AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: Originally published in the summer 2003 issue of REP’s The Green Elephant.


“Top Ten” lists are a popular feature of contemporary American culture. Likewise, both the environmental movement and conservative political philosophy are important components of contemporary American life.

Unfortunately, and unnecessarily, the two movements are often viewed as incompatible. But they are not. On the contrary, in the century that has elapsed since the administration of Republican conservationist Theodore Roosevelt, they have been highly compatible philosophies.

What are the main connections between conservatism and conservation? The following are the ten best reasons why conservative Americans should be environmental activists.



The federal budget is bloated by billions spent on unnecessary, environmentally destructive projects.

A typical example is Florida’s Kissimmee River, which the Army Corps of Engineers spent tens of millions to channelize, creating an environmental disaster, and is now spending millions more to restore to the way nature intended it.

 More than $8 billion has been earmarked to restore water flow to the Everglades, harmed by past water diversions funded by the taxpayers. Conservative taxpayers have every reason to support the Green Scissors* program, which identifies the most wasteful federal land and water pork- barrel schemes, and works to cut them from the budget. They should also urge ending taxpayer subsidies for logging, grazing, and mining on public lands.

* The Green Scissors Coalition, which REP has been a member of since 1997, aims to cut environmentally-destructive pork-barrel federal projects.



Both conservatives and environmentalists appreciate the benefits of keeping decision-making close to home whenever possible. Environmentalists understand that local residents are often the best defenders of nearby natural assets. Beneficial federal laws and regulations sometimes have a short shelf life, or suffer crippling amendments. Community environmentalists are one of the best checks on the abuses of the federal bureaucracy, such as the Army Corps of Engineers.

But local control can cut both ways, and conservative environmentalists must guard against local governments falling under the influence of special interests that seek to benefit from abusing our natural heritage.



Outdoor activities are one of the most effective and pleasant means for families to strengthen ties. Recreational pursuits such as hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, nature study, and river running bring families together. Children are naturally curious about nature and greatly enjoy family outings to natural areas. Even better is helping to sustain America’s natural heritage by volunteering for stewardship work—such as maintaining protected natural areas—and becoming involved in environmental issues.



Pride in the beauty of one’s country is a universal trait. Americans in the future will want to enjoy the same natural wonders as Americans of today, and conservative Americans will want to preserve that beauty, as Dwight D. Eisenhower did when he created the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Our national parks have been called “the best idea America ever had.”

Conservative Americans will want to protect these showcases of America’s beauty, landscapes, and history, and to work to ensure adequate funding to care for them.



Anything that reduces energy consumption and increases resource efficiency in business, industry, and commerce will lower costs and thereby increase profits. At the same time, reducing energy consumption and the volume of waste products will simultaneously lower pollution emissions, producing a double benefit. The same considerations apply in our personal lives, especially with regard to important decisions such as the type of family car, major household appliances, and home lighting that we purchase. Conservatives will want to examine fuel-efficient vehicles such as hybrids.



The greatness of nations depends in part on the adequacy of their natural resource base. Conserving and reducing waste in natural resource extraction and use, and insisting on sustainable management of forests, fisheries, and water supplies, will make more resources available for succeeding generations, resulting in a stronger America in the future. Wasting them will make future generations more dependent on foreign natural resources, and on the willingness of these nations to share them. Allowing toxic chemicals to pollute the environment and threaten public health is an affront to individual liberty and an irresponsible lack of consideration for future generations.



Many environmental advancements have been made by small businesses, which are often more willing to innovate than large corporations. And environmental industries and enterprises of all sizes and types, such as pollution control equipment, renewable energy technologies, and ecotourism, constitute a multi-billion dollar segment of the national economy. Many thousands of jobs are created in these industries every year. In the field of natural area protection, private organizations and land trusts are increasingly being sought as the most secure and least bureaucratic tools for conservation.



Patriots love their country and desire to protect it. Love of country mandates working together to protect the nation’s inherent beauty, the integrity of natural areas that provide essential services, and its reserves of natural resources.

Opposition to environmental protection, resource conservation, and natural areas restoration indicates a willingness to allow one’s country to deteriorate and weaken—an attitude both unpatriotic and in the long run certain to be self-destructive.

Remember Theodore Roosevelt’s words: “Conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of insuring the safety and continuance of the nation.”



The United States can clearly benefit by reducing its dependence on foreign fossil fuels, which entangle the nation in questionable alliances with unsavory regimes in politically unstable parts of the world. The best ways to reduce fuel imports are to encourage wider use of domestic energy from solar, wind and farm products, increase energy efficiency standards for vehicles and equipment, expand the use of combined heat and power plants, and make our energy facilities more secure by decentralizing energy production.



Environmental protection is in the tradition of far-sighted Republican leaders such as Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Barry Goldwater, John Chafee, John Saylor and many current members of the Congress and state legislatures. 

Protecting and enhancing America’s environment is the rational thing to do, the patriotic thing to do, the conservative thing to do, and the American thing to do.

Let’s work together to see that the conservative environmental agenda, so strongly supported by REP members, gets accomplished.

Conservation is conservative.


ORIGINAL 2003 CREDIT: Philip R. Pryde earned his Ph.D. at the University of Washington in 1969 and immediately began teaching at San Diego State University, where he now holds the title of Professor Emeritus of Geography. Along the way, he racked up an extensive list of scholarly and popular publications, including several books: Conservation in the Soviet Union (1972); San Diego: An Introduction to the Region (four editions from 1976 to 2003); Nonconventional Energy Resources (1983); Oh, California! (1990); Environmental Management in the Soviet Union (1991) and Environmental Resources and Constraints in the Former Soviet Republics (1995).

Phil has also been an active citizen, serving as chair of the San Diego County Planning Commission, San Diego County’s Water Independence Task Force, San Diego Floodplain Technical Committee and San Diego Audubon Society. He currently serves on the Boards of Directors of both REP and REP’s charitable “sister” organization, plus the San Diego Audubon Society and several other environmental organizations.

In addition to this article, Phil wrote two more for REP:

Can elephants really hug trees?   |    Environmentalism and Patriotism

Phil also wrote REP’s policy papers on Oceans and Wetlands.