevelt was very concerned with. He was, in fact, so respectful of the great outdoors that he decried the sight of roadside billboards which he believed spoiled the virgin essence of the outdoors. Roosevelt was a realist and understood that man could responsibly use many of the resources that nature held. Because man was just as much a participant in nature as any creature, Roosevelt believed we needed to profoundly understand our responsibilities especially against unchecked commercial interests. For Roosevelt, the razing of forests by timber companies, over-fishing by commercial fisheries and late 19th century commercial hunting all posed serious challenges.
Always active, Roosevelt would go on to establish the United States Forestry Service and the Boone and Crockett Club, an organization dedicated to promoting conservation and the management of wildlife and wildlife habitat. The Boone and Crockett Club was instrumental in pioneering far-reaching wildlife management legislation that has saved many species of wildlife and millions of acres of land. Soon, other similar groups like Ducks Unlimited, the Ruffed Grouse Society, the Izaak Walton League, the National Wildlife Federation and the Wildlife Management Institute were formed making similar significant contributions.
Today, we have many more conservation-related organizations all across the country. We, too, can make our mark on the beautiful world of nature. You would make Theodore Roosevelt very happy.
Reach Serge Mihaly at firstname.lastname@example.org.