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August 18, 2009

Westward Ho!


Theodore Roosevelt in Yellowstone National Park during his presidential working Western vacation. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Read the entire excerpt of The Wilderness Warrior on VanityFair.com Excerpted from The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America

That same week [as Roosevelt’s designation of declaring Pelican Island a Federal Bird Reservation], Roosevelt was busy with last-minute plans for a working vacation that would include stops at Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and Yosemite. Calling it his “Western trek,” Roosevelt had mapped out a 66-day venture that to this day remains the longest, most elaborate cross-country journey ever taken by a sitting U.S. president. Desperate to sneak in some cougar (mountain lion) hunting around Yellowstone, Roosevelt was furiously corresponding with the park’s superintendent, Major John Pitcher, about obtaining a permit and arranging to have the proper hunting dogs available for him upon arrival. “I am still wholly at sea to whether I can take that trip or not,” Roosevelt wrote Pitcher. “[War] Secretary [Elihu] Root is afraid that a false impression might get out if I killed anything, even though it was killed … strictly under Park regulations and though it was only a mountain lion—that is, an animal of the kind you are endeavoring to thin out.”

Just to be safe, the president had Interior Secretary Ethan Hitchcock secretly smuggle three hunting dogs into Yellowstone from a Texas kennel. Roosevelt wrote Pitcher that if word leaked out to reporters that he was plotting 7 to 10 days of cougar shooting, the president would merely shelve the scheme and revert to studying “the game and going about on horseback, or if I get into trim, perhaps on snowshoes.” (As a backup, Roosevelt had the park’s game warden, Charles “Buffalo” Jones, round up even more dogs—two lots of cougar hounds from Aledo, Texas.)

Roosevelt wrote the famed naturalist John Burroughs that March to invite him to join him on the upcoming trip. Burroughs’s popular collections of homespun nature essays had sold millions of copies nationwide. But in the president’s letters he never once mentioned hunting in Yellowstone—even to say that his intention was to go after only cougars, which preyed upon the park’s elk herds. Instead, Roosevelt said he wanted to “see,” in liberal measure, the elk, deer, bears, and antelope. He ended his letter by promising he would make sure “that you endured neither fatigue or hardship.”

Roosevelt’s claim that he intended to kill cougars to help endangered elk had a ring of Good Samaritan to it. But this was a woefully naïve view of the predators’ role in the ecological order. The president knew all too well that cougars and coyotes weren’t a real problem in Yellowstone; he had just wanted to hunt them for fun. Furthermore, Roosevelt was right to be concerned about damaging his reputation by hunting anything in Yellowstone; Congress had begun to view his expensive hunting holidays with increasing disdain. And so, before he left on his sojourn, Roosevelt backpedaled and abandoned his hunting plans entirely. Pitcher would issue a stern statement declaring that the president’s gun, just like any citizen’s, would be sealed by the military when he entered the park. (Even so, as Burroughs would later write, “I did hear him say in the wilderness [of Yellowstone], ‘I feel as if I ought to keep the camp in meat. I always have.’ I regretted that he could not do so on this occasion.”)

What was becoming painfully obvious to the naturalist community was that the president had a bloodlust. For all of his promotion of egrets and pelicans and Kodiaks, Roosevelt preferred to kill big game. And the president never disputed the characterization, though he grew tired of constantly having to explain himself to animal-rights types. His inability to reconcile this penchant for the chase engendered among environmentalists a deep distrust toward him.

Quite simply, Roosevelt viewed all humans, with the exception of vegetarians, as active or passive agents in conservation because of their presence as predators—consumers of food. The hunter, at least, engaged the natural world directly through active culling and harvesting. Non-hunters, the president believed, risked damaging the circle of life because of their failure to recognize the genuine role humans played as a species. Hence, Roosevelt contended that ethical hunters were almost by default first-rate conservationists.

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July 19, 2009

July Photo of the Month

Bob Blanco, southern regional director for the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers and USA member, caught this 25-pound dolphin 40 miles east of Miami, Fla. Send photos of your outdoor adventures with a detailed caption to brianm@trcp.org. Whoever submits the winning picture will receive a navy blue T.R. Sesquicentennial Hat.

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July 18, 2009

Roosevelt’s Other Famous Hill

Theodore Roosevelt hiking with his family at Sagamore Hill. Photo courtesy of the U.S. National Park Service.

Hermann Hagedorn (1882-1964) was one of the most prolific biographers of Theodore Roosevelt. A friend of T.R., Hagedorn served as the first director of the Theodore Roosevelt Association. Among his books about the 26th president was The Roosevelt Family of Sagamore Hill, first published in 1954.

I first was given a copy of Hagedorn’s book by a TRCP supporter. It includes a quote that I’d read a number of times before, but never tire of. Roosevelt, excusing himself from a meeting with a visiting dignitary said, “I must ask you to excuse me. We’ll finish this talk some other time. I promised the boys I’d go shooting with them at four o’clock, and I never keep boys waiting. It’s a hard trial for a boy to wait.”

With a smile on my face, I reflected for a moment about myself as a boy and all the boys I’ve known, many now with gray hair, who still can’t be left waiting. While so many works about Roosevelt detail his early life or his political life, Hagedorn’s was the first I’d read that focused on his home life, his daily interactions with his wife and children and the extended Roosevelt clan, many of whom had homes on New York’s Long Island, near Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill.

Hagedorn brings to life the president’s wild races through the woods and mad dashes down steep embankments, with his children and their cousins in tow. He writes of T.R.’s long cross-country rides on horseback and of rowing boats for hours on Long Island Sound to secluded camping spots, where the president and the children would dig clams and he’d tell stories of big game hunting and Cuba around a campfire.

Reading the book you get a sense of the rhythm of a house overflowing with visitors accompanied by an endless series of activities: children putting on plays, shooting contests, afternoon hikes and more. I especially liked learning that T.R., always ready to play, often ignoring the rules of a game (tennis for instance) in order to make it more fun or available to everybody. When I finished the book, I liked Theodore and his wife Edith a great deal more. They seemed more human and easier to relate to than they’d been previously.

Used copies of Hagedorn’s book are available through Amazon and a number of other booksellers for as little as $3, although a collectible copy in perfect condition can cost $100 or more. Either option is worth the read.

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July 14, 2009

Mike “Animal” Bailey

Mike Bailey (left) holding a Fletcher's Cove striper with the late Jim Range, co-founder and former board chairman of the TRCP.

Mike Bailey started fishing in the late 1960s in farm ponds and swamps in southeast Georgia. “As I aged (mature doesn’t seem like the right word for me) my passion for fishing grew with my ability to pursue larger quarry,” says Bailey.

Settling in the Washington, D.C., area, Bailey began fishing the Potomac River for smallmouth until discovering what he calls “the best-kept secret in Washington, D.C.,” Fletcher’s Cove, a small boat launch on the Potomac River. At Fletcher’s, Bailey was introduced to the shad and striped bass that run up the river.

In the 1980s, Bailey met Jim Range, a fellow member of the unofficial anglers’ club at Fletchers, who helped him define and understand the importance of conservation. “Through his work and as one of his many fishing buddies, Jim shared his thoughts on the importance of preserving the outdoor resources we enjoyed together,” says Bailey.

Bailey continues to support D.C.-area conservation efforts, helping form the Congressional Casting Call with Range to expose law makers to natural resources available in their own backyard.

“Having spent many hours with Jim in the confines of a rowboat, car, greenhouse and kitchen, I was exposed to many of his thoughts, ideas and dreams,” says Bailey. “One of them was the formation of the TRCP.” As a small business owner, Bailey helped Jim explore operational infrastructures for small groups, which would help lead to the formation of the TRCP.

“Jim has goals that I’m hopeful the TRCP will be able to achieve on his behalf,” says Bailey. “As the organization realigns itself, I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to participate in helping the TRCP make all of Ranger’s dreams come true.”

Click here to contribute to the Jim Range Conservation Fund

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June 14, 2009

John Gale

Q: How did you get into hunting and fishing?

A: As soon as I could hold a rod and gun, my parents and grandparents had me fishing and shooting all over Idaho’s wild country, where I grew up as a sixth-generation native. When I was of legal age to hunt, I never missed one year of elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunting. I knew I had “come of age” as a hunter when my father started pulling me out of school for a whole week to go elk hunting every year. I’ll always remember that first year and that first elk. (I’ll also vividly remember missing a large mule deer buck that first year at elk camp … win some, lose some.)

Q: Why is conservation important to you?

A: From an early age, my family, and my father in particular, instilled in me a conservation ethic to treat the land, wildlife, and natural resources with great respect. He showed me what it means to be a responsible steward of the rich public lands we’re borrowing from future generations and the wildlife that inhabit those landscapes.

Q: What do you think is the most important conservation issue facing sportsmen today?

A: This is a challenging question but I’d say in general it’s the loss of quality habitat. There are a tremendous amount of contributing factors here, but to name a few: public lands management policies that have rejected the multiple-use philosophy in favor of one use at the expense and exclusion of others through irresponsible energy development, antiquated mining laws from 1872, etc.; invasive species; climate change and the resulting loss or migration of flora and fauna to higher elevations and latitudes; migratory corridor fragmentation from poorly planned infrastructure building and the loss of access over time sparks an interesting and at times, lively debate about indirect impacts to wildlife and habitat.

In a recent survey conducted by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, access surpassed gun rights as the primary concern of sportsmen for the first time ever in history. Loss of access isn’t always about private lands; if you can’t hunt or fish in a place anymore because we’ve done a bad job of balancing our use of natural resources, that is, in essence, access lost.

Q: How do you, personally, hope to address this issue?

A: Its not an easy issue to address, but working together with strong conservation organizations like the NWF, TRCP, TU and others, we can effect change at the policy level administratively and legislatively by joining forces and empowering our grassroots to advocate and speak loudly. Whether you’re the Idaho Wildlife Federation fighting for bighorn sheep or a chapter of Trout Unlimited working on local watersheds, the cumulative impacts are bold, and decision makers are listening to us.

Q: How do you hope to work with the TRCP in the future?

A: I’ll always be ready to help and support my friends and colleagues at TRCP as we work together to grow bigger, stronger and more prepared to face the challenges of wildlife conservation. I’m currently working with [TRCP Associate Director of Campaigns] Joel Webster and many of our professional colleagues in the conservation community to ensure that America’s wild roadless areas maintain their integrity and continue to be the best places to hunt and fish in the world. We’re working with decision makers, federal and state land and wildlife management agencies, and reaching out to other stakeholders in a moderate, balanced approach that fosters the development of responsible solutions to threats on our roadless public lands. In the end it’s about healthy habitat, abundant wildlife and inspiring future generations to be the stewards of tomorrow.

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