Environmental Conservation on President’s Day


3 Presidents Who Did the Most for the Environment

Presidents are frequently remembered for issues of war and peace, or how they handled times of crisis. But it is often their quiet initiatives that – over the long-term – have the greatest effect on people’s lives and the wellbeing of a nation. So it is with the presidents who have worked to protect America’s natural resources, creating the parks, monuments, and federal agencies that preserve and protect our heritage for future generations. In honor of President’s Day, let’s get to know three presidents who’ve created a legacy of conservation in the United States.

1)    Theodore Roosevelt

The original “conservation president,” Theodore Roosevelt turned a love of hunting and the outdoors into a passion for protecting our open spaces for future generations. Roosevelt vastly expanded the National Park System from 12 to 35 sites, adding such venerable parks as Crater Lake and Mesa Verde. He then created the United States Forest Service and proceeded to establish 150 national forests. But he didn’t stop there. Upon signing the American Antiquities Act into law, he used it to proclaim a series of new national monuments, protecting a large part of the Grand Canyon in the process. All in all, Roosevelt protected some 230 million acres of public land during his presidency – not bad for a city slicker from New York.

Denali National Park

2)    Woodrow Wilson

Against the ominous backdrop of World War I, President Wilson signed the National Park Service Act into law in 1916. Previously, national parks and monuments had been managed individually (or, in some cases, by the Army), leading to disparity in quality and service; the new act brought them under the umbrella of the National Park Service. Thanks to Wilson, the Park Service still maintains its dual role of both preserving our parks and making them available for public enjoyment. But that wasn’t all; Wilson also signed bills to establish such favorites as Rocky Mountain,Zion, and Mount McKinley (now Denali) National Parks, preserving these precious natural places for generations of Americans.

3)    Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Theodore wasn’t the only Roosevelt to be passionate about conservation: upon assuming the presidency, his cousin Franklin was quick to build on his legacy. In his first year in office, he signed an executive order expanding the National Park Service’s purview to include national memorials (such as theStatue of Liberty), military parks (such as Gettysburg), cemeteries, and capital parks. As a part of the New Deal economic recovery program, he also enacted the Civilian Conservation Corps, which employed some 3 million men to develop our national and state parks, planting trees, building trails and other infrastructure, and combatting soil erosion. The “CCC,” in fact, served as a model for Liz Putnam when, a quarter-century later, she founded the Student Conservation Association       

SCA interns are serving or have recently served at the following President-themed sites:

  • National Parks of NY Harbor: includes Federal Hall, where George Washington took his oath of office; General U.S. Grant National Memorial; and Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace NHS
  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park
  • Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Sites: including the home of Franklin D. Roosevelt NHS, Eleanor Roosevelt NHS, and Vanderbilt Mansion NHS
  • Abraham Lincoln birthpace National Historic Site
  • National Mall and Memorial Parks: includes the White House and President’s Park
  • John FIitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site 
  • Jimmy Carter National Historic Site
  • (John and John Quincy) Adams National Historical Park
  • Sagamore Hill National Historic Site (Teddy Roosevelt’s Summer White House)
  • Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park

Interested in learning about how to become an SCA intern? Learn more here.