Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A few good men

I don’t say this to pander to anyone. My favorite part of the United States is Western North Dakota, in particular the Badlands in and around Medora. Medora, most likely the best kept secret in the nation, has a population of about 100 people year-round, although for three months during the summer the tourists fill it until it’s bursting at the seams with people walking the streets of the Cowboy town. This is a town that relives the day of Theodore Roosevelt as a rancher. Theodore Roosevelt moved to the Medora in 1893 and took up ranching. A successful rancher he was not but a life long lesson came to him that I feel our nation once again needs to revisit.

The North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame is truly setting an example of how we should capture and memorialize where our nation has been. At the heart of Medora, the Hall of Fame holds it’s annual induction ceremonies the first weekend in August. A weekend where people from around the country gather to pay tribute to individuals who have dedicated their lives to improving life on earth through their management of the resources we have been endowed to care for. It is no accident that Medora, in the middle of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, is the location where all this all takes place.

Teddy Roosevelt, by many accounts, is considered the nation’s first conservationist. Let me reiterate. I said conservationist, not preservationist. There is a huge difference between the two and Roosevelt learned to appreciate the wildlife, the wilderness and the other wonders of nature. In 1901, when then Vice-President Roosevelt took over for William McKinley, who was assassinated, Roosevelt made conservation a central policy issue of his administration. He created five National Parks, four Big Game Refuges, fifty-one National Bird Reservations and the National Forest Service.

I believe what made Roosevelt truly remarkable was that he was an advocate for the sustainable use of the nation's natural resources, the protection and management of wild game, and the preservation of wild spaces. In a speech addressed to a national conference on conservation held at the White House in 1908, Roosevelt stated, "Our position in the world has been attained by the extent and thoroughness of the control we have achieved over nature; but we are more, and not less, dependent upon what she furnishes than at any previous time of history. It is equally clear that these resources are the final basis for national power and perpetuity."

Roosevelt enacted land policies that I am sure some who believe ranchers should not be grazing federal lands today would be appalled at. I completely disagree with them. He did not believe private interest should use federal land without compensation but he certainly did believe in managing and utilizing the natural resources God provided us. What I believe is most relevant in today’s world was this statement by Roosevelt: "The establishment of the National Park Service is justified by considerations of good administration, of the value of natural beauty as a National asset, and of the effectiveness of outdoor life and recreation in the production of good citizenship." Commonly, Roosevelt expressed his concern over an urbanizing nation. He feared that the increasingly urban population, removed from nature, would lose the qualities that led to good citizenship.

At the top of the Roosevelt’s list for good citizenship was manliness. Today, the same individuals who talk about “preserving” our nation’s resources would fall the farthest from Roosevelt’s ideal view of manliness.

Daniel Filler1 wrote an essay called:
Theodore Roosevelt; Conservation as the Guardian of Democracy

For Roosevelt, hunting and wilderness recreation best taught man these values. He feared that urbanization was leading to the emasculation of the American male; and Roosevelt considered this threat to masculinity a threat to American democracy. Roosevelt believed that American democracy was sustained by self-reliant men willing to work hard to support themselves, their families, and American industry, upon which democracy rested. Emasculated, men would lose their willingness and ability to work hard to support themselves, their families, or American industry; their commitment to their communities and the nation would be overwhelmed by idleness. Without wilderness and a large stock of game animals upon which men could hunt, to which men from the cities could retreat, the nation would lose the site of its masculinity.

I think this is also the best summary of why I consider Medora my absolute favorite region within our great nation. I still find the values of Roosevelt in the men and women of North Dakota who understand nature and what is has to offer us as human beings. Everyone should experience the beauty, majesty and tradition of Medora, even if it is only for a weekend and one melt-in-your-mouth pitchfork fondue!

1Daniel M. Filler, Senior Associate Dean for Academic and Faculty Affairs and Professor of Law at Drexel University, College of Law Daniel.M.Filler@drexel.edu 215.571.4705