What a Christian Ethic Looks Like Outside

Beauty for the many: Why I side with conservationists over nature mystics.

As I write, my eldest daughter and her family are having a wonderful vacation at an Arizona mountain cabin. This cabin rests on land that my father bought more than 50 years ago from a retired missionary in our church.

The private property is surrounded by public lands. They were originally created as part of President Theodore Roosevelt’s larger effort to preserve America’s most beautiful countryside for the benefit of all its citizens. During his presidency (1901–08), Roosevelt set aside 230 million acres for public use—5 national parks, 150 national forests, 18 new national monuments, 51 bird reserves, and 4 game preserves. He also established the U.S. Forest Service, headed by his good friend Gifford Pinchot, the first American to make forestry his profession.

As real outdoorsmen, Roosevelt and Pinchot hated to see the wilderness despoiled by business interests that did not comprehend the fragility of the forests. Roosevelt, an avid hunter, grew concerned that efficiently organized commercial hunters were driving a number of game species toward extinction. This led him to commit to the conservation movement.

Roosevelt and Pinchot fought battles on two fronts. Railroad and lumber interests controlled Congress, which resisted funding Roosevelt’s Forest Service and setting aside lands for public use. When Roosevelt founded the Bull Moose Party, its 1912 platform reflected this struggle: “Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government, owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics, is the first task of the statesmanship …

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