Presidents Day 2024

This Presidents Day, Herrera reflects on Presidential actions focused on environmental stewardship. Numerous Presidents throughout United States history have made contributions toward the environmental health and stewardship of our nation. Presidents Day provides an opportunity to recognize some of these accomplishments. 

Theodore Roosevelt (who served from 1901-1909) may be one of the first Presidents that comes to mind. An ardent conversationist and passionate naturalist, Roosevelt is credited with the tremendous push for nationally protected wild spaces during the time of his administration. Credited with creating the United States Forest Service (USFS) and establishing 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, 4 national game preserves, 5 national parks, and 18 national monuments. (1) Roosevelt is widely recognized as the founder of our National Park System. 

However, another Roosevelt, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945) contributed as well. While focusing on pulling the United States out of the Great Depression, he created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Over the course of nine years, employing three million men, FDR’s CCC planted three billion trees, built campgrounds and trails, removed invasive plants, improved wildlife habitats, and fought tree-killing insects. (2) 

The Environmental Protection Agency was developed under the guidance of President Richard Nixon (1969-1974). After presenting Congress with a message on the environment, he followed up by creating a council to design the EPA before taking that council’s plan back to Congress to get the EPA approved. For over 50 years, the EPA has worked to reduce pollution on land and in air and water in the United States. (3) 

Later, President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) would create the Department of Energy, which now includes “energy, environmental and nuclear challenges” in its current mission. (4) He’d go on to expand on the previous combined Roosevelt concept of conservation in 1980 with the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). It protected more than 100 million acres in Alaska in the form of additional national parks, wildlife refuges, national forests, and more. (5)

While our current environmental challenges may seem daunting, recalling how these public servants prioritized the call to stewardship as a necessary responsibility within civic leadership can buoy hope. If you have a moment this President’s Day, we encourage you to read about who was presiding when your favorite national park or monument was created – and visit a national forest, federal bird reserve, national game preserve, national park, or national monument in your region.