A Major Milestone in REP’s History: November 1999

REP held the first of its regional Republican Environmental Summits.

Theodore Roosevelt IV addresses REP's dinner guests in Orlando.

Theodore Roosevelt IV delivers his “The Legacy of Pelican Island” address to REP’s dinner guests in Orlando. (photo © Martha Marks)

Early in 1999, REP set a high goal for itself by the end of the year: to host the first-ever Republican Environmental Summit. The event finally came off in November in Orlando, Florida, with a good group of participants that included distinguished GOP conservationists and environmentalists from Florida and elsewhere. Attendees included Jim Ridenour, former director of the National Park Service under President G. W. Bush; Allison DeFoor, who served as “Everglades Czar” under Governor Jeb Bush; and John Whitescarver, founder of the National Stormwater Center.

Our special guest was Theodore Roosevelt IV‚ who is as much a conservation champion as his legendary great-grandfather. He participated in the day’s discussions, delivered the keynote speech (below), and enjoyed the next day’s field trip to Pelican Island, which was the first place that President Theodore Roosevelt designated as a national wildlife refuge. Photos from that weekend are available here: REP’S HISTORY, PART 1.

With Mr. Roosevelt’s permission, the complete text of his speech, “The Legacy of Pelican Island,” was subsequently published in the Spring 2000 issue of The Green Elephant. We are proud to make it available again here.

You can also read a different speech, “Republicans and the Environment,” which Mr. Roosevelt graciously allowed REP to publish as the lead feature in the summer 1997 issue of The Green Elephant.

The Legacy of Pelican Island

By Theodore Roosevelt IV


I would like to consider the environment and Republican Party politics tonight from three reference points: time as a determinant of value; place as a locus of value; and politics as an expression of value. Our values, the values of the American people.

For the orderly among you, I would like to say that my talk is neatly divided among those three topics: time, place, and politics. But thoughts, like life and nature, are most interesting when they escape the order that we would impose upon them. So, like it or not, you will be joining me tonight on a bit of a ramble.

In fact, that was one of President Theodore Roosevelt’s favorite ploys: he would invite the opposition to come and take a walk with him. It was an excellent tactic. He walked at such a furious pace the opposition ended up too out of breath to continue–the walk or the argument, didn’t much matter. So, you see, there’s always something to be grateful for: I am just one of Theodore Roosevelt’s many descendents, and this is just a metaphoric ramble.

Since two of my reference points for this talk are time and place, I think that we should begin by looking back to a particularly wonderful place in Florida at a particularly difficult time in its history.

The job requirements for one of our earliest conservationists were simple: Must have own gun and own boat. The initial salary for the position was a whopping $1 per month and, though a federal employee, the first Fish and Wildlife Service refuge manager was paid by a non-profit organization, the Audubon Society.

I am speaking, of course, of Paul Kroegel and Pelican Island, just north of us, near Vero Beach. I will visit Pelican Island tomorrow and meet Paul’s grandson, and I can tell you that I am looking forward to it with enormous pleasure.

The Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge was the result of an odd confluence of characters and events. 

On the one hand, there were… feathers and an appalling appetite to bedeck ladies’ hats with them. 

On the other hand, there was… a ten- gauge double-barrel shotgun. And the resolution of one man, Paul Kroegel, that the pelicans on one little spit of land should have a chance. It was their only remaining breeding site on Florida’s Atlantic coast.

And, in the White House, there was a president who was no stranger to shotguns and determination.

When asked to intercede on behalf of this 3-acre dollop of muddy flatland, President Theodore Roosevelt essentially asked: “Can anyone stop me?”

And so was established the first of 51 national bird sanctuaries and the beginning of our nation’s Wildlife Refuge system, described as “the world’s largest assemblage of lands devoted to the benefit of wildlife.” Think about it. Who could have guessed so much would spring from so little? And, when those of your acquaintance might suggest that one person can’t make a difference, remember Paul Kroegel and his determination to save one very humble place in his backyard.

Yet, today, the Pelican Island rookery is in danger again. This time it is threatened by development in land adjacent to the rookery. The Refuge desperately needs to purchase this land. And, just as before, the consequences are greater than one might expect, and the story of this 3-acre island has implications for all of us.

But before we go even one step further in this ramble, I would like to stop to acknowledge a current-day Paul Kroegel, without whose efforts we would not be here tonight. Without whose efforts, I suspect, many Republican environmentalists might have left the party. While I have a hard time imagining Martha Marks expressing her determination with a shotgun, the Republican Party owes a debt of great gratitude to this quietly indomitable woman.

As most of you know, Martha is the co-founder and guiding light of Republicans for Environmental Protection. They are doing a phenomenal job—and, like good Republicans, on a shoe-string budget—of giving the environmentally concerned among us a forum for our voices and a way to stave off total disenfranchisement for our party. They are doing an absolutely fabulous job of alerting the Republican Party to the dangers of continuing to give precedence to its anti-environmental voices.

In fact, I would like to take a moment here to read some excerpts from the letters that our fellow Republicans send to REP’s newsletter. These are the voices that count, the voices that we all must insist our representatives honor, for they are the will and the wisdom of the American people.

Our fellow Republicans write:

“The constant stream of anti-environmental actions and policies which come from western Republicans is sickening to me. I have changed my voter registration to Democrat.”

They write:

“I agree more and more with the philosophy of conservatism, but remain flabbergasted at the Republican failure to see how environmentalism is a natural outgrowth of the clear-thinking, independent philosophy they espouse.”

They write:

“As a lifelong environmentalist and Republican, it has become harder and harder for me to wear both hats. Conservation and conservatism are logical partners, yet a large group in our party is hostile to anything environmental. REP will become an extremely important segment of the party if in fact the party wishes to continue as a majority in Congress. Otherwise, for many of us the choice would be environmental policy over party.”

They write:

“I am fiscally and socially conservative, but we need to respect the place in which we dwell. You can call me a tree hugger, but if that tree supplies the oxygen so that I may live, then, I’m holding on with both hands.”

Well, I think that I hardly need to give a speech now. Our Republican compatriots have said it all. Wouldn’t you all be surprised if I actually did end here? After 5 minutes at the podium. No such luck! I think it’s a genetic failing, but Roosevelts just hate to part with a bully pulpit once we take possession. And, after all, we are here tonight to bolster one another and help consolidate our forces.

So, back to the subject of time. In a recent interview in Audubon magazine, E. O. Wilson said:

“The world environment is changing so fast that there is a window of opportunity for action which will close in as little time as the next two to three decades.”

Twenty years. Twenty more years. Let’s see what kinds of changes those years can bring by looking once again at place as a locus of value: the center- piece, our hearths, our homes.

What is being lost in Florida is what this state looked like just twenty years ago. Here’s how one writer described it:

“Miles of white sandy beaches lined with mangroves, pine trees and hammocks; open forestlands, clear rivers and streams, pristine lakes in which to fish and swim; sea turtles nesting on beaches, manatees swimming in estuaries and bays; Florida panthers, bald eagles, and red-cockaded woodpeckers, all common sights.”

I don’t know about you, but that is the Florida of my imaginings, and that is a Florida mostly gone, its remnants on the verge of disappearing completely.

There are many modern-day renditions of the Pelican Island story. Back in my neck of the woods, in New York, a non-profit group that fights to protect open space in poor neighborhoods secured grant money to restore a Staten Island park and wetland. The park was nothing more than a dumping ground for stolen cars. Last week, the New York Times reported a sight in that park that was, in their words “unimaginable” a few years ago: “a great blue heron with a fish in its bill gliding above ranks of tufted grass.”

The defenders of this park are struggling to keep it preserved, to keep it whole, but they cannot do it alone. And, needless to say, public sector funding is not forthcoming.

One of the park’s defenders said:

“This is a good example of where the public partner is missing from the public-private partnership.”

They are waiting for their public partner.

Florida abounds in similar grassroots efforts. Recently, I was contacted by the Council of Civic Associations, which is working to save a corridor of wildlands in Southwest Florida. It is a notable area for many reasons: it is growing faster than any in the U.S. (as fast, they tell me, as areas of India); it has one of our highest concentrations of endangered and threatened species; and, its defenders feel that it is an area, like so many others in our country, that is being largely overlooked. Nearly 100,000 acres of native habitats and rangeland have been converted in the last 10 years.

This Association in Southwest Florida, like so many others, is undertaking a herculean labor in trying to save its last wild places. They are facing the usual array of opposing forces. Staunchly, they counter shabby economics with sound economics. Staunchly, they counter short-sighted politics with a long-term vision for their entire community.

Pelican Island, a Staten Island park, Southwest Florida… all of these places are waiting. They are waiting for our Republican-led Congress to restore full funding to a thirty-year-old bill, the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The LWCF is just one bill. Yet, just as Pelican Island depended on one man, Paul Kroegel, many of our communities are pinning their hopes on this one bill.

As most of you know, it was the bipartisan intention of the Congress that created the Land and Water Conservation Fund–thirty years ago–to re-deploy revenues from off shore drilling leases toward the purchase of lands for recreational and conservation purposes. But for more than a decade, Congress has managed to spend those funds on what I call their preferred landscape… elsewhere. As we wait for Congress to honor the intentions of its predecessors, critical pieces of land and opportunities to purchase them are lost.

Fortunately for all of us, one critical resource is not being lost: the sheer grit and clear vision of the American people. Their determination to save these places does not waiver. In 1998, of 148 state and local open space measures on the ballot, 124 were approved. That’s a resounding 84% approval rating. According to Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster, 88% of Americans worry that many of our country’s special places will be lost, and 89% believe in using a conservation trust to protect wildlife and habitat. Over and over again, the American people are recognizing the value of wildlands to their communities.

And, this brings me, in our ramble, to the topic of economics–that big bugaboo for the Republican Party where the environment is concerned. Most of the so-called economics that they use to defend anti-environmental riders and the like amount to just about that–one big bugaboo.

In the late fifties, when the development bulldozers threatened Pelican Island, that industry proclaimed: “Are we for pelicans or for progress?” Despite the fact that the local people turned out to be for pelicans, in the intervening years it hasn’t seemed to hurt progress very much. Many in our party today still rally around similar scare tactics that are not only ungrounded and bad economics, they actually threaten continued progress.

Let’s consider just one resource, an unlikely one. Not a stable climate, not drinkable water, not arable land. All of those are extremely critical resources, and all of those are at risk from escalating population growth and rampant deforestation. But I don’t want to consider anything grand. I want to look at something small, something that we take for granted, something we regard as decorative. Since we began with birds, much like the environmental movement itself, it is fitting, I think, to continue in that vein.

So… let’s consider warblers.

What is the value of a warbler? 

According to one naturalist, we could put a first class stamp on one and mail it anywhere in the United States. Which might not be a bad idea, given the incredibly arduous migrations undertaken by these birds each year. Let me read how Peter Dunne describes their epic flights across the Gulf of Mexico.

“Flight weight 16 grams. Three to four are fuel. Each gram good for 200-250 kilometers flying at peak efficiency, and they fly at peak efficiency. They must. The closest land is 860 kilometers, and most will fly farther than that—1000 kilometers at least.

“The fat larded beneath the skin is burned first. The birds grow slimmer, leaner, more aerodynamic as they fly. When the subcutaneous layers are gone, they use their reserves—the fatty deposits around internal organs.

“ When the reserves are spent, the birds have one final recourse. They burn protein, the muscles that keep them aloft. One way or another, when the engine starts consuming itself, the flight is almost over.”

—the quotation comes from Peter Dunne’s book, The Feather Quest, New York: Dutton, 1992, pp. 95-96.

So, what is this resource worth? At a minimum: $5.2 billion annually.

Five point two billion dollars is what our warblers represent each year in goods and services spent by birders, much of it in local communities. And that is only one measurement of their value. And that $5.2 billion is a small portion of the total spent on wildlife viewing, hunting, and other recreational activities on our public lands. What are some of the other values of warblers besides an appeal to birders? The value of avian predators to the timber industry in controlling just one insect—the spruce budworm—is comparable to using chemical insecticides that cost $4,700 per square mile treated.

Warblers (along with their buddies, bats, frogs, and other birds) provide approximately $17 billion per year in free biological pest control for agriculture, which includes the timber industry. The free pest control that they provide cannot be replaced, long-term, with chemicals. Chemicals lose their efficacy over time; whereas, species that co-evolved with pests maintain their effectiveness over time. In economic terms, they provide constant returns to scale.

Now, keep in mind, I am only considering pest control here; I am not looking at pollination or other ecosystem services that these species provide.

Many warblers today are threatened or endangered. Most require old growth and large areas of undisturbed forest for survival. Only 5% of timber harvested from national forests comes from roadless areas, which are now acting as species reservoirs. The environmental community wants more and healthier forests. The only way that the timber industry will continue to thrive is if our environment and our forests continue to thrive. And, yet, we cannot find common ground between timber interests and environmentalists?

Here’s what an economist in the Wall Street Journal recently said about changes in the financial scene:

“The dinosaurs of the old economy still make decisions that systematically destroy their strategic assets in the interests of short-term profit.”

Or let me put it another way: “One way or another, when the engine starts consuming itself, the flight is almost over.”

And what applies to an industry, also applies to our nation.

Here’s what President Theodore Roosevelt said at the first governor’s council ever convened at the White House, back in 1908:

“It is safe to say that the prosperity of our people depends directly on the energy and intelligence with which our natural resources are used. It is equally clear that these resources are the final basis of national power and perpetuity. It is ominously evident that these resources are in the course of rapid exhaustion.”

Today, one of our foremost experts on international security, Thomas Homer Dixon, argues that resource loss tied to an escalating global population will be the key destabilizing factor in future global security. Water—not oil—is widely viewed as the next century’s trigger resource.

Thomas Homer Dixon writes:

“As the human population grows and environmental damage progresses, policymakers will have less and less capacity to intervene to keep this damage from producing serious social disruption, including conflict. We need to bring nature back in. We have to stop separating politics from the physical world —the climate, public health, the environment.”

President Clinton tells us that there is no conflict between economic growth and environmental protection. Economists worldwide amply document this. I would go further, and I hope that the Republican Party will go further. I argue that environmental health is the bedrock of economic health and national strength.

Throughout history, a nation’s strength has been viewed as dependent on a strong military and a strong economy. We learned well the languages of wealth and power. As we enter the next millennium, recognizing that the environment is the third leg of national strength, we find that we must learn new languages: new methods of valuing, new time scales, new strategies, a new, expanded sense of community.

I believe that the Republican Party has a special duty to honor its past leadership and recognize the axis along which science, economics, foreign policy, public health and the environment are aligned. I believe the Republican Party has a special ability to make that axis discernible and palatable to a wide community of interests.

Recently, I presented an environmental award to the late Senator John Chafee. I quoted a newspaper article that described Senator Chafee’s brand of Progressive Republican this way:

“a capacity for civility, a tendency toward the practical (‘getting things done’ as the Senator himself puts it), an interest in innovation and reform, and a gift for spotting the flaws in the thinking of both parties. It makes you hope that John Chafee’s Republican generation will not be the last of its kind.”

I couldn’t agree more.

I hope that the Republicans in this room tonight are as discerning and as resolute as our first Fish and Wildlife refuge manager, Paul Kroegel. I hope that the Republican Party will help us to reach out to every American, because without every American this won’t get done. With every American, as we proved in both of our World Wars, we can beat even the greatest odds. With every American, in those twenty remaining years that E. O. Wilson allots to humanity, we can expect nothing less than an environmental renaissance!

Theodore Roosevelt IV delivered this keynote speech at REP’s Republican Environmental Summit, held in Orlando on November 9, 1999.

REP is grateful to Mr. Roosevelt for gracing our event with his presence and his thoughtful speech, and for allowing us to publish it for the benefit of Green Elephant readers who could not be with us in Orlando.

A former Navy SEAL, Ted Roosevelt has served on the boards of several environmental organizations, including The Wilderness Society and the League of Conservation Voters. A member of REP since 1997, he was our first lifetime member… our way of saying thanks for all the things he has done to help our young organization grow and flourish.

Long-time readers of our The Green Elephant newsletter will recall “Republicans and the Environment,” another speech that Mr. Roosevelt allowed us to publish in our second issue, back in the summer of 1997.


Postscript… REP made a difference at Pelican Island!

On November 5, 1999, five days before attendees at our GOP Environmental Summit were scheduled to visit Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, in part to point out the need for increased funding for land acquisition to protect our country’s first refuge, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt made an unscheduled visit there to announce that the Administration planned to request additional funding for that very purpose. “Interesting coincidence!” we told attending reporters—with a wink—when they asked us about Babbitt’s surprise.