​​​May 13-15 - TR & ​Governors Talk Conservation

​May 13-15 -  ​TR ​& ​Governors Talk Conservation

What began as a five-person commission – turned into a nationwide referendum on conservation. TR discusses the Conference of Governors and the need to comprehend our resources have limits.


"​consider the question of the conservation"

In the beginning of the twentieth century, the United States was getting into a conserving mood. Interest in preserving trees (brought into focus by John Muir), birds (the Audubon Society), and wildlife (George Bird Grinnell) was a momentum-growing force.

Of course, that sentiment didn’t apply to everyone. Reconstruction following the Civil War brought about a rush for business, and the waning laissez-faire economy did not keep certain companies from grabbing as much as they could as long as they could. This was particularly true with the logging and mining industries; city growth and expansionism in general were pushing up demand for natural resources like lumber, and as Roosevelt himself pointed out in the opening of the Governor’s Conference:             

​at the same time that there comes that increase in what the average man demands from the resources, he is apt to grow to lose the sense of his dependence upon nature. He lives in big cities. He deals in industries that do not bring him in close touch with nature. He does not realize the demands he is making upon nature. For instance, he finds, as he has found before in many parts of this country, that it is cheaper to build his house of concrete than of wood, learning in this way only that he has allowed the woods to become exhausted.

(May 13, 1908)

Lobbyists for logging and mining were particularly persuasive in bringing Congressmen to the side of what TR called “skinning the land” for profit rather than protecting it. There was also a pervasive sentiment that the land and its resources were infinitely replenishable.

In order to better tip the scales toward conservation, the Inland Waterways Commission, while making an inspection tour of the Mississippi River, determined that much larger efforts and awareness were needed. In 1907, they wrote to ask President Roosevelt to authorize and announce a conference for all state and territory governors to discuss the status of America’s natural resources, and the need and means to conserve them. As state leadership was more closely connected to the use of the land, it seemed appropriate to bring them on board with the ideas of conservation. Roosevelt was so on board with the idea that he made a public announcement the day he received the letter!


​October 4, 1907.

​“As I have said elsewhere, the conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem it will avail us little to solve all others. To solve it, the whole nation must undertake the task through their organizations and associations, through the men whom they have made specially responsible for the welfare of the several States, and finally through Congress and the Executive. As a preliminary step, the Inland Waterways Commission has asked me to call a conference on the conservation of natural resources, including, of course, the streams, to meet in Washington during the coming winter. I shall accordingly call such a conference. It ought to be among the most important gatherings in our history, for none have had a more vital question to consider.”

​The conference was arranged for this week in 1908, between May 13th and 15th. Experts on mineral, land, and water were brought in to discuss the state of resources and the best way forward.

 The conference not only brought the conservation movement to the state political level, it also further placed it in the public eye. Having 38 governors in one place was no small task! The conference not only put conservation in the spotlight, it also spawned the National Conservation Commission, which inventoried the country’s resources, and the First National Conservation Congress, led by head of the National Forest Service Gifford Pinchot, as an assembly of private conservation interests.

About the Author

The "founding father" of Historic Experience. Peyton is an actor-historian with over 15 years experience as a John Adams and Theodore Roosevelt interpreter, impersonator, speaker, or whatever descriptor speaks to you. Peyton Dixon is based in central New Jersey and travels across the country bringing American history to life.