There are two frames of mind when it comes to the earth’s natural resources. Some believe that these lands are here for our consumption; to use what is given for the financial benefit of a few, while others feel that it is our responsibility to protect these majestic places for our children and their children to come. This Presidents Day, I’d like to remind you of some of the Presidents who are the reasons why we can continue to experience the beauty of the mountains, forests and lakes of the Eastern Sierra.
In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln attempted to protect this amazing “chasm” called Yo-Semite by signing the Yosemite Grant Act granting to the State of California the “Yo-Semite Valley” and the land embracing the “Mariposa Big Tree Grove”. It came with the ‘express conditions that the premises shall be held for public use, resort and recreation’. It was to be managed by the Governor of California and 8 other commissioners. In 1865, board member Frederick Law Olmstead warned of overuse, attempting to add legislation that would provide protections. The committee ignored his warning and the Valley and Mariposa Groves, despite having to travel by ferry, stagecoach, wagon and horse to get there, became quickly overwhelmed and mismanaged. In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt managed to re-cede the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Big Tree Grove from the State of California back to the federal government allowing it to become part of the Yosemite National Park; thereby protecting it for all of time.
President Benjamin Harrison’s conservation efforts are often overlooked but should not be ignored. In 1890, President Harrison created three national parks: Sequoia NP, Yosemite NP (which didn’t include the land of the Yosemite Grant Act) and General Grant (which became Kings Canyon NP). His most important legislation was the Forest Reserve Act of 1891 after years of debate and concerns over excessive logging. In the end, he protected 22 million acres of forest including the Yellowstone Park Timberland Reserve which protects the forests around Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Canyon Forest Reserve as he was not able to make that a national park. As you could imagine, those commercial interested were not happy and pushed congress to release these lands from Federal Control. They were gaining headway when John Muir came on the scene with his vivid writings about the importance of the natural landscape. Muir’s writings were gaining attention and brought understanding and interest in conserving our lands and forests.
The writings of John Muir got the attention of Theodore Roosevelt who became vice president under President McKinley and subsequently President on Sept 6, 1901, with McKinley’s assassination. Being an avid outdoorsman, Roosevelt had a keen insight into the problems of land management. He felt that “conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem, it will avail us little to solve all others”. With the help of his forester, Gifford Pinchot, Roosevelt saw the danger in those seeking to exploit our natural landscape. He took control, tightened federal control over these lands and in 1903 desired to speak ‘conservation” with the ever-vocal John Muir. In May 1903, President Roosevelt made the trek to the west coast to spend 3 days in the Yosemite wilderness with John Muir. Through deep discussions, these two important thinkers connected amidst talks about the misuse and manipulation of public lands by commercial business and the need to provide more federal protection. President Roosevelt returned to Washington with a renewed vigor and energy about the need for conservation of our public lands which quickly spread to his political staff and the public alike. By the end of his term in 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt established 150 National Forests, 51 Federal Bird Sanctuaries, 4 National Game Reserves, 5 National Parks, 18 National Monuments, protected the Grand Canyon by making it a National Monument (in 1919, it became a national park under President Woodrow Wilson) and through the Division of Forestry, set aside 234 million acres of land from private entry to be managed for the enjoyment of the American people.
As you ice climb, ski or snowmobile the National Forests, wilderness areas and National Parks this holiday weekend, say a thank you to these and other presidents who saw the importance of preserving these lands for generation to come.