When conservationists give thanks to a President Roosevelt, they are probably thinking about the first one—Teddy.  But this month, let’s say thanks to the second one, his cousin—Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

President Franklin Roosevelt (photo by Leon A. Perskie)

The beginning and end of September mark two events when Roosevelt dedicated important elements in the nation’s life of conservation.  On September 2 (1940), he stood on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee to dedicate Great Smoky National Park.  Great Smoky was only the second national park in the eastern half of the country, joining Acadia in Maine.  Beyond that, though, Great Smoky is a remarkable place—a huge area of forest with high plant diversity because it wasn’t glaciated during the last Ice Age.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And Americans seem to recognize its value as well:  Great Smoky is the most visited national park in the country (learn more about Great Smoky here).

At the end of the month, on September 30 (1935), Roosevelt was at the other end of the country dedicating Hoover Dam (actually it was Boulder Dam at that time).  When it was built, Hoover Dam was one of the true marvels of modern engineering, a massive structure that was the largest dam in the world at the time.  It also owes its very existence to the skill and bravery of thousands of workers, many of them Native Americans who braved the sheer walls of Black Canyon to drill and blast the foundation for the dam.  Hoover Dam remains an essential part of the water management infrastructure and the electrical supply for the American southwest (learn more about Hoover Dam here).

Before he was president, Roosevelt was governor of New York.  He instituted many conservation programs for the state, including protection of forests so the forests could protect water supplies and the creation of a corps of young men to plant trees.

Franklin Roosevelt was elected president four times and served from 1933 to 1945, during which he oversaw the country during crucial times—the Great Depression and World War II.  As part of his New Deal programs, he created or expanded major conservation agencies.  Shortly after he first took office in 1933, he created the Civilian Conservation Corps, modeled after the similar program he started as New York’s governor.  The Corps employed millions of young men over a decade, establishing and maintaining parks and planting more than three billion trees.  Enjoy a national park today, and you are probably using roads, campgrounds, hiking trails and picnic areas built by the CCC (learn more about the CCC here).

Franklin Roosevelt dedicates Great Smoky National Park, 1940

Roosevelt also had to contend with the Dust Bowl, the combination of drought and poor land-use practices that made parts of the Great Plains virtually uninhabitable during the early 1930s.  In 1935, he signed into law the Soil Conservation Service to reverse the trends in soil degradation and loss.  Known today as the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the agency helped bring back the productivity of the nation’s heartland (learn more about the Soil Conservation Service here).

He also undertook a major overhaul of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (at that time called the Biological Survey).  He brought in one of his biggest critics, Ding Darling, to take over the agency.  In a term lasting less than two years, Darling transformed the agency, tossing out useless and corrupt officials, professionalizing the staff and breathing life into the moribund National Wildlife Refuge System (learn more about Ding Darling here).

In all, Roosevelt added more than 100 units to the National Park Service during his 12 years as president.  He diversified the kinds of places considered worthy of being part of the country’s heritage, adding cultural and historic sites to natural ones.  His vision is why today we have more than 400 sites to call our own.  As he said, “There is nothing so American as our national parks.”

This Month in Conservation

February 1
Afobaka Dam and Operation Gwamba (1964)
February 2
Groundhog Day
February 3
Spencer Fullerton Baird, First U.S. Fish Commissioner, Born (1823)
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 Ugalde, 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
World Pangolin Day
February 18
Julia Butterfly Hill, Tree-Sitter, Born (1974)
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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