President Johnson Addresses Congress about Conservation (1965)

A common question in the conservation community is this:  Who was our finest conservation president?  Teddy Roosevelt always wins and his nephew, Franklin Roosevelt, usually comes in second.  Then there are arguments about Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter, perhaps Abraham Lincoln.  But it is easy to argue that near the top of the list should come Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th president of the United States.

Johnson held office from 1963 to 1969, during the height of the growing environmental movement.  He understood and believed the message being delivered:  Along with prosperity, America wanted a place to live that was safe and beautiful.  He was born in a small farming community in Texas and, over his life, he watched the country change from a mostly rural, agricultural economy to a mostly urban, industrialized economy.  Along with his wife, Lady Bird, he lamented the ugliness that could accompany that change, and he vowed to help clean up the mess and preserve what was left (learn more about the first lady here).

President Lyndon Johnson (photo by Arnold Newman)

As president, Johnson approved more than 300 conservation measures.  The measures covered virtually all aspects of conservation, including air and water pollution, park and natural area preservation, biodiversity conservation, landscape beautification and urban environmental quality.  He created 50 new national park units.  He signed laws that established the National Trails and Wild and Scenic Rivers Systems.

He spoke about the need for conservation many times.  One of the most important was his “Special Message to the Congress on Conservation and Restoration of Natural Beauty” on February 8, 1965.  Following are a few excerpts from that speech.

 “For centuries Americans have drawn strength and inspiration from the beauty of our country. It would be a neglectful generation indeed, indifferent alike to the judgment of history and the command of principle, which failed to preserve and extend such a heritage for its descendants.”

“To deal with these new problems will require a new conservation. We must not only protect the countryside and save it from destruction, we must restore what has been destroyed and salvage the beauty and charm of our cities. Our conservation must be not just the classic conservation of protection and development, but a creative conservation of restoration and innovation. Its concern is not with nature alone, but with the total relation between man and the world around him. Its object is not just man’s welfare but the dignity of man’s spirit.”

“I have already proposed full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and directed the Secretary of the Interior to give priority attention to serving the needs of our growing urban population.”

President Johnson designated Marble Canyon, Arizona, as a national monument in 1969 (later added to Grand Canyon NP; photo by Nicholas Hartman)

“The 28 million acres of land presently held and used by our Armed Services is an important part of our public estate. Many thousands of these acres will soon become surplus to military needs. Much of this land has great potential for outdoor recreation, wildlife, and conservation uses consistent with military requirements. This potential must be realized through the fullest application of multiple-use principles.”

“Air pollution is no longer confined to isolated places. This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through radioactive materials and a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. Entire regional airsheds, crop plant environments, and river basins are heavy with noxious materials.”

“The beauty of our land is a natural resource. Its preservation is linked to the inner prosperity of the human spirit.  The tradition of our past is equal to today’s threat to that beauty. Our land will be attractive tomorrow only if we organize for action and rebuild and reclaim the beauty we inherited. Our stewardship will be judged by the foresight with which we carry out these programs. We must rescue our cities and countryside from blight with the same purpose and vigor with which, in other areas, we moved to save the forests and the soil.”

References:

Association of Centers for the Study of Congress.  President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Natural Beauty Message.  Available at:  http://acsc.lib.udel.edu/items/show/292.  Accessed February 5, 2018.

Johnson, Lyndon B.  1965.  Special Message to the Congress on Conservation and Restoration of Natural Beauty.  The American Presidency Project.  Available at:  http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=27285.  Accessed February 5, 2018.

National Park Serivce.  Lyndon B. Johnson and the Environment.  Available at:  https://www.nps.gov/lyjo/planyourvisit/upload/EnvironmentCS2.pdf.  Accessed February 5, 2018.

This Month in Conservation

February 1
Afobaka Dam and Operation Gwamba (1964)
February 2
Groundhog Day
February 3
George Adamson, African Lion Rehabilitator, Born (1906)
February 4
Congress Overrides President Reagan’s Veto of Clean Water Act (1987)
February 5
National Wildlife Federation Created (1936)
February 6
Colin Murdoch, Inventor of the Tranquilizer Gun, Born (1929)
February 7
Karl August Mobius, Ecology Pioneer, Born (1825)
February 8
President Johnson Addresses Congress about Conservation (1965)
February 8
Lisa Perez Jackson, Environmental Leader, Born (1982)
February 9
U.S. Fish Commission Created (1871)
February 10
Frances Moore Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet, born (1944)
February 11
International Day of Women and Girls in Science
February 12
Judge Boldt Affirms Native American Fishing Rights (1974)
February 13
Thomas Malthus Born (1766)
February 14
Nature’s Faithful Lovers
February 15
Complete Human Genome Published (2001)
February 16
Kyoto Protocol, Controlling Greenhouse-Gas Emissions, Begins (2005)
February 16
Alvaro Uglade, Father of Costa Rica’s National Parks, Born (1946)
February 17
Sombath Somphone, Laotian Environmentalist, Born (1952)
February 17
R. A. Fischer, Statistician, Born (1890)
February 18
Julia Butterfly Hill, Tree-Sitter, Born (1974)
February 18
World Pangolin Day
February 19
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial Established (1962)
February 20
Ansel Adams, Nature Photographer, Born (1902)
February 21
Carolina Parakeet Goes Extinct (1918)
February 22
Nile Day
February 23
Italy’s Largest Inland Oil Spill (2010)
February 24
Joseph Banks, British Botanist, Born (1743)
February 25
First Federal Timber Act Passed (1799)
February 26
Four National Parks Established (1917-1929)
February 27
International Polar Bear Day
February 28
Watson and Crick Discover The Double Helix (1953)
February 29
Nature’s Famous Leapers
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