The Conservation Presidents You Don’t Know

Presidents Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt are well known for their contributions to land conservation in the U.S.  But the Department of Interior’s list of the top Presidents who shaped America’s public lands also contains a few surprises.  

Abraham Lincoln saved the union but he also set aside some of the most iconic lands we own as a country.  According to Interior Department historians, “he changed the course of America’s public lands when he signed a law setting aside the Mariposa Grove and Yosemite Valley as protected lands in 1864” setting a “significant precedent — places of scenic and natural importance should be protected for the enjoyment of all people.”

Ulysses S. Grant is not considered to have been an innovative President but he did make two significant innovations when it comes to public lands.  He was the first President to set aside public lands for the conservation of wildlife when he reserved the Pribilof Islands in Alaska as a reserve for the northern fur seal. Even more importantly, he signed the law that established Yellowstone as our nation’s first national park.

Jimmy Carter the first President from the deep south created in one fell swoop the largest public lands set aside in the state of Alaska.  In 1980, he set aside over 104 million acres of land in Alaska ensuring that much of the state would remain wild, creating 10 national parks and preserves, two national monuments, nine national wildlife refuges, two national conservation areas and 25 wild and scenic rivers.  This was the law that Congress overturned a portion of to allow oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Barack Obama will be known for the law that provided health care to millions of Americans, but he also has the distinction of being the President who set aside the largest amount of land and water for the public.  In all, he protected 265 million acres of land and water, including the expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument into the largest marine monument in the world including three new national monuments in the California Desert, and a large area of the ocean around far-flung islands in his native Hawaii.

Why This Matters:  Conservation is all-American and bi-partisan.  Not to mention, good for making a Presidency truly historic.

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