Home  »  Theodore Roosevelt: An Autobiography  »  VIII. The New York Governorship. Appendix A: Conservation

Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919). An Autobiography. 1913.

VIII. The New York Governorship. Appendix A: Conservation

As foreshadowing the course I later, as President, followed in this matter, I give extracts from one of my letters to the Commission, and from my second (and last) Annual Message. I spent the first months of my term in investigations to find out just what the situation was.

On November 28, 1899, I wrote to the Commission as follows:

“…I have had very many complaints before this as to the inefficiency of the game wardens and game protectors, the complaints usually taking the form that the men have been appointed and are retained without due regard to the duties to be performed. I do not wish a man to be retained or appointed who is not thoroughly fit to perform the duties of game protector. The Adirondacks are entitled to a peculiar share of the Commission’s attention, both from the standpoint of forestry, and from the less important, but still very important, standpoint of game and fish protection. The men who do duty as game protectors in the Adirondacks should, by preference, be appointed from the locality itself, and should in all cases be thorough woodsmen. The mere fact that a game protector has to hire a guide to pilot him through the woods is enough to show his unfitness for the position. I want as game protectors men of courage, resolution, and hardihood, who can handle the rifle, ax, and paddle; who can camp out in summer or winter; who can go on snow-shoes, if necessary; who can go through the woods by day or by night without regard to trails.

“I should like full information about all your employees, as to their capacities, as to the labor they perform, as to their distribution from and where they do their work.”

Many of the men hitherto appointed owed their positions principally to political preference. The changes I recommended were promptly made, and much to the good of the public service. In my Annual Message, in January, 1900, I said:

“Great progress has been made through the fish hatcheries in the propagation of valuable food and sporting fish. The laws for the protection of deer have resulted in their increase. Nevertheless, as railroads tend to encroach on the wilderness, the temptation to illegal hunting becomes greater, and the danger from forest fires increases. There is need of great improvement both in our laws and in their administration. The game wardens have been too few in number. More should be provided. None save fit men must be appointed; and their retention in office must depend purely upon the zeal, ability, and efficiency with which they perform their duties. The game wardens in the forests must be woodsmen; and they should have no outside business. In short, there should be a thorough reorganization of the work of the Commission. A careful study of the resources and condition of the forests on State land must be made. It is certainly not too much to expect that the State forests should be managed as efficiently as the forests on private lands in the same neighborhoods. And the measure of difference in efficiency of management must be the measure of condemnation or praise of the way the public forests have been managed.

“The subject of forest preservation is of the utmost importance to the State. The Adirondacks and Catskills should be great parks kept in perpetuity for the benefit and enjoyment of our people. Much has been done of late years towards their preservation, but very much remains to be done. The provisions of law in reference to sawmills and wood-pulp mills are defective and should be changed so as to prohibit dumping dye-stuff, sawdust, or tan-bark, in any amount whatsoever, into the streams. Reservoirs should be made, but not where they will tend to destroy large sections of the forest, and only after a careful and scientific study of the water resources of the region. The people of the forest regions are themselves growing more and more to realize the necessity of preserving both the trees and the game. A live deer in the woods will attract to the neighborhood ten times the money that could be obtained for the deer’s dead carcass. Timber theft on the State lands is, of course, a grave offense against the whole public.

“Hardy outdoor sports, like hunting, are in themselves of no small value to the National character and should be encouraged in every way. Men who go into the wilderness, indeed, men who take part in any field sports with horse or rifle, receive a benefit which can hardly be given by even the most vigorous athletic games.

“There is a further and more immediate and practical end in view. A primeval forest is a great sponge which absorbs and distills the rain water. And when it is destroyed the result is apt to be an alternation of flood and drought. Forest fires ultimately make the land a desert, and are a detriment to all that portion of the State tributary to the streams through the woods where they occur. Every effort should be made to minimize their destructive influence. We need to have our system of forestry gradually developed and conducted along scientific principles. When this has been done it will be possible to allow marketable lumber to be cut everywhere without damage to the forests—indeed, with positive advantage to them. But until lumbering is thus conducted, on strictly scientific principles no less than upon principles of the strictest honesty toward the State, we cannot afford to suffer it at all in the State forests. Unrestrained greed means the ruin of the great woods and the drying up of the sources of the rivers.

“Ultimately the administration of the State lands must be so centralized as to enable us definitely to place responsibility in respect to everything concerning them, and to demand the highest degree of trained intelligence in their use.

“The State should not permit within its limits factories to make bird skins or bird feathers into articles of ornament or wearing apparel. Ordinary birds, and especially song birds, should be rigidly protected. Game birds should never be shot to a greater extent than will offset the natural rate of increase.… Care should be taken not to encourage the use of cold storage or other market systems which are a benefit to no one but the wealthy epicure who can afford to pay a heavy price for luxuries. These systems tend to the destruction of the game, which would bear most severely upon the very men whose rapacity has been appealed to in order to secure its extermination.…”

I reorganized the Commission, putting Austin Wadsworth at its head.