In the early twentieth century, President Theodore Roosevelt was a dynamic force in a relatively new movement known as conservationism. During his presidency, Roosevelt made conservation a major part of his administration. As the new century began, the frontier was disappearing. Once common animals were now threatened. Many Americans, including Roosevelt, saw a need to preserve the nation's natural resources. He wanted to protect animals and land from businesses that he saw as a threat. Roosevelt said, "the rights of the public to the natural resources outweigh private rights, and must be given its first consideration." By the end of his time as president, he had created five national parks, four game refuges, fifty-one national bird reservations as well as the National Forest Service. It could be said that Theodore Roosevelt, through laws, executive orders, and his strong personality, opened the nation's eyes to the natural wonders of the land. Roosevelt had changed the attitude of America. As we begin the twenty-first century, conservation is once again an issue that the United States faces.
- Students will gain a better understanding of Theodore Roosevelt's presidency
- Students will be able to explain and evaluate the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt as it relates to conservation
- Students will understand the reasons behind the conservation movement in the first part of the twentieth century
Have the following written on the chalk board, on a screen or on a handout. These quotes could be used as a springboard for discussion. The students also could be asked to react to them in writing. Do they agree or disagree with the statement? They could explain through discussion or in writing.
- "Conservation is the state of harmony between man and land" - Aldo Leopold (an early twentieth-century American ecologist, forester and environmentalist)
- "There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country." - President Theodore Roosevelt
- "The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem it will avail us little to solve all others." - President Theodore Roosevelt
- "The movement for the conservation of wild life and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method." - President Theodore Roosevelt
This will be the introduction to the discussion and activities on Theodore Roosevelt, his achievements in conservation and the current state of conservation in America. Before assigning Activities 1 and 2, it might be helpful to ask the class the Pre-Activities questions. This may take a few minutes or an entire class period. Then assign Activity 1 and Activity 2 (some teachers may not want to assign Activity 2 until Activity 1 is complete). As a wrap-up and part of the processing, ask the students the Post-Activity Discussion Questions.
Pre-Activities Discussion Questions
These questions are designed to stimulate interest in Theodore Roosevelt as well as the conservation movement. If the class cannot answer some of the questions, the teacher may give the students the answer or require the answers to be found. Some teachers may want the students to put the answers in the video project:
- What do you know about Theodore Roosevelt?
- What does it mean to conserve?
- What does it mean to reclaim something?
- What does the word "green" mean in the context of conservation and politics today?
- What grade would you give our nation on the conservation of natural resources?
- About how many national parks are in the US today? (Fifty-eight national parks)
- What do you think a national forest /grassland is?
- About how many are national forests and grasslands are there in America? (fifteen national forests and twenty national grasslands)
- What does are government do to protect threatened animals, birds and fish?
- Can you think of wildlife that our government has had to protect?
- What does Theodore Roosevelt have to do with or natural resources in America?
Post-Activities Discussion Questions
- What are some concrete/tangible things (laws, executive orders) that Teddy Roosevelt did to conserve America's natural resources?
- Why is Theodore Roosevelt one of the faces on Mount Rushmore in South Dakota?
- What did Teddy Roosevelt "reclaim" during his time as President through his Reclamation Projects?
- Does modern man need wilderness?
- Was Theodore Roosevelt the nation's first "green" president?
- Do you agree that national parks bind us together as a nation?
- Will there ever be an end to conservation in the United States?
- What is one word that Theodore Roosevelt would use to describe the current state of conservation in America?
- Do you agree with the following statement: "The national park idea is the finest contribution of the United States to world culture" -George Herzog.
- If Teddy Roosevelt were alive today, to what political party would he belong?
Activity One: A Video Documentary/Multi-Media Product on President Theodore Roosevelt and Conservation
The students will work with a partner(s) to create an 8-10 minute documentary on the contributions to conservation by President Teddy Roosevelt. Computers with movie making software (I-movie) are needed. It should be noted that PowerPoint or other programs can be substituted. The timeframe for this project is 5-8 days depending on the amount of class time set aside and the amount of research done at home.
Suggested timetable for the project:
- Days one through three (1-3) could be used for research, planning, and fact gathering
- Days four through eight (4-8) could be used for video production and editing
The students should be asked to answer some basic questions in their video. A few suggested topics/questions that should be addressed are:
- Who was Theodore Roosevelt? (basic biography)
- What are the reasons why Roosevelt became a conservationist?
- What are some things that Roosevelt did that had never been done before in the area of conservation?
- What is Theodore Roosevelt's conservation legacy?
The remaining guidelines for the documentary are as follows:
- The movie/multimedia product should have twenty-five facts dealing with President Theodore Roosevelt and his conservation efforts.
- The students should include twelve images and five sound files (if using PowerPoint or other media software). This might include modern day music, music from Theodore Roosevelt's era, recordings of speeches or other related sounds.
- The students must have at least four primary sources in the actual documentary. An example of this might be the students reading a TR speech into the presentation or a digital version/ scanned copy of a law or photo on the screen of the movie/presentation.
- The last two minutes of the documentary should focus on the current state of conservation on the part of the government of the United States. Students should explore various government agencies (Department of Interior, EPA, Department of Agriculture) and the agency's responsibilities. This piece of the product may contain the required items (images, sound, primary sources).
- The product must also include a list of references (bibliography). The individual teacher may decide in what format and the amount of references.
- The students will share their Roosevelt/Conservation products with the rest of the class. This may be given a grade if desired.
Activity Two: Theodore Roosevelt/Conservation Theme Word Writing Connection
This activity requires the students to work alone and to process much of what they have learned from class discussion and Activity #1. It may be helpful for students to take notes as the class discusses the speech. It could be helpful for the writing assignment.
Each student should be given a copy of Teddy Roosevelt's "Citizenship in the Republic" speech (linked above).
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
-Theodore Roosevelt, Paris, France, April 23, 1910
The class should read this together and discuss. Students can be asked what imagery is used and what emotions are stirred within them. What does this speech show the students about the character of Teddy Roosevelt? How does this speech relate to conservation?
Give each student a "theme word." The theme words are listed below. Once students have their words, they must make a written connection between their words and Theodore Roosevelt and conservation. The students will need to take their theme word and explain how their word applies or does not apply to Theodore Roosevelt and conservation. Students should include historical facts as well as their own views. This written connection can be in one to three paragraphs. It might be helpful to give a few examples of a connection with a theme word to the excerpt from the Roosevelt speech above. It is also helpful to allow the students to use the opposite of their theme word in the writing.
A few sample thoughts relating the theme word "fear" to the Roosevelt and conservation:
- Who feared what during the Roosevelt years?
- Do you think Theodore Roosevelt was afraid of anyone or anything?
- What would conservationists fear then and today?
- Who would fear conservation then and now?
Students must then make a connection between their theme word and the current agencies and policies of the United States government. This written connection can be one to two paragraphs in length.
Useful Websites (including Governmental, Historical/Primary Sources)
As a boy, Theodore Roosevelt wanted to be a naturalist, a scientist who revels in and examines nature. As an adult, the president never forgot his childhood dream, and preserved vast regions of the U.S. for future generations of Americans.
As a young man in the Dakota Territory, Roosevelt saw firsthand how human activities could harm the environment. Completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869 had pushed civilization westward, and rail lines and the towns that build up around them cut gashes through the pristine grazing lands of the buffalo or bison. Buffalo were being killed on a vast scale for their highly valued hides, and the trains made it easy to transport the hides to market. In just two decades, the great bison that once had thundered across the plains were driven nearly to extinction, with just small bands roaming in areas where great herds used to darken the prairie as far as the eye could see. By the time Roosevelt wrote about them in 1893, fewer than 500 wild buffalo existed, and no herd of more than 100 had been seen since 1884.
Roosevelt, an avid adventurer and lover of nature, dedicated himself to protecting both wildlife and natural resources. He recognized that without dramatic action, the rich natural resources and incomparable landscapes of our country would disappear as quickly as the buffalo, leaving future generations without a legacy of natural splendors. As president, Roosevelt provided federal protection for almost 230 million acres of land, an area equivalent to the entire Eastern Seaboard from Maine to Florida. He sat aside 150 national forests, the first 51 federal bird reservations, five national parks, the first 18 national monuments, the first four national game preserves and the first 24 reclamation, or federal irrigation, projects, designations that were bitterly opposed by commercial interests. Roosevelt also appointed as the first Chief of the U.S. Forest Service the visionary Gifford Pinchot, who shared his philosophy of natural resource conservation through sustainable use, and he convened four study commissions on conservation for policymakers and leading authorities to shape thought about the then-new field of conservation.
These comments by Roosevelt, delivered on May 13, 1908 at the Conference on the Conservation of Natural Resources, reflected his visionary thinking about the need to preserve the natural world around us: “We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources and we have just reason to be proud of our growth. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have been still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields, and obstructing navigation. These questions do not relate only to the next century or to the next generation. It is time for us now as a nation to exercise the same reasonable foresight in dealing with our great natural resources that would be shown by any prudent man in conserving and widely using the property which contains the assurance of well-being for himself and his children.”