The present president doesn’t seem to enjoy the outdoors, unless it is on a great big beautiful golf course. Though the presidential retreat in Maryland does have a modest driving range along with one hole and several tees, don’t bet on Trump spending any time at Camp David, tucked in western Maryland’s forests. During his campaign for president, Donald Trump told two European newspapers, “Camp David is very rustic, it’s nice, you’d like it. You know how long you’d like it? For about 30 minutes.” Every president since Franklin Roosevelt has enjoyed Camp David, but we’ve never had a president like Trump.
This least outdoors-loving American president makes me appreciate the most outdoors-loving president, Theodore Roosevelt. TR spent many a night outside of a bed under the open stars, including three nights in the Sierra with John Muir. Before TR left office in 1909, he had established, sometimes with Congress and sometimes without,
51 bird reservations (national wildlife refuges),
I fear the losses to be toted up when Trump leaves office.
TR was an activist president, and I like that, because he was activating for the right things (if even for the wrong reason sometimes). Law professor and writer Charles Wilkinson tells this story of how TR proclaimed a 5-acre federally owned island in Florida the nation’s first bird reservation:
The island may have been small, but the history T.R. wrote was large and spirited. Roosevelt wanted to make Pelican Island, all federal land, what he called a national wildlife refuge. He inquired of the Justice Department as to his power to do this.
A few days later, a government lawyer, sallow, squinty-eyed, pursed-lipped—a classic lawyer—came to the White House. He solemnly intoned, “I cannot find a law that will allow you to do this, Mr. President.”
“But,” replied T.R., now rising to his full height, “is there a law that will prevent it?” The lawyer, now frowning, replied that no, there was not. T.R. responded, “Very well, I so declare it.”
The current president’s policies on the outdoors are being developed and implemented by his secretary of the interior, Ryan Zinke. At his Senate confirmation hearing, Zinke claimed to be an “unapologetic admirer” of TR, but he seems intent on not emulating TR and even bent on deconstructing some of TR’s legacy.
TR made some courageous choices on behalf of nature for the benefit of his and future generations. Zinke and Trump favor big oil at the expense of the big wild and are getting ready to throw the greater sage-grouse under the fossil-fueled bus, to name just one of their forthcoming and shortsighted sins.
I am not an unabashed fanboy of TR but rather an abashed one. Though Theodore Roosevelt was pro-bird and anti-trust and more for the little guy than big business, he had his dark side and was too imperialist for my liking. Nonetheless, TR is generally regarded as one of America’s greatest presidents, in part due to his actions to conserve public lands and wildlife.