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Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir on Glacier Point...

[Detail] Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir on Glacier Point...

The Conservation of Natural Resources in the United States, by Charles Richard Van Hise

For Lesson One

NOTE: This is an excerpt. For the full document, see The Conservation of Natural Resources in the United States in The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920.

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Until late in the nineteenth century the resources of this country were commonly regarded as inexhaustible. Some of them were considered an obstruction to the country's development. Over very large areas of the country the forests were regarded as an enemy to be destroyed and burned. Indeed at the present time this is locally true. Our were supposed to be illimitable. Any man might have a farm for the asking. It was held, and indeed is held by many at this time, that our mineral resources will last through the indefinite future, and therefore that they may be drawn upon advantageously as rapidly as possible.

It is under the prevalence of these ideas that our laws and customs have grown up. The laws customs have been adapted to the ideas of the people. If the ideas are incorrect, it may be that our laws in reference to the natural resources are defective.

Resources not limitable.

That these ideas in reference to the illimitable supply of our natural resources are incorrect has been appreciated by the scientist for many years. The foresters, the physiographers, the geologists, have shown the severe limitations of many of them. These views have been emphasized by the situation in other countries. The mountains of France, of Spain, of China, have been denuded of their forests in large


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measure, so that the supply of wood is inadequate to meet the needs of the people. In consequence of removal of the forests from the mountains, the soil and disintegrated rock have been carried away by the running water and the bare rocks left protruding where once was thick vegetation resting upon abundant soil. The dbris carried down from the mountains to the lowlands has destroyed extensive areas of once rich land.

It has long been known that in Spain and Italy, warm countries, because of insufficient fuel, the people suffer more from the cold than here in America. In the absence of forests and coal, fuel is so expensive as practically to be unavailable to the average citizens of those countries; and hence they shiver through the winter.

People go to bed hungry.

Many intelligent men have appreciated that in India and China a large proportion of the people are insufficiently nourished. It is probably true that more than half of the people of the world to-night will go to bed hungry; at least they will have received sufficient nourishment during the day to be the most efficient to-morrow. You, who have read history, know during the years of abundant rains, the people of India and China multiply, and how in dry years famine and scourge come and reduce them again to the number that can be supplied by the fruits of the land. In scripture we read that the seven fat years were eaten up by the seven lean years; and this has been the history of eastern countries for thousands of years.

Conservation movement due to scientific men.

The modern conservation movement is the direct result the work of scientific men. The question of conservation has been more forwarded by the rapid reduction of our forests than by any other cause. The forests are the one natural resource which has been so rapidly destroyed that in the early seventies it began to be appreciated that, if existing practice were continued, the end was not in the far distant future.

As the result of a memorial presented by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1873, reforced by another memorial of the association in 1890, the

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movement was inaugurated which resulted in a forestry bureau in the department of agriculture, and in laws which led to the first national reserve in 1891. The national forest movement was further advanced later as the result of an elaborate consideration of the question by the National Academy of Sciences in 1897. The principle of the national forest once established, these forests were enlarged from time to time, but the great withdrawals of the forests from private entry have been during the past ten years.


Another line of forces which resulted in the modern conservation movement came directly from the work of Major J.W. Powell, and especially the publication of his "Lands of the Arid Region." Mainly as a result of this volume and the influence of Major Powell, in 1888 an irrigation division of the United States Geological Survey was established; and authority was given to the Secretary of the Interior to withdraw from private entry reservoir sites and other areas which in the future would be necessary for irrigation purpose.

For the past quarter of a century many of the scientific men of the country have been raising a warning voice in reference to the other natural resources of the country. The limitations of our supplies of gas, oil and coal have been pointed out. Many described the denudation of the land and the widespread destruction of the soil; but notwithstanding the above facts, it cannot be said that there was any national movement for conservation. Indeed, it is probable that such a movement could not have been inaugurated until the situation has become grave, until the menace to the future had become serious.

Among the men who have promoted the modern conservation movement, Mr. Gifford Pinchot has first place. While his work was primarily directed to the conservation of the forest, his vision, with enlarging horizon, saw the connection of the forests to the other resources of the country; and he therefore extended his campaign of education to include with the conservation of the forest the conservation of all natural resources which are limited in amount.

It was seen by Mr. Pinchot and other scientists, notably

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McGee, that there is a close connection between the forests and waters. There was as strong public demand that our rivers maintain a uniform flow for water powers and for navigation. Therefore those primarily interested in forests and those interested in waters became associated in the conservation movement. In consequence of the public sentiment in reference to waterways and forests, President Roosevelt, on March 14, 1907, appointed the Inland Waterways Commission. This commission included a number of representative congressmen, an engineer, a statistician, a forester, an irrigation chief, and a geologist. 1 This Inland Waterways Commission in its first report to the President emphasized the interlocking character of the problem of natural resources, and pointed out how the control and use of water would conserve coal and iron and the soil, and at the same time also make necessary the preservation of the forests.


1 The Inland Waterways Commission consisted of the following: Theodore E. Burton, Chairman; Francis G. Newlands, Vice Chairman; W J McGee, Secretary; William Warner, John H. Bankhead, Alexander MacKenzie, F.H. Newell, Gifford Pinchot, Herbert Knox Smith. The White House Conference.

The White House Conference grew out of the Inland Waterways Commission. On a trip of that commission in May, 1907, it was suggested that there be a conference at Washington the ensuring year to consider the conservation of the natural resources.

Chairman Theodore E. Burton and Commissioner Gifford Pinchot were authorized to convey to the President the ideas of the commission in reference to this matter. Later it was suggested that since the question of conservation concerned not only the nation, but every state, such conference should include the governors. On October 3, 1907 the Inland Waterways Commission, through its chairman and secretary, Mr. Burton, and Mr. W J McGee, sent to President Roosevelt a letter, requesting that he call a conference which should primarily be a congress of governors.

Conference called by President Roosevelt.

The President approved the plan and in November of that year called conference of the governors, each governor being invited to be accompanied by three assistants or advisers.

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But as the time approached for the meeting, the idea grew and there were finally included in the invitation of the President, the Vice President, members of the Cabinet, both branches of Congress, heads of the scientific bureaus of Washington, representatives of the great national societies, both scientific and industrial, representatives of journals, and notable citizens.

Thus there assembled May 13, 1908, at the East Room of the White House, the President, Vice President, seven members of the Cabinet, nine justices of the Supreme Court, many members of Congress, the governors of thirty-four states, and representatives of the other twelve, the governors of all the territories, including Alaska, Hawaii, and Porto Rico, the President of the Board of Commissioners of the District of Columbia, representatives of sixty-eight national societies, four special guests, forty-eight general guests, and the members of the Inland Waterways Commission.

Character of White House Conference.


Never before in the history of the nation had so representative an audience gathered together. For the first time in the history of the country the governors were assembled to consider a great national question. Even during the extreme stress of the Civil War the governors had not been asked to consult with the President and with one another upon the state of the nation. Apparently President Roosevelt must have thought that the question of conservation was one of fundamental importance before he tool so far-reaching a step. Never before in the history of the nation had the scientific men of the country met upon equal footing with those engaged in politics. This in itself was sufficient to mark the White House Conference as a meeting of the first importance in reference to the future of the nation.

The audience of the 13th of May was indeed an impressive one. Upon the right of the President sat the Vice President and the members of his Cabinet. Upon his left were the justices of the Supreme Court. Before his were assembled the governors, the members of Congress, many of the leading scientific men of the country, and numerous other delegates.

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Address of President Roosevelt.

The conference was opened by a notable address by President Roosevelt. And he, I think, above any other public man of the country has shown a wonderful capacity to quickly and broadly comprehend the salient points of a great new movement.

Resolutions of governors.

Hence he was able, although not a man of science, to present most effectively and in wonderful proportion the views which the scientific men had been developing through the past twenty-five years with reference to conservation.

Resolutions of governors.

Following President Roosevelt's address there were a series of addresses by scientific men, by governors, by eminent citizens. The scope of these papers extended to the minerals, the forests, the soils, and the waters of the country. 1 The facts presented in reference to our important resources were so startling that the governors drew up strong series of resolutions 2 covering the entire subject of conservation, pointing out the extravagance and reckless waste of the past, and making it clear that upon the conservation of our natural resources depends the foundation of our prosperity. The governors unanimously requested the President from time to time as occasion demanded to again call them together to consider with him and with Congress the great question of conservation. Also they recommended the states to establish conservation commissions to coperate with one another and with a similar national commission. Several of the governors announced that their very first acts upon reaching their respective states would be to appoint such Commissions.


1 Proceedings of a Conference of Governors in the White House, Washington, D.C., May 13-15, 1908. Washington, Government Printing Office, 1909. 2 This declaration of principles is so comprehensive and so important that it is republished as Appendix I of this volume. See pp. 381-384.

Appointment of National Conservation Commission.

Shortly after the White House Conference the President appointed the National Conservation Commission, consisting of forty-nine well-known men, about one-third of whom are engaged in politics, one-third in the industries, and one-third in scientific work. This commission was divided into four sections, assigned respectively to the minerals, the waters,

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the forests, and the soils. Gifford Pinchot, generally recognized as the most potent force underlying the conservation movement, was appropriately named chairman of the Conservation Commission. 1 Since the White House Conference to December, 1909, forty-one state conservation commissions and fifty-one conservation commissions, representing national organizations, have been created.

1 The full personnel and organization of the National Conservation Commission are found in the Report of the National Conservation Commission, Vol. I, pp. 115-117. Inventory of natural resources.

At the first meeting of the executive committee of the National Conservation Commission, held in Chicago, June 19, 1908, it was agreed that the initial step was to have made an inventory of our natural resources. It was there pointed out that to the present time, we, as a nation, are in the position of a man, who, bequeathed a fortune, has gone on spending it recklessly, never taking the trouble to ask the amount of his inheritance, or how long it is likely to last.

This executive committee therefore determined so far as practicable to have made an estimate of the existing available resources, what proportion of these resources have already been utilized or exhausted, the rate of increase in their consumption, and if this rate continues how long these resources will last. The commission had no funds at its disposal, and therefore was obliged to depend upon existing organizations for this work. Fortunately the President gave an order directing that the heads of the scientific bureaus at Washington utilize their forces in making investigations requested by the commission, so far as such investigations lay in their respective fields. As a result of requests by the National Conservation Commission, the heads of several bureaus placed a considerable number of experts upon conservation work during the summer and autumn of 1908.


Report of National Conservation Commission.

The full national commission assembled December 1 of that year to hear the reports of the experts and the secretaries of the four sections. Based upon these reports the commission drew up a report which they presented to the governors again assembled December 8, 1908, and by the governors this report was, with their indorsement, transmitted

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to the President January, 11, 1909. The report of this commission, the statements of the secretaries, and the reports of the experts have since been published in three volumes. 1 These volumes give the first available inventory of the natural resources of the nation. This inventory is of course but an approximation of the truth, but it is an immense advance over guesses as to the natural wealth of the nation. It does furnish a basis for quantitative and therefore scientific discussion of the future of our resources. In advance of the appearance of the report it would not have been possible to give this set of lectures. Indeed, they are based upon the material contained in these volumes to a greater extent than upon all other sources of information.

1 Report of the National Conservation Commission, Senate Document No. 676, 60th Congress, 2d Session. Washington, Government Printing Office, 1909. North American Conservation Conference.

The next step of President Roosevelt, after appointing the national commission, was to invite the governors of Canada and Newfoundland, and the President of Mexico, to appoint commissioners to consider with the commissioners of the United States the question of conservation. In consequence of these invitations the first North American Conservation Conference was held in Washington, February 18, 1909. As the White House Conference, a broad statement was adopted embodying the principles of conservation applicable to the North American continent, which the commissioners were expected to urge upon their respective countries. 2

2 Sec Appendix II.

To crown the brilliant series of administrative acts to bring the question of conservation to the foreground of human consciousness, President Roosevelt on February 16, 1909, requested the powers of the world to meet at The Hague for the purpose of considering the conservation of the natural resources of the entire globe.


Withdrawal of lands.

During President Roosevelt's administration, the Secretary of the Interior, James R. Garfield, withdrew from private entry a large area of the public domain, either permanently

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or for a time, until the lands withdrawn could be studied with reference to their wisest utilization. The larger portion of the great forests which still remained the property of the nation when Roosevelt became President-more than 148,000,000 acres-was made a part of the national forests during his administration. Also the coal lands of the West, both in the United States and Alaska, were withdrawn from private entry until they could be studied by the geological survey and a report made upon them as to their value and as to methods of disposal. More than 80,000,000 acres altogether were withdrawn by him for this purpose. About 1,500,000 acres in several states along 29 streams were withdrawn with reference to withholding from private entry the water power sites. Finally, 4,700,000 acres of phosphate lands in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana were withdrawn from private entry until they could be studied by the geological survey and appropriate laws made in reference to their exploitation.

Thus, during President Roosevelt's administration, more than 234,000,000 acres of land were withdrawn from private entry, the greater portion of which is to be permanently retained as the property of the nation.

President Roosevelt also recommended that the fee of all of the coal, oil, and gas lands still remaining in the possession of the government be retained permanently, and that the same be leased under proper regulations.

Service Conservation of President Roosevelt.

Concerning President Roosevelt, there has been much difference of opinion in political matters. He has been severely criticized by many, warmly commended by others, but his aggressive action for the conservation of our resources has been commended by all parties alike. In the future I believe that what he did to forward this movement and to bring it into the foreground of the consciousness of the people will place him not only as one of the greatest statesmen of this nation but one of the greatest statesmen of any nation of any time.


Attitude Congress.

In marked contrast to the position of President Roosevelt in reference to conservation was the attitude of the Sixtieth

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Congress. President Roosevelt asked an appropriation for the National Conservation Commission; and Senator Knute Nelson, of Minnesota, introduced an amendment to the sundry civil bill asking for an appropriation of $25,000 for the necessary rent, assistance, and traveling expenses of the commission. This amendment went to the Senate committee on appropriations, of which Senator Eugene Hale was and is chairman, but the amendment was lost, having failed of favorable action in the committee. Thus an appropriation for the Conservation Commission asked by President Roosevelt failed in the Senate, and the commission was left without any funds. This was unfortunate enough, but it would not have been fatal had the commission still retained the authority to ask the heads of the scientific bureaus to have their forces do work desired by the commission, which was appropriate and proper for their respective bureaus to undertake; but in the House of Representatives there was attached a clause to the sundry civil bill, which after the passage of that act prevented all bureaus from doing any work for any commission, council, board, or similar body, appointed by the President, without reference to whether or not such work was appropriate for such bureaus to undertake. Thus, so far as lay in its power, Congress made without avail the appointment by the President of the National Conservation Commission.

This clause of the sundry civil bill was introduced by James A. Tawney, of Minnesota, and its adoption was advocated by him. This congressman should be held responsible to the people of the nation for so far as lay in his power rendering without avail the appointment of the National Conservation Commission.

Report contains inventory of resources.

As has already been pointed out, the first report of the National Conservation Commission contains the only authentic statement as to the amounts of our natural resources, the amounts which have been exhausted, and their probable future life. The report was published as a Senate document in a small edition. The popular edition of this volume, recommended by the commission, was refused approval by the

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then committee on printing of the house, consisting of Charles P. Landis, of Indiana, James Breck Perkins, of New York, and D. E. Finley, of South Carolina. For thus preventing the people from gaining the advantage of the results of the great work of the Conservation Commission they should be held primarily responsible.


As yet the attitude of the Sixty-first Congress is undetermined. To the present time (June 1, 1910) none of the Conservation measures recommended by President Taft have been passed.

After the adoption of the Tawney clause and before the organization of the Association next to be mentioned, the organization of the Conservation movement was carried forward by the Joint Committee on Conservation, an unofficial body established at the second conference of the governors.

Organization of National Conservation Association.

In the autumn of 1909 there was organized the National Conservation Association. 1 This association is to be the center of a great propaganda for conservation. It is hoped that all organizations interested in special phases of the Conservation movement will become affiliated with it. The association is to have a board of managers, consisting of one representative of each state and territory; and each state is to have a committee. It is the duty of any state committee and its member of the board to develop the Conservation 1 The National Conservation Association, organized in 1909, has the following officers:-

Honorary President, Charles W. Eliot, Cambridge, Mass.
President, Gifford Pinchot, Washington, D. C.
Vice President, Walter L. Fisher, Chicago, Ill.
Treasurer, Overton Price, Washington, D. C.
Secretary, Thomas R. Shipp.
Executive Committee
Gifford Pinchot, Chairman.
James R. Garfield, Cleveland, Ohio.
John F. Bass, Chicago, Ill.
Henry L. Stimson, New York.
Walter L. Fisher, Chicago, Ill.
Bernard N. Baker, Baltimore, Md.
Charles L. Pack, Lakewood, N. J.
John N. Teal, Portland, Oregon.

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movement in the state which they represent, and to be the channel of communication between the local and national organizations.


The foregoing sketch of the rise of the Conservation movement shows that it grew out of the work of scientific men. Until recently the movement was not organized, and it was partial, that is, mainly confined to the forests and arid and; it only became national when President Roosevelt called the White House Conference in 1908.

Conservation fairly launched. Coperation required for Conservation.

With the foundation of the National Conservation Association, the great movement for the conservation of the natural resources of the United States may be said to have been fairly launched. Already a large number of the more intelligent people of the country are beginning to grasp its importance, beginning to understand that upon conservation rests the possibility of a numerous and well-nourished population in this country. But as yet the great majority of the people have almost no knowledge of the movement. It is comparatively easy to get a subject into the consciousness of the cultivated group. It is enormously difficult to accomplish this work with the millions. And the conservation of our resources can only be accomplished by the coperation of the nation, the states, and the individuals. Therefore there is before us a profound and wide campaign of education which must begin at the universities, in national and state organizations, and must extend from them through the secondary and primary schools to the whole people. There is no other question before the nation of such fundamental importance to the distant future of the country. Since it seems to me that the universities should take part in the leadership in this movement for the advancement of the nation as they have in others, this course of lectures is given at Wisconsin.

Bringing an appreciation of the importance of conservation to the foreground of human consciousness is a work which cannot be done by one man or one organization in one year, or by many men and many organizations in many years. It is a campaign of education which will extend

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through generations. But losses have already been so great that the movement should be carried forward as rapidly as possible, especially in preventing further wanton waste. This must be done if our descendants are to have transmitted to them their heritage not too greatly depleted.

The natural resources may be divided into four divisions, Minerals, Waters, Forests, and Soils. Each of these will be considered in order.