ROOSEVELT WAS OUR GREATEST ENVIRONMENTAL PRESIDENT
by Whit Gibbons
July 22, 2007
for Theodore Roosevelt Island said, "While you are here, savor the
sounds of the outdoors as you travel through marsh, swamp, and forest."
Indeed I heard the warbling trill of gray treefrogs, the swish of a black
rat snake as it slithered from the boardwalk into a stand of cattails,
and the raucous insistence of a blue jay that something was amiss in its
of these sounds of nature were heard during three to eight minute intervals
between the roar of giant jets only a few hundred feet overhead as they
descended toward Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC. The sounds
of jet engines were so loud that I winced when one went over, and the
anticipation of when the next one would arrive detracted from the wildlife
The island is a national memorial managed by the National Park Service
and located in the middle of the Potomac River between Arlington, VA,
to the west, and the Watergate Hotel and Kennedy Center to the east. The
more than half-mile-long island is reached by a footbridge (no cars or
bikes allowed) that leads to walking trails and boardwalks. The complex
of natural upland hardwood forests and lowland marsh and river swamp with
cypress trees provides opportunity for a visitor to see impressive trees
and an array of wildlife. The National Park Service has done a fine job
of preserving most of the island as a wildlife sanctuary with its own
Roosevelt Island has potential as a wonderful retreat for anyone wanting
respite from the stress of Washington politics. Healthy looking joggers
passed me by, and an occasional person was seen sitting on a park bench
enjoying a book. And the concept of a wildlife sanctuary near the nation's
capital is a fitting tribute to the most environmentally oriented president
we have ever had. Except for the mood-shattering commercial jets.
on the mile-long walk along the Woods Trail, Swamp Trail, and Upland Trail
I saw the rat snake mentioned above and a garter snake, 14 lizards (mostly
five-lined skinks and a couple of ground skinks), and countless birds.
I feel certain that during spring and fall, the wildlife scene becomes
even livelier as migrating birds move through the area and other wildlife
goes through spring courtship behaviors and autumn pre-hibernation activities.
is the youngest person to have become a U.S. president, was the first
American to win a Nobel Peace Prize, and was responsible for the building
of the Panama Canal. But to me his accomplishments in behalf of the environment
and natural wildlife are his most impressive attributes, especially in
regard to contributions to our country. As president, T. R. Roosevelt
established the U.S. Forest Service and worked to have more than 70 natural
areas, including the Grand Canyon, officially designated as national monuments,
wildlife refuges, or national parks. His visage on Mount Rushmore with
Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln is well deserved.
Roosevelt was a century ahead of the times when he said the country needed
to take a careful look at "what will happen when our forests are
gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil and the gas are exhausted, when
soils have been . . . washed into the streams, polluting the rivers. .
. ." We can only wonder what his presidential response to global
climate change, the destruction of tropical rain forests, and the overall
degradation of the world's natural habitats and biodiversity would have
from best to worst president of the United States will of course never
be agreed upon. But Theodore Roosevelt had to be among the best, and if
the debate focuses on conservation, the environment, or wildlife, he would
surely be the winner. A presidential candidate who reiterated Roosevelt's
sentiment from a century ago that "There can be no greater issue
than that of conservation in this country" would still get my vote.
And I bet if Roosevelt were president today he would find a solution for
the interminable noise created by those airplanes flying over his park.
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