Today marks the 159th birthday of America’s greatest conservationist, President Theodore Roosevelt. As president, established five National Parks, signed 18 national monuments into law (including portions of what would become Grand Canyon National Park) and cemented the importance of defending American lands against over-industrialization for generations to come.

Unfortunately, we seem to be drifting further away from Roosevelt’s vision of conservation and public land defense than ever before. As we have seen time and again, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is set on opening up any and all of our public lands to special interests, including a pending oil and gas lease proposal that borders Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which was created to honor and protect Roosevelt’s former ranch and conservation legacy. Through this effort they are getting rid of common-sense rules that protect our national parks, wildlife habitat, and outdoor recreation opportunities from the very industrial exploitation that Roosevelt warned us of.

Roosevelt recognized the threat that private interests posed to our nation’s lands. In a 1910 speech he warned, "I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the nature resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us."

Zinke, a Montanan and avid outdoorsman, has repeatedly touted that he is a ‘Roosevelt Republican,’ claiming to share the same vision as the president who worked tirelessly to protect public lands from over development, waste and to preserve the beauty of our country’s natural wonders. However, as secretary, he seems to be more interested in robbing future generations of access to their public lands than defending the landscapes that Roosevelt cherished.

In his short time at Interior, Zinke has given the Bureau of Land Management the green light to lease lands for oil and gas drilling not just adjacent to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but also right by several other national parks and monuments, including Colorado and Utah’s Dinosaur National Monument, Montana’s Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument and Utah’s Hovenweep National Monument. Roosevelt was an outdoorsman who spent a lot of time in the great outdoors, exploring and conserving some of our country’s most iconic landscapes. Allowing oil and gas polluters to drill at the doorstep of any of our national parks or monuments is certainly no way to honor his memory.

Zinke may talk a lot about how much he admires Roosevelt and seeks to emulate his work, but his actions over the last year speak louder than his words. By choosing to roll back protections on public lands that Western communities support, he is only doing the bidding of the oil and gas industry. Leasing lands for drilling on the doorstep of our national parks is a slippery slope. Any development near these national treasures will degrade the experience visitors have come to expect by, among other things, disrupting critical habitat. Our public lands could be scarred indefinitely.

If Zinke wants to honor Roosevelt’s legacy, he should not continue to give our national park and monument landscapes away to special interests. A true Roosevelt Republican would see public lands as our country’s greatest asset and stop selling them out to industry. A true Roosevelt Republican would focus on preserving the great American outdoors for generations to come. Above all, a true ‘Roosevelt Republican’ would want to uphold the tradition of conservation that Roosevelt himself fought to achieve — a tradition that first took root at our national parks, including Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Jayson O’Neill, of Helena, is deputy director of the Western Values Project.

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