A Conservative Conservationist Looks at Roosevelt and Bush

By MARTHA MARKS, president of Republicans for Environmental Protection

AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: This op-ed was published in The Wilderness Society’s spring 2002 newsletter.


Theodore Roosevelt is a hero to every American who cares about our country’s natural heritage. So, my ears perked up when I heard that President Bush was inspired to emulate Roosevelt after reading Theodore Rex, the new history of Roosevelt’s presidency.

That was heartening news, but here’s the reality check… even my Republican eyes can see that President Bush has a long way to go before his conservation record can hold a candle to TR’s. Consider the following:

Roosevelt established national forests, parks, monuments and wildlife refuges to prevent special interests from squandering the nation’s natural bounty. Bush has appointed a stable of industry lobbyists to open up more of those lands to the same kind of special interests Roosevelt fought throughout his presidency.

Roosevelt established the first national wildlife refuge to stop poachers from destroying a public resource for private gain. Bush wants to open America’s largest national wildlife refuge so oil companies can compromise a public resource for private gain.

Roosevelt founded the Boone and Crockett Club, which successfully campaigned to protect Yellowstone from exploitation by railroad and mining interests. Bush wants to roll back protections against snowmobile pollution, catering to off-road vehicle interests.

I am a lifelong Republican and have served as an elected Republican officeholder in Illinois for 10 years. The GOP’s conservation tradition was one reason I became a Republican.

Over the past 20 years, however, the Republican Party seems to have lost its way on conservation. So, in 1995—at the height of Congress’ attacks on public lands and environmental standards—I teamed up with two other women to found Republicans for Environmental Protection, or more simply REP. Our goal is to restore the GOP’s conservation tradition. Our members believe that conservation is conservative: protecting our nation’s natural resources is consistent with true conservative principles of prudence and stewardship.

The Republican conservation tradition is down these days, but not out. Twice in the past year, REP members have appeared at Washington DC press conferences to speak up against industrializing the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Among them were a Roosevelt, a Rockefeller, and an Eisenhower – great GOP names all.

REP members have spoken up for protecting the last remaining roadless areas in our national forests. Our wild forests are natural capital that pays rich dividends in clean air and water, fish, and wildlife. We must protect our forest capital so it will continue paying dividends long into the future.

REP members have also spoken up for a conservative energy policy that fosters efficiency and diversification into clean energy from the sun, wind, and crops from the nation’s farms. We want to stop urban sprawl from ruining our communities and swallowing up the green landscapes that make our nation America the Beautiful.

REP is proud of congressional Republicans who stand up for conservation: Representatives Sherwood Boehlert, Chris Shays and Nancy Johnson; Senators Lincoln Chafee, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe; and others. They want to make environmental protection a genuinely bipartisan movement again. And so do we.

At this critical time, all Americans, regardless of party, need to challenge President Bush to build a conservation record worthy of Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy.