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Theodore Roosevelt
and the Dakota Badlands
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Roosevelt and the Conservation Movement

As early as 1889, Maj. John Wesley Powell, "the prophet of the arid region," warned North Dakota's constitutional convention of the dangers of plowing the central and western pant of the State unless irrigation water was at hand. Roosevelt also appreciated the vital need for irrigation, profiting by his ranch life in the Little Missouri Badlands and his hunting experiences throughout the West. The passing of the frontier, commonly considered to date from 1890, dramatized the need for conservation.

Early in 1901 Representative Francis G. Newlands of Nevada and Senator Henry C. Hansbrough of North Dakota introduced a reclamation bill in the Congress. In December 1901, shortly after the assassination of President McKinley, F. H. Newell, who had been one of Powell's assistants, and Gifford Pinchot, Chief of the Division of Forestry, U. S. Department of Agriculture, since 1898, met with Roosevelt and discussed plans for irrigating arid lands of the West. Roosevelt included this subject in his first message to Congress. On June 17, 1902, the "Newlands Bill" was signed by the President and became known as the Reclamation Act of 1902. This is the basic law of the Bureau of Reclamation.

Before Roosevelt had become President, he had helped to organize the Boone and Crockett Club, which was dedicated to the preservation of America's big game. One of his first acts after becoming President was to encourage the Congress to establish a new herd of buffalo in Yellowstone National Park so that they would not become extinct. Roosevelt indicated the true purpose of the national parks concept when he stated:

I cannot too often repeat that the essential feature in the present management of the Yellowstone Park, as in all similar places, is its essential democracy—it is the preservation of the scenery, of the forests, of the wilderness life and the wilderness game for the people as a whole . . .

Roosevelt also warned that the United States was exhausting its forest supplies more rapidly than they were being produced. His concept of his duty as President was that he should act affirmatively for the general welfare where the Constitution did not explicitly forbid him to act. Although he did not originate the ideas behind many of the conservation measures, he did furnish the necessary vigorous influence and publicity that helped push the projects through Congress.

In 1905 he created the Forest Service as a separate bureau of the Department of Agriculture. During his 7-1/2 years as President more than 3 times as much acreage was added to the national forests than had been reserved during all previous years. At the close of his administration 194,505,325 acres had been designated as national forests. One of the newly established areas was the Dakota National Forest on the southern extremity of the "oxbow" of the Little Missouri River.

In addition to proposals for water, forest, and mineral conservation, Roosevelt favored a change in western land policy. Major Powell had urged that the size of grazing homesteads be increased. Roosevelt supported this viewpoint, but also urged the careful examination and classification of public grazing lands in order to give each settler land enough to support his family.

As President, he supported the conservation of America's scenery and natural and historic objects. Up to 1906 the prehistoric ruins of the Southwest had been subjected to extensive vandalism. Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act of 1906, which provided that the President could set aside, for public use as national monuments, objects and landmarks of scientific and historic interest. Under its provisions President Theodore Roosevelt established the first 16 national monuments.

At the suggestion of the Inland Waterways Commission, which he had appointed in 1907, the President called for a National Conservation Congress which met the following year. This meeting was a landmark in American conservation. Besides arousing general interest in conservation at both the State and national level, it made provision for an inventory of the Nation's natural resources by the National Conservation Commission which the President appointed in 1908. Through creation of the National Conservation Commission he assured the continuity of the conservation movement.

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