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12/07/2011

Obama and Roosevelt: A Conservation Legacy Opportunity

Yesterday, President Obama invoked the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt during a major economic speech in Osawatomie, Kansas. More than 100 years ago in 1910, President Roosevelt stood before a similar crowd in the same town and made a bold call to address a primary issue of the day, income inequality. Then, as now, the gap between the haves and the have-nots was growing rapidly, and the speech marked a progressive turn as Roosevelt called for a "square deal" for all Americans.

It is heartening to hear Obama echoing the Progressive icon. In these dark economic times, Obama should take another cue from Roosevelt's agenda, his conservation legacy. As part of his populism and democratic principles, Roosevelt firmly believed in the right of every citizen to have access to our public lands and heritage. Both then and now, this idea was revolutionary; during the course of his career Roosevelt protected approximately 230 million acres as public lands for all Americans to enjoy. These protections include 5 national parks, 18 National Monuments, and the creation of 150 National Forests. The time is ripe for President Obama to revive Teddy's vision and create a legacy of protected, public lands. President Obama should use his authority under the Antiquities Act, a bill that Teddy signed into law in 1906, to designate as National Monuments public lands which represent our country's wild legacy.

Petrified Forest

Petrified Forest National Park, first designated as a National Monument by Roosevelt. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Park Service

Such a move would stimulate local economies and cause the increased job growth frequently correlated with lands protection. The outdoor recreation economy generates around $730 billion annually and supports 6.5 million jobs. This is one of the few sectors that continues to grow despite our current tough economic climate. Just last week more than 100 economists and academics from across the country, including three Nobel Laureates, sent a letter to the President urging him to "create jobs and support businesses by investing in our public lands infrastructure and establishing new protected areas such as parks, wilderness, and monuments." By channeling Teddy Roosevelt, the President can protect our natural heritage, put Americans back to work, and rebuild the American Dream.

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