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When Roosevelt became President in 1901, he took his love of nature with him to the White House. When the strain of the job weighed on him, he stepped outside to watch the spring birds migrating. He identified the blackpoll warblers perched in the elms outside the Oval Office. And he kept a list of his sightings. Anytime he yearned for the strenuous life outside the White House, Roosevelt cheerfully dragged ambassadors and small boys to climb rock faces and ford streams in Rock Creek Park. Few could keep up with him.
In a way, President Roosevelt regarded the nation's trees and open land and animal inhabitants as prime constituencies whose interests he must serve. His dear friend forester Gifford Pinchot joined him in warning the public that the natural resources of the U.S. were not inexhaustible, that a timber famine was imminent and that coal, iron, oil and gas would run out someday. Congressional leaders didn't want to hear about game or tree protection or the resource needs of future generations. Roosevelt took advantage of what he called the "bully pulpit" of the presidency to educate voters and legislators about the need for laws to protect natural resources.
In the spring of 1903, Roosevelt used a trip out West to dramatize his commitment to preserving wild places. With the nature writer John Burroughs he followed birdsongs in Yellowstone Park, then rode mules into Yosemite with John Muir, the great preservationist and founder of the Sierra Club. Roosevelt and Muir slept under the stars and were covered overnight by a blanket of snow. T.R.'s journey from asthmatic ornithologist to hearty rancher turned President proved that a silver-spoon birth does not have to prevent a man from developing, over time, a broad vision and a rare kind of political gumption. All he required was a chance to make himself a new man by embracing nature and its creatures with his whole heart.
Dalton is the author of Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life