Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Second Look: TR and the Grand Canyon National Park that Wasn't

In my March 21, 2010, entry, I laid out a timeline that TR might have followed in the 1902-7 period that would have resulted in the establishment of Grand Canyon National Park a dozen years before Congress, with Arizona as a state, ground that sausage. Using information from Brinkley (Brinkley, Douglas, The Wilderness Warrior  Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America, 2009), I tried to suggest why TR did not. Brinkley emphasizes Pinchot's role in suggesting that Crater Lake was a less controversial first step, to be followed by a Roosevelt visit to the Canyon (1903). The implication is clear, that Congress was so hostile to Parks that obtaining a favorable outcome for a GCNP bill would be very difficult. So first, here is a list of what significant Parks Congress did create back then. Would a Rooseveltian GCNP have been so much harder?

Before Roosevelt:
Yellowstone 1872
Sequoia 1890
Yosemite          1890
General Grant   1890 (now in Kings Canyon)
Mount Rainier  1899

Here is what was done by Congress with Roosevelt as President:
Crater Lake 1902
Wind Cave 1903
Mesa Verde 1906 (contemporaneously with Antiquities Act)

I recently learned that the question of whether Roosevelt did not want to engage with Congress over Park creation can be gotten at another, more positive, way. Under the power he had to create National Forests (without Congressional approval), Roosevelt accomplished wonders. Brinkley and others all characterize Roosevelt as one who loved being the unfettered administrator. What if he had had that power for national parks? In "The Antiquities Act, A century of american archaeology, historic preservation and nature conservation" (ed. Harmon, David et al. (McManamon, Pitcaithley), U. of Arizona press, 2006), R. F. Lee summarizes (pp 28-30) the Act's history in a suggestive way.

Lee writes of the "enlightened" General Land Office Commissioners B. Hermann & W.A. Richards, who from 1900-6 "consistently recommended general legislation to empower the president to establish … national parks" as he could establish national forests. Lee writes that this proposal "met with a cool response from the House Committee on Public Lands" (pre-1904). However, a couple of years later, due to the work of E.L. Hewett and Representative J.F. Lacey (Rep., Iowa), the 1906 Antiquities Act was passed. It was not a broad measure. It did not entitle the president to set up national parks, as he could then set up national forests. Instead, it was written to enable him or her to protect antiquities ("Indian ruins") by proclaiming national monuments of a small and narrowly defined nature -- supposedly. 

Roosevelt promptly expanded this limited monument function to give himself (and his successors) an immense power: solo creation of de facto national parks. That is to say, many of the places named under the Antiquities Act over the next century have been of a size and range and quality that have all the characteristics of an American national park. The practical legislative effect of this promotion has been to move action by Congress so the presidential signature comes first, as well as last. In early 1908, TR proclaimed the Grand Canyon National Monument (the first of four, and we are not done yet), and 11 cranky years later, President Wilson signed a diminished, tarnished Grand Canyon National Park. Would we have done worse had TR, as I fantasized, pushed a GCNPark act through Congress in 1907? 

So, here's the point suggested to me by the several-year history leading to the Antiquities Act: TR was waiting. He had lots of other work to do, and he kept expecting the progressives in the GLO and Interior, and his conservationist friend, Congressman Lacey, to lead the way to his obtaining the national park power. And then he would create the GCNPark. Well, but,then all he got was a diminished "monument" power. Oh yeah?? He could fix that easily enough, and so he transformed the Antiquities Act into the Presidential National Park Creation Act of 1908. And at the same time redeemed his dream from 1902 of protecting the Grand Canyon forevermore. For someone so often characterized as impatient and rushing off in all directions at once, maybe this was an example of the smart man who knew how to wait.

And after 110 years of defending and expanding that dream, where is the Grand Canyon's TR we are awaiting for our times?

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