Theodore Roosevelt, “Conservation as a National Duty,” Teaching-Learning Materials

Classroom Activities 

  1. Roosevelt identified forests and coal as two resources the United States particularly needed to protect.  If you were given an opportunity to address a modern-day Conference of Governors on the Conservation of Natural Resources, what resources would you contend most need protection? Why?
  2. Do you believe, as Roosevelt did, that it is the duty of the national government to set aside land for future use?  Why or why not? 
  3. How might this speech have been different if it had been intended for a different audience?  For example, what if it had been delivered to a crowd of ordinary citizens during a presidential campaign, or to members of the media at a press conference, rather than to a conference of Governors? 
  4. Do you think people should be able to use the national parks for activities other than tourism and recreation (e.g., hunting or logging)?  Why or why not? 
  5. Roosevelt believed that it was the duty of the government to declare how certain lands would be used, designating lands, for example, as national parks, monuments, or forests. At the same time, however, he was opposed to monopolies and signed into law several pieces of anti-trust legislation.  Do you think these two views are inconsistent or incompatible?  
  6. What did Roosevelt mean by “wise use” of natural resources? 
  7. Identify and discuss several ways Roosevelt attempted to identify or connect with his audience during the speech. Do you think these strategies were effective?  Why or why not? 

Student Research 

  1. The 1908 Conference, while groundbreaking, was a reflection of those who held power at the time–politicians and businessmen, mostly white males.  Identify a group of stakeholders who were not present at the conference and reflect on how the conference might have been different if they had been present.  Imagine how a speech delivered by one of these alternate stakeholders might have proposed different outcomes or emphasized different priorities or issues. 
  2. Choose an international environmental group, such as the Sierra Club or Greenpeace, and analyze its rhetoric in terms of the conservation/preservation debate.  What issues does the organization address?  What audience(s) is it trying to reach?  What values are represented in its rhetoric? 
  3. Compare and contrast Roosevelt’s conservation rhetoric with that of another famous figure in the environmental movement, such as John Muir, Rachel Carson, or Al Gore.  You might consider how each articulated their own environmental ideals, how they adapted their messages to different audiences, and how they responded to particular political and social issues. 
  4. Choose one or more speeches (other than Roosevelt’s) from the 1908 Conference and analyze how that speech complemented or differed from Roosevelt’s speech.  (See the Suggested Resources page for the website where you can find the conference proceedings.) 
  5. What is the Antiquities Act of 1906?  Write a paper on its history, purposes, and effects. 
  6. Research the contributions of other presidents to conservation and the environmental movement.  Are there any other presidents that deserve to be called “conservation presidents”?  

Citizenship Resources 

  1. Identify at least one campus or local organization that deals with conservation.  What are its goals?  What issues are of major concern?  What strategies does this group employ to raise awareness about its issue?  In what ways could you contribute to this group? 
  2. Do an Internet search for information about a well-known national park (e.g., Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon).  What arguments about conservation and preservation can you find on the website of the selected park?  What unique environmental challenges face the particular park?    
  3. Write a newspaper op-ed column or letter-to-the-editor explaining your views on a current environmental issue.  Submit it to your campus or local newspaper. 
  4. Imagine that you have been asked to give a short speech about the history of conservation to a group of your peers.  What would you say about Theodore Roosevelt in that speech?  And where would you go from there in talking about the history of the conservation movement? 
  5. Search the Internet for references to Theodore Roosevelt on conservation or preservation websites. How is he depicted today on such websites? Do such depictions differ from the messages he articulated about conversation in the early twentieth century? If there are differences, what might account for such differences?