Monday, February 21, 2011

Environmentally Friendly Presidents

From The Daily Green

Today is Presidents Day. What could be a better way to celebrate than to revisit a few little-known facts about presidential conservation achievements?

Coming fresh off celebrating Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, the best place to start is a seed that the 16th president planted, which later grew into America’s great system of national parks.

In the summer of 1864, when the fate of the Union still hung in the balance, Lincoln put his signature on a bill setting aside a remote mountain valley for the unheard-of purpose of “public use, resort, and recreation.”

The legislation deeded Yosemite Valley to the state of California for perpetual use as a park, setting a precedent for a system of scenic and historic preservation that often is described as America’s best idea. From the cold fastness of Alaska’s Brooks Range to the corals in the warm seas off the U.S. Virgin Islands, the national parks tell America’s story as nothing else can.

Lincoln often expressed a desire to visit California. One can only imagine the eloquent words he would have penned at the sight of the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias.

Herbert Hoover, the Great Engineer’s reputation will forever be tarred by his ineffectual response to the Great Depression, but his conservation record ought to put a little polish on his memory.

Hoover used the Antiquities Act aggressively to protect what are now Arches, Death Valley, Grand Sand Dunes, Saguaro, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison national parks, as well as part of what is now Grand Canyon National Park and White Sands National Monument.

Hoover believed that outdoor recreation was a necessary counterbalance to the moral sloppiness that he feared would be a consequence of material abundance and the consumer culture.

Hoover was happiest casting a fly into a stream. He once wrote about fishing: "’Tis the chance to wash one's soul with pure air, with the rush of the brook, or with the shimmer of the sun on the blue water. It brings meekness and inspiration from the decency of nature, charity toward tackle makers, patience toward fish, a mockery of profits and egos, a quieting of hate, a rejoicing that you do not have to decide a darned thing until next week. And it is discipline in the equality of men, for all men are equal before fish."

And what of Ronald Reagan, considered among many environmentalists to be something of a bete noire? There’s a story about the Montreal Protocol – which began the phase-out of ozone-depleting chemicals – that is worth remembering.

As treaty negotiations approached their climax in 1987, Interior Secretary Don Hodel – who had suggested blithely that we adapt to ozone depletion with sun hats and dark glasses – was the leader among administration ideologues fighting the treaty tooth and nail.

Reagan rejected their strident arguments, backed up the pro-treaty position of his scientists and diplomats, and directed his negotiating team accordingly.

The result was an international agreement, a “monumental achievement” in Reagan’s words, that has begun repairing the great global commons that protects us and our fellow creatures.

Happy Presidents Day.

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