Thursday, March 26, 2009

TR the conservationist president

I just finished reading Edmund Morris's The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. I highly recommend it if you haven't read it yet. I didn't realize that Roosevelt was in Vermont attending a luncheon of the Vermont Fish and Game League on Isle La Motte when president McKinley was shot on Sept 6, 1901. Better known is Roosevelt was on Mt Marcy in the Adirondacks when McKinley died and he became president.
I found the following write up on the Sagamore Hill National Historic site web page that contains an interesting view on Roosevelt's role as a conservationist and how hunting and trophy hunting was compatable with his leadership in this role. Click on the Handbook for Leaders button for more interesting information
More at

Conservation, Preservation, Taxidermy, Hunting Trophies,
(Dead Animal Parts on display in Sagamore Hill)

TR is often held up as the first conservation president, and indeed his record of conservation and preservation is
almost unmatched. But, how does one explain all the taxidermy on display in his house? It is one of the paradoxes
about this complicated man that needs examination and explanation in order to come to an understanding.

First of all, it is a general rule of examining history, that we cannot use the standards of today to judge the stan-
dards of another time. Today we think of preservation and conservation in very rigid terms. The only thought of
going on a safari in Africa today would be to collect photographs and film footage, but TR was hired by the Smith-
sonian and the American Museum of Natural History to collect samples for display in these museums. In TR's
youth and even during his presidency there was a general feeling that the natural resources were almost inexhausti-

During TR's youth, there was a huge wave of exploration and investigation of uncharted lands and the emphasis
was on identification and documentation (maps, charts, etc.) and, by extension, the species of flora and fauna that
lived there. The motivation of documentation required the collection of the life forms, so samples were taken for
later classification. Plant samples were collected, pressed and dried, and animal species were killed and preserved
in various ways for later cataloging and documentation.

TR had come from a well-to-do family who lived in bustling Manhattan. The earliest mention of his fascination
of wildlife forms was after he visited a market where a dead seal (yes, seals used to live in the waters surrounding
New York City) was displayed. The sight of this dead seal prompted a life-long curiosity, fascination with and
study of natural history fauna life forms. Indeed he began collecting specimens as a youth which he displayed in a
closet in his boyhood home and called the "Roosevelt Museum." We are not sure if this coincided with his father's
founding of the American Museum of Natural History.

But TR, a sickly child troubled by asthma, who often suffered greatly as a result of its effects, was granted two
rather unusual wishes as a youth: Boxing lessons (as a form of exercise suggested by his father to help build up his
strength); and taxidermy lessons. TR began his collection, classification and display of taxidermy samples early in
his life, and this collection continued throughout his life. Many of these (75 objects) are displayed at Sagamore
Hill in various forms: Rugs, trophy mounts, three are fashioned into decorative or "useful" objects (elephant tusks,
an elephant foot as waste receptacle and rhino foot as an ink well).

In addition it was very much the fashion to display and decorate with animal trophies. The curiosity that drove the
exploration of strange lands was tangibly shown by using these trophies as decorative objects, and they were very
much status symbols. In the same way we join certain organization or clubs, drive particular makes and models of
cars, and wear certain shoes or garments, these items were a way of stating to all a certain status level.

For further thought:

What are the status symbols of today, --what watches, shoes, jackets, cars or trips to far-off lands do we regard as
marks of status?

How about collections?

Does anyone collect sea shells? Do people realize that a shell is actually a dead animal part, that the shell was the
outer protective covering of an animal.?

Note: Shells are a good way to bring collecting animal trophies into discussion. There are few people that have
the same reaction to a shell collection as to animal trophies, yet for all of them the animal had to die to permit dis-
play of the item, whether head, skin antlers or shell. While shells may be collected at the shore where the animals
presumably have died of natural causes, most serious collections result from collecting the live animal, so that the
shell or shells are pristine and not buffed by the waves.

But how about leather shoes? How about fur coats? Animals die for these common items in our life today.

Conservation and preservation and TR

TR is often regarded as the first "conservation president" because he saw and began actions to conserve natural
resources and preserve sites of archaeological significance, particularly in the Southwest.

Conservation is the term usually used for the act of preserving and saving natural resources, (forests, wildlife-
preserves, lands, etc.). America had gone through a period of growth and development during which the use of
these natural reserves, originally seen as inexhaustible, began to become depleted. The move to limit this usage
and development was not at all popular because merchant developers saw this activity as a limitation of their in-
come-producing ability. Forestry and logging for example, especially in the Northwest, threatened the destruction
of the vast reserves of trees that had taken centuries to develop. The naturalists John Muir and Gifford Pinchot,
though their individual goals differed considerably, were among those who encouraged Roosevelt to develop his
conservation ethic as they saw these reserves being depleted. In addition to the conservation efforts of TR¸ the
development of the science of forestry by Pinchot (who endowed a Chair at Yale), and the establishment the Sierra
Club, (Muir) and the Boone and Crockett Club were direct outgrowths of this conservation effort.

Further investigation:
Those wishing to investigate this area further may wish to look up the following items: Gifford Pinchot; US For-
estry Service; John Muir; Sierra Club; Boone and Crockett Club


  1. From the history of the VT Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs:

    First organized and incorporated in April 1875, under the "Association for the Protection of Fish and Game," this organization promptly took action.

    In 1875 Adirondack whitetail deer were live-trapped and shipped in railroad box cars for release in Rutland County. At this time over 100 years ago, the whitetail deer was nearly extinct in Vermont. Soon after the name changed to "Vermont Fish and Game League." In the decades from 1878 to 1920 the Vermont Fish and Game League through the political process, working with the Vermont Legislature, created what is now called the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. With that came hunting, fishing and trapping regulations, license fees, (a form of taxation), for financial support to pay game wardens, fish stocking programs, game stocking and with 50,000 farms then in operation in Vermont-- deer damage to crops!

    The activities of the Vermont Fish and Game League encouraged the formation of the local "Fish and Game and Rod and Gun" clubs. This is the origin of around a dozen present day Fish and Game clubs. Club membership cards dating from the 1920's are on file. In the 1950's, the Vermont Fish and Game League was incorporated with the secretary of the State under the present name, "The Vermont Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, Inc."

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