ELDER BUSH ONCE HERALDED GOP’S CONSERVATION HERITAGE
By GEORGE DARROW, a former state senator in Montana
AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: Originally published in the summer 2004 issue of REP’s The Green Elephant newsletter
For the past thirty-six years, I have collected highlights of Montana’s economic and political history. These files began with an eight-year span I spent serving in the Montana Legislature as a Republican lawmaker from Billings, first in the House of Representatives and then in the Senate.
A few days ago, while reorganizing these papers, I came across a remarkable document.
What had been, when I first filed it, a straightforward declaration of ongoing public policy in which I participated on the state level, now—in a world of inverted perception—contained language that reverberated like a revolutionary volley.
It was dated September 18, 1989, issued by the Office of the White House Press Secretary, entitled: Remarks by the President at Centennial Celebration of the State of Montana.
Only after scanning several paragraphs did it really come home that it was an address delivered by then President George H. W. Bush (No. 41) from the steps of the Montana Capitol while celebrating our 1889 statehood.
A drop quote shouted from the top of the press release:
“One hundred years ago, Montana was a land where men sought the treasure that lay beneath the Earth. Today, it’s the land itself we treasure —a living legacy we must preserve and pass along.”
The entire address flowed in similar vein from beginning to end.
That President Bush asserted to Montanans in 1989:
“We can have a sound ecology and a strong economy and that is what I am committed to.”
Little did he realize that a simple, factual statement in a mainstream of political policy a mere [fifteen] years ago would be disavowed by the party in power by 2002.
The disregard of environmental protection now prevails as a political aberration.
A speech reflecting the mainflow of a Republican presidency, bringing congratulations to Montanans for “some of the most advanced environmental statutes in all of the fifty states” has now been transformed in my files into a relic of forgotten times.
These policies had followed in the footsteps of an earlier Republican president, Richard Nixon, who signed the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act.
Perhaps the conservation legacy linking Republican presidents could be said to have started with Ulysses S. Grant when he signed the act creating Yellowstone National Park in 1872.
Nearly 20 years later, Republican President Benjamin Harrison, on March 3, 1891, signed legislation allowing presidents to create Forest Reserves by proclamation.
Before that month was over, he had proclaimed the first Forest Reserve in Wyoming, a large tract adjoining Yellowstone National Park. These forest lands subsequently became the Shoshone National Forest.
Before his term was over, President Harrison had created eight additional Forest Reserves in Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon, California (3), Washington and Arizona.
Further, by proclamation, he prohibited the killing of sea otters and fur seals in the Territory of Alaska and its waters.
Teddy Roosevelt, another Republican president, enacted legislation creating the U.S. Forest Service, transferring administration from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture under Gifford Pinchot.
He subsequently added nearly 150 million acres of reserves by proclamation during the early years of the 20th Century.
Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, “Mr. Conservative” of the 1960s and the Republican presidential candidate in 1964, was a staunch conservationist.
All of this Republican legacy was transmitted to Montana, notably during the watershed 42nd Legislative Assembly of 1971, of which I was a member.
Then, a Republican House initiated environmental legislation that was passed with the concurrence of a Democrat majority in the Senate and a Democrat governor to sustain Montana’s environmental integrity for a quarter of a century.
It has now been blown away by the prevailing political winds. As we begin the 68th legislative session, the remarks by No. 41—spoken a mere [fifteen] years ago—remind us of how far Montana has fallen.