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TR IV: Meet A Real Theodore Roosevelt Conservationist
August 12, 2018
TR IV: Meet A Real Theodore Roosevelt Conservationist
Great grandson of 'the old lion' calls moderate Republicans 'an endangered species'
When Theodore Roosevelt passed through Bozeman, Montana in the summer of 2017, he and his wife, Connie, were on the hunt. Their quest: hoping to buy a “getaway place” in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem where he could stalk solitude away from Manhattan skyscrapers, pursue elk in the fall with a rifle or bow and maybe have access to a stream with good trout water.
Mr. Roosevelt, as one might expect, has an almost preternatural disposition for enjoying the outdoors. As the great grandson of the most pioneering conservation president in U.S. history, TR IV goes simply by “Ted.”
In person, he is less imposing and more bashful than one might expect. At 76, he’s impressively agile of mind and body. A lifelong Northeast Republican and former Navy SEAL who earned an M.B.A. from Harvard, he is, by profession, a New York City investment banker.
Roosevelt has never been an attention-grabbing kind, though he’s never been afraid to speak out in defense of wild places. These days, he confesses, there are many moments when he feels unsettled, when as a self-avowed traditional political moderate he is out of place— “an endangered species,” he says, within the Grand Old Party.
Yes, it’s the same party once led by his legendary blood ancestor whom he affectionately references as “the old lion” and whose face is chiseled into the side of Mount Rushmore. The same person who helped ignite a pioneering movement to save bison from extinction, who created the U.S. Forest Service and the first national forest, the Shoshone, who founded the Boone & Crockett Club that laid the groundwork for the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, and who has an arch named after him at the front gate of Yellowstone.
Equally as important, as a maverick president using the federal Antiquities Act, he innovated a novel classification of land protection—national monuments—some of which evolved into full-fledged crown jewel national parks such as Grand Canyon and Grand Teton.
Three quarters of Republicans today—in some polls an even higher percentage— are said to approve of President Donald Trump’s job performance, but Ted Roosevelt isn’t among the cheerleaders. Odds are good you’ll never see him wearing a red MAGA trucker’s cap.
In fact, he isn’t alone. No one questions his patriotism or devotion to America's greatness by being a leader. He often hears from friends, longtime influential GOP stalwarts, who backed Nixon and Reagan and have become intensely disenchanted with their party’s surge to the far right and painting even government itself as an enemy. They worry that the Republican tradition of tethering conservatism with conservation and supporting sensible, forward-minded environment protection laws is being rapidly disassembled.
They worry that the Republican tradition of tethering conservatism with conservation and supporting sensible, forward-minded environment protection laws is being rapidly disassembled.
Roosevelt predicts it could prove costly, not only for the health of the environment, but contribute to a public backlash leaving the GOP electorally out of favor and power for years to come.
Roosevelt does not see himself as a mugwump, but some have suggested that he be drafted onto a political ticket, paired with someone like Ohio Gov. John Kasich (whom he endorsed in the 2016 GOP primary), or U.S. Russian Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr. or U.S. Senate candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney of Utah to challenge Trump-Pence in the 2020 Republican primary. With a name like Ted Roosevelt, it would command significant symbolic cachet.
Others have mentioned TR IV in conceptual discussions about organizing a third “Unity Party” to rally Americans together around that ideological space known as “the radical middle.” Under this scenario, it could involve someone like Kasich, a Republican, running with his friend, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat and, if elected, tapping Roosevelt and other moderates from both parties to serve in cabinet posts.
For now, this is only reverie happening in whispers at the edges.
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What’s not speculative is that, on any given day in America, it has become fashionable for elected officials, political appointees, businesspeople, hunters, anglers, farmers, ranchers, almost anyone to self-identify as a “Teddy Roosevelt conservationist.” They do it to give themselves street cred.
Perhaps the most notable and ironic recent figures making the claim have been President Trump (who also recently suggested he’s as great a president as Abraham Lincoln), Trump’s son, the self-styled big game hunter Donald Trump Jr., and the president’s Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
Zinke, a former Bozeman-born Congressman from Montana and retired Navy Seal, possesses enormous sway in shaping the future of the public-lands-rich American West—hundreds of millions of acres of it. It’s a region TR the original dearly loved, credited it with reviving his spirit after he suffered personal tragedy, and, in appreciation, he fought for the rest of his life to safeguard it against what he considered the insatiable greed of robber barons, crony capitalists and natural resource monopolists.
In spring 2017, not long after taking his place in Trump’s cabinet, Zinke announced he was “reviewing the status” of more than two dozen national monuments—code for undermining the system of protected areas TR launched with a stroke of his pen in 1906.
In response to millions of citizens who vented outrage, Zinke attempted to disarm critics by proclaiming they need not worry. “I’m a Teddy Roosevelt guy!” he declared. Earlier, at his confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate, Zinke had avowed: “I’m an unapologetic admirer of Teddy Roosevelt….we live in the legacy of Roosevelt today.”
Mountain Journal thought who better to gauge the worthiness of Zinke’s appropriation of Teddy Roosevelt than TR IV?
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Last summer in Bozeman, Roosevelt said he was willing to give Zinke the benefit of the doubt. The two had already had a couple of exchanges. Zinke badly wanted Roosevelt’s blessing. “You have the current secretary of the interior who talks about TR all the time,” TR IV told Mountain Journal. “When I met with him, I looked him in the eye and said, ‘That’s a high bar. I hope you are successful.’”
Ultimately, Zinke’s actions over the last year have left TR IV not just deeply disappointed but angry enough to make his displeasure known.
Our conversation happened just weeks before Zinke and President Trump went to Utah and radically shrunk back the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase national monuments. In short succession, Zinke also announced that he supported drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (one of TR IV’s favorite places on Earth), opening sensitive coastal offshore areas to energy development, diluting the might of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (foundational to protecting billions of migratory birds), endorsed weakening or waiving regulations pertaining to wildlife habitat protection, clean air and water, and a long list of other controversial moves.
These days, when a Republican conservationist calls out Zinke, one risks being accused of partisan betrayal and what one hears depends not only on the message and veracity of the information but who is delivering it. “Ted sees this administration making a direct attack on his great grandfather’s legacy and the conservation values that were dear to him,” Whit Fosburgh, CEO and president of a sportsmen’s group, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, told Mountain Journal.
"Ted sees this administration making a direct attack on his great grandfather’s legacy and the conservation values that were dear to him." —Whit Fosburgh, CEO and president of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
TR IV added that he hoped Zinke “would exhibit the courage and character to resist making anti-environmental decisions for purely political reasons.” During a more recent chat, he noted, “That obviously hasn’t happened.”
On top of it, Zinke’s ethics and fidelity to telling the truth have seriously been called into question. He and his political appointees orchestrated the removal of Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk claiming it wasn’t political or related to Wenk’s defense of bison, yet a former Montana state senator recently boasted that’s exactly what precipitated Wenk’s ouster. Zinke claimed that shrinking back the national monuments in Utah had nothing to do with private companies wanting to mine uranium and explore for oil and gas inside their borders. Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act have shown this to also be false.
Roosevelt penned an opinion piece circulated nationwide and said the gutting of national monuments “is part of a concerted, unwarranted and unprecedented attack on lands that belong to all Americans.”
U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, among the Utah lawmakers who worked with Zinke to dramatically shrink Bears Ears and Grand Escante-Staircase, wrote mockingly in a controversial statement that “these elites like to say that America’s federal lands are an inheritance to every American” but that they really ought to be put under the control of local people who can use [exploit] them for profit. On Twitter, Lee thumbed, “Our long-term goal must be the transfer of federal lands to the states.”
On Twitter, U.S. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah thumbed, “Our long-term goal must be the transfer of federal lands to the states.” He mockingly referenced environmentalists, saying "these elites like to say that America's federal lands are an inheritance to every American."
TR IV reminded, echoing the sentiment of his great grandfather, that if conservation historically had been left to purely local decision makers—who often were in the back pockets of powerful resource extractionists, America’s system of national parks, wildernesses and wildlife preserves where development is restricted, would likely not exist.
Seeing a ghost? After Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and President Trump went to Utah and radically scaled back the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, Zinke continued to claim that TR remained a guiding light in his thinking about conservation. Historians say the monument action instead would make Roosevelt roll in his grave.
TR IV has coattails but he is also his own man and shaped his own resume. He grew up 12 miles outside of Philadelphia on a 1,000-acre farm. There, as a boy, he had a trapline and started hunting with a bb gun. As a teenager, he went off to Groton, an elite New England prep school where other Roosevelts had gone. Afterward, in 1965, he earned an undergraduate degree from Harvard and entered the Navy where, as a SEAL working as a member of Underwater Demolition Team 11, he served two years in Vietnam. It involved him being a frogman in a wetsuit and launching some missions from a submarine.
From there, after he returned home, he got a job in the U.S. State Department as a foreign service officer. Along the way he married Constance Lane Rogers (they are parents to son TR V) and earned an M.B.A. from Harvard before eventually landing at Lehman Brothers.
“My wife, who is an acute observer of life and of me has said there’s no place in the United States where I am more happy than being in the West—and she’s right,” he said.
Just as it had had been with his great grandfather eight decades earlier, one of the crystalizing experiences in his life was coming West, which he did for the first time before starting college.
With the help of Congressman Perkins Bass (R-New Hampshire), Roosevelt and a friend got a summer job with a Bureau of Land Management surveying crew in Wyoming. The place: Woods Landing in Albany County southwest of Laramie.
Hard work was imparted as an ethic by his parents to disabuse him of any notion he would go through life with a silver spoon in his mouth. On the roadtrip out, having limited gas money, he and his friend spent a night in an Iowa jail, having asked a local sheriff’s department if they could crash in a cell. The deputy was not impressed that his name was Theodore Roosevelt.
TR IV remembers feeling stupefied, in the most pleasant way possible, upon entering the open vistas that got bigger after they crossed the 100th Meridian. “It didn’t take long for me to take notice and realize this is a different part of the country, different from anything I’ve experienced before. Look at the size of the country, look at the views. And I liked the people out here. We talk about southern hospitality but western hospitality is just as great.”
For the first time in his life, he got a real sense of what made his great grandfather happy.
Among Roosevelt’s BLM assignments was figuring out the property line between federal public land and a local ranch. “The fight was over to whom did a spring belong. Often disputes in the West are about water and it’s likely, with climate change, to happen more and more,” he says.
One morning the ranch owner rode out on his horse and watched the young lads putting down little stakes to demarcate the common boundary. “After a while, he yelled, ‘You guys hungry? Want to come up for lunch?’” Roosevelt explains. “We had been living on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and the prospect of getting a home-cooked meal sounded pretty good so we responded, ‘Well, yes sir, we’d be delighted.’”
Driving their Jeep, they arrived at the ranch house which wasn’t more than a shack. Dismounting, the cowboy called into the dark recesses of the kitchen through an open window. “Ma, I got a dozen people for lunch. Whip up some grub, will ya?”
Roosevelt delights in recounting the scene. “Without being nonplussed or angry, the rancher’s wife seemed to spontaneously whip up mashed potatoes and a bear steak, which was very good with gravy,” he said. “And then somehow or another out comes a couple of fresh lemon meringue pies. We thought we had died and gone to heaven.”
Of course, in reflection, Roosevelt realized the gesture was as kind as it was shrewd. “The rancher knew what our job was, and he was just trying to reach out in a very thoughtful way to ease the hard property line so that his livestock wouldn’t be cut off from the water,” Roosevelt says. “None of us knew beforehand what the results of the survey would be. He [the rancher] knew it never hurts to establish a neighborly rapport. It’s a good first step toward preventing unnecessary conflict. That was my first real introduction to the West and its people.”
It’s an experience Roosevelt still carries with him—informing a conviction that nothing preordains government entities and local people to be adversaries. Most Westerners, he says, are common sensical and willing to resolve potential problems creatively rather than resorting to the rhetoric and hostile conduct of the Bundys. There is a time and place to draw hard lines in the sand, he said, and other moments when bending them just a little bit benefits all.
Most Westerners, he says, are common sensical and willing to resolve potential problems creatively rather than resorting to the rhetoric and hostile conduct of the Bundys.
Here, Roosevelt scolds urban Americans who live on the coasts and treat the interior West condescendingly as a flyover. He references the famous cartoon from The New Yorker magazine of the view of America from Manhattan peering across the Hudson River and seeing only California rise in relief.
“What’s really missing in that perspective is communicating the connection with the land that real people have. They understand it because it is part of their family and has been for generations. Native people know it. One of the reasons I enjoy coming out West, and the reason I want to have a place here, is it enables me to bond with the land in an important way that is meaningful.”
Mixing it up with rural people has helped him understand the strengths and weaknesses of the environmental movement which is comprised mostly of staff that grew up in cities, he says. “I clearly consider myself a conservationist and environmentalist. It’s been hard for the environmental movement to understand that some of the best land stewards are production ranchers and small mom and pop farmers. Are there some who overgraze their land? Yes. But a lot of them don’t. A lot of them understand how to take care of the land well. That imparts benefits to public lands and wildlife on it, too.”
"Just as we need diversity for environmental reasons, we need diversity in our political and social movements. If you don’t have that diversity, nothing you do is going to be considered legitimate nor will it last.”
At the same time, despite being a champion for wilderness, he has a sharp assessment of the environmental movement’s lack of inclusivity. “Wilderness is sometimes mischaracterized as ‘Oh, that’s a product of white elitism. To the extent that the wilderness movement has been dominated by—and I characterize myself this way as dead or near dead old white men—is a failure on our part to communicate its value for all,” TR IV said. “We have to bring in a more diverse community. Just as we need diversity for environmental reasons, we need diversity in our political and social movements. If you don’t have that diversity, nothing you do is going to be considered legitimate nor will it last.”
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Within the modern environmental movement, among the ranks of vegans, animal rights activists and wildlife conservationists, there are some who vilify cowboys as being backward. TR admired cowboys because he said the real ones possess “few of the emasculated, milk-and-water moralities admired by the pseudo-philanthropists but he does possess, to a very high degree, the stern, manly qualities that are valuable to a nation.”
Ted Roosevelt says it’s a mistake to broadly demonize ranchers because what they do, in reality and myth, rings true within American identity. They need to be treated with respect, as conservation allies, he says.
“The truth is, most people think of themselves as ‘Maybe I have a little bit of cowboy in me. I can stand up for myself. I know how to take care of myself. And I know how to take care of my family.’ We probably aren’t really conscious of what an important part of our national self-esteem the idea of the American cowboy is. It resonates as much with blue collar steelworkers as in cattle outposts.”
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Ted Roosevelt is an unabashed, unashamed believer in capitalism as a potential force for good, but his notion of it departs from how others define it or how it’s been taught; which is to say a straight-forward exercise in which raw materials are exploited in order to make things, sell things, and consume them. There are many aspects of American life, he says, for which one cannot put a price on.
A word embedded in his vocabulary is “compromise” but he acknowledges its interpretation means different things to different people. “All of the best things that our country represents were not the result of people who approached decisions as zero-sum propositions such as ‘either you are with us or you are against us and therefore you are an enemy’ or ‘either you agree to everything I demand or I don’t work with you.’”
America’s portfolio of conservation achievements, regarded as the envy of the world, emerged from compromise, the same as discussions over necessary regulations applied to what constitutes responsible or irresponsible behavior in business, he says.
While his great grandfather touted the virtue of walking softly and carrying a big stick, TR IV believes in carrying both a stick and carrot, the former to prevent companies and individuals from being irresponsible and the latter to reward behavior that yields a public good.
Compromise, however, does not mean cutting in half things that are irreplaceable. “We have many misperceptions in our country and one of them is that everything’s for sale. Sometimes, collaboration gives away the principle instead of securing the base,” he explains. “There is room for collaboration but in the spirit of TR some things that just should not be put on the table to be negotiated or given away. I put public lands in that category. I put clean air and water and essential wildlife habitat on that list. And I include ANWR [the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge], existing wilderness lands and places like Bristol Bay in Alaska.”
Bristol Bay and its inland tributaries represent some of the best remaining habitat for wild salmon in the world. A Canadian company wants to erect a massive hardrock mining complex, called the Pebble Mine, in the middle of the watershed to extract billions of dollars’ worth of copper and gold. Yet it would happen in an ecosystem that is priceless and rare. “The potential of allowing long-lasting damage occurring there is non-negotiable,” Roosevelt says. “The belief of my great grandfather was simple: we are stewards for future generations. If you are going to violate the concept of being a good steward with a certain activity, don’t do it. Period. You look at some of the opportunities for resource exploitation that are coming up now and it is absolutely a no brainer. We should not be pursuing them.”
"The belief of my great grandfather was simple: we are stewards for future generations. If you are going to violate the concept of being a good steward with a certain activity, don’t do it. Period. You look at some of the opportunities for resource exploitation that are coming up now and it is absolutely a no brainer. We should not be pursuing them.”
What’s happened with the shrinking back of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, carried out with a less-than-transparent agenda to open those areas to uranium mining and energy development, would have been condemned as short-sighted by TR, Roosevelt says.
He shares the story of a float trip he took to the Kongakut River in far northern Alaska that flows through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and ends its journey in the Beaufort Sea. “I had been traveling all day and was tired when our bush pilot put us down on a gravel bar at 11 pm on a day of endless summer light. A few hours later I awoke in my tent to the click-click-click of a weird symphony,” he says. “It was the sound of thousands of caribou hooves, mothers and calves, moving across pebbles around our camp. I had goose bumps of joy witnessing it. Why would we want to risk drilling for oil there when the total output would only meet a tiny fraction of our energy consumption for a short time, an amount we wouldn’t need if we had better fuel efficiency in our vehicles? And it’s oil that, when burned, contributes to climate change and the destruction of the tundra. Why would we put something like the caribou migration, which represents a natural wonder of the world, at risk to accommodate short-term thinking? I don’t understand it.”
On a related note, TR IV wonders why the Trump Administration would permit any intensive oil and gas development that could potentially jeopardize the renowned wildlife migration corridors in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. He points to the effects of the Jonah Gas Field and Pinedale Anticline on big game migration in southern Wyoming as examples of what not to do.
A glimpse at what full-field natural gas development looks like in the area around the Jonah Field and Pinedale Anticline in the southern reaches of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Wildlife officials have characterized it as a "sacrifice zone" that obliterated quality habitat for migratory species like pronghorn and mule deer. How will Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke try to square his desire for dramatically increasing fossil fuel development with claims he'll safeguard wildlife migration corridors and elsewhere in the West? Photo courtesy Ecoflight (ecoflight.org)
Zinke has promised he will protect identified big game travel routes but given the Interior Secretary’s track record on other issues and his vow to aggressively insure America achieves global energy dominance, he has yet to prove he will follow through.
Wildlife migrations in the West occur across millions of acres. Recently, Zinke instructed the BLM not to permit energy exploration on 5,000 acres in deference to a mule deer corridor stretching between Wyoming’s Red Desert and Hoback Junction in the southern half of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. But critics say it’s a token gesture. And they point out how a historic agreement to protect sage grouse, involving diverse interests, is being scrapped in part to accommodate more energy development.
In a story for The Salt Lake Tribune, journalist Brian Maffly noted how Zinke is aggressively pushing energy development in the West ahead of much-needed analysis that would show if it’s harmful to wildlife. “The Trump administration’s vision of American ‘energy dominance’ is taking shape across the West, and, for Utah, that means a return to oil and gas leasing in places valued for wildlife habitat, recreation and artifacts — along with new limits on public participation in decision making in the name of “streamlining” the approval process,” Maffly wrote.
Moreover, once leases are granted, it becomes incredibly difficult to undo them, often attracting lawsuits from resource extraction companies or requires federal buyouts to retire leases so that they are never developed.
“Why are we even thinking about these things?” asks TR IV. “I suspect that if you talk with oil and gas companies, who are smart about this, they recognize that drilling in these areas isn’t necessary. It’s the politicians who want to curry favor with the people who may give them contributions that are pushing it. That’s where our system is corrupt. This isn’t a matter of ‘compromise.’ It’s about a wrongheaded desire to extract things we don’t need.”
What troubles Roosevelt most of all is how members of the Trump Administration and the GOP-controlled Congress have cavalierly dismissed science when it doesn’t conform to their ideological worldview, most notably with what he says is overwhelming evidence of human-caused climate change viewed too as a serious national security risk on the homefront and abroad by the U.S. military.
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When Roosevelt and I met in 2017, he had just spent a few days flyfishing with Ted Turner at one of Turner’s ranches in western Montana. The founder of CNN turned bison rancher he said, is a capitalist who has made money not by destroying the natural world but pouring his resources back into protecting nature and healing parts that have been abused. And he’s been able to turn a profit.
Roosevelt notes that he, like Turner, subscribes to the principles of the triple bottom line—that if private land conservation is going to endure it must not be a debt proposition for those carrying it out; that when one does an activity the goal is to do no harm or even to leave the land function in better condition that you found it; and to treat those working for you well–to also, where possible, spend dollars locally so that they cycle through communities.
TR IV sits on the board of The Wilderness Society but he is no rabid green. As an investment banker, advising clients on how they can make socially-conscious investments that deliver a return and are good for future generations, he’s become a leader in investigating the negative impacts of continuing to burn coal. A new and better form of prosperity, he says, can come from expanding America’s infrastructure of renewables, namely wind and solar.
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A decade ago, in September 2008, the financial investment firm Lehman Brothers was about to collapse in a massive temblor linked to the subprime mortgage crisis, the aftershocks of which nearly toppled the global economy. Roosevelt readily notes it occurred in the final months of the Bush Administration. He himself was a casualty and even had to sell a beloved ranch in Montana.
TR IV had been with Lehman since 1972 and held a number of leadership positions. He had been elected chairman of the board of directors of the firm’s financial products in 1994 and elected to serve as chairman of its derivative products in 1998. In February 2007, he was appointed chair of Lehman’s Council on Climate Change and within the Wall Street crowd he was known for talking about environmental sustainability.
When Lehman went down, all divisions of the company, including the non-high-flying, lower-risk, socially-conscious investing wings, went down with it— including renewable energy portfolios that Roosevelt himself had assiduously put together. Eventually, what remained was acquired by Barclay’s Capital, headquartered in Midtown Manhattan, where Roosevelt today is a managing partner.
TR IV sees solid value in wind, solar and other non-fossil fuel areas. Technological innovation is rapidly bringing down costs. Bullish on renewables while with Lehman and even more so at Barclay’s, he’s among a group of prominent conservative American businesspeople at the forefront of an emerging new economy. It’s one that, by necessity, must include a diverse mix of energy sources, including nuclear, if humanity is serious about reducing carbon emissions, he says.
Environmentalists need to be pragmatic, he notes, if the goal is staving off escalating temperature rises the deeper we move into this century. “Wind and solar alone will not get us there fast enough and nuclear technology is far safer than earlier generation power plants,” he says. Roosevelt sees it as a crucial tool for transitioning away from fossil fuels, along with a carbon tax, which he really sees as a consumption tax that more equitably is paid by those who use the most resources.
His passion on Wall Street is working at the intersection of the environment, conservation and business. He is a member of the Business Environmental Leadership Council which has 35 companies “that understand climate change is an economic challenge we need to succeed on,” he says. “If we don’t, business opportunities in the future will be impaired. What we need to see more of is making investments that produce winning economic outcomes and a wonderful benefit for the environmental challenges of our time.”
Roosevelt pushes back against the contentions of free-marketeers that coal faces an unfair disadvantage against renewables. “There is no question that we’ve subsidized coal. Society and the markets have done it in a number of ways. We’ve known the costs of burning coal are immense. Also undeniable is the cost to coal mining families and communities, especially those in the eastern U.S., where companies have polluted the water and destroyed the land through mountain top removal,” Roosevelt said. “Who is paying for all of those costs? The companies that caused them aren’t.”
But those costs, while enormous, represent just a fraction of the negative economic and environmental impacts being wrought by climate change.
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Wyoming sits on a motherlode of low sulfur coal in the Powder River Basin and there are other mammoth amounts beneath neighboring Montana.
While Roosevelt is on friendly, respectful terms with Republicans in Wyoming, philosophically he challenges claims made by U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney and President Trump that the Obama Administration “waged a war on coal.”
“There you have what I find to be an incredible distortion of reality when you have them and our president saying Obama waged a war on coal. It’s not true,” Roosevelt said pointing to several economic reports. He ticks off a number of reports uncontested by economists and policy experts. They note that four major coal companies went into bankruptcy, not as it has been alleged by defenders of the coal industry because of government regulation of CO2.
“The primary cause relates to the low price for natural gas and the fact that gas today exists in abundance. Another factor has been the global retraction in the coal market driven by China’s shift to Australian coal. China also is burning less because of political problems arising from its health and environmental impacts,” he says. “A third reason is that there’s increased competition from renewables. Where is the war on coal through government regulation? The answer is that it ain’t there. It is market forces that have caused coal to no longer be economically viable to the same degree it once was.”
A narrative that needs to be strenuously called out and has been parroted by members of Montana’s Congressional delegation, he notes, is the Trump Administration’s claim that it will revive the coal industry when the prognosis for that happening is actually grim. America has benefitted profoundly from coal. If society makes a shift away from the dark carbon fuel, it needs to treat miners and their communities with dignity and help them make the transition.
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A few years back there had been a push, behind the scenes, to have Ted Roosevelt run for the U.S. Senate in New York as a Republican. Ironically, he waved it off around the time Hillary Clinton left the White House as First Lady and decided to run as a Democrat in the Empire State. She won.
When Roosevelt is asked today about the prospects of joining a presidential ticket, he jibs, playfully, suggesting modestly that he “holds no formal qualifications or has the experience of elected office necessary” to be a national political candidate. When it’s pointed out that neither did Trump, he retorts, wryly, “Well, if you may have noticed, I’m not Trump.”
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TR IV says he was “astounded” when the GOP, during one its planks unveiled at the 2016 national convention, included the disposal of federal public lands, either handing them over to states or selling them off. His great granddad would have considered it heresy.
What has happened within the Republican Party? And if some would argue the GOP has been hijacked then who are the RINOS (Republicans in name only)? Roosevelt suggests moderates were utterly unprepared for the radical shifts wrought by insurgent Tea Partiers in response to Obama’s election. But the veering away from its core conservative values started two generations ago.
“The crisis for the Republican Party really started when it was largely overtaken by disaffected Dixiecrats who left the Democratic Party as a result of Lyndon Johnson’s civil rights bill in the 1960s. Johnson knew it was going to happen. He was an acute observer of society. There was a total miscalculation on the part of Republican moderates who underestimated the threat. The analogy I would make is that the Southern Dixiecrats were like an invasive weed. Once they took hold, they were able to outcompete the native grasses.”
Trump has effectively tapped into collective social angst and Republican lawmakers will ride the wave as far as it takes them, even indulging things the President does that repulses them. But that’s not leadership, TR IV says.
“When we see someone like Trump come along, under the advice I guess of guys like Steve Bannon who knew how to play on populism, he appealed to the people who feel they’ve been disadvantaged culturally by the changes that have taken place,” Roosevelt explains. “And you know what, they are right, they have. They’ve been disadvantaged economically and unless we work with them and recognize their complaints, they have no reason to play a constructive role in the civil conversations we need to have.”
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Vogelheim himself has been described as a “Teddy Roosevelt Republican” which in a different state other than deep red, far-right leaning Wyoming, would place him squarely in the radical middle. Strangely perhaps, the views of TR, even as interpreted by a sportsman and lifelong Republican like TR IV, would not today automatically translate into a candidate winning a governor’s race, seat in the House or Senate. Could TR or TR IV themselves even get through Wyoming’s GOP primary?
Observers say that Wyoming, to its own detriment, has stubbornly rejected almost anything that could be perceived as being “environmental”—including the rising value of non-consumptive nature-related tourism. Teton County is treated in the state legislature as a freakish anomaly, though many other counties in the West use it as a positive reference point of how protecting nature translates into a booming economy and a high quality of life (though there are epic problems with affordability for working class citizens).
As the state has reeled financially from the tumbling coal economy, Teton County has watched nature tourism roar. Billions of dollars are generated annually by the attraction of wildlife watching and outdoor recreation in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Some downstate lawmakers seem to think that even using the word “ecosystem” is part of a liberal plot.
Strangely perhaps, the views of TR, even as interpreted by a sportsman and lifelong Republican like TR IV, would not today automatically translate into a candidate winning a governor’s race, seat in the House or Senate. Could TR or TR IV themselves even get through Wyoming’s GOP primary?
Roosevelt says its misguided to treat “environment” and “preservation” as dirty words, and though TR and John Muir sparred over the difference between “conservation” and “preservation,” both were aligned, he says, in believing society shouldn’t use up things that, when protected, pay greater dividends over a longer term.
Roosevelt and Muir bitterly disagreed over whether the Hetch Hetchy Valley—considered by some even more beautiful that Yosemite Valley—should have been inundated as a reservoir in Yosemite National Park. Ultimately, a dam was built and the water behind it slakes the thirst of San Francisco.
Roosevelt, however, agonized over the decision, and one thing is clear, TR IV notes: in today’s crowded world the old lion would be harping that wild country is worth exceedingly more now than in his time. Conservation yields dividends in myriad ways.
“Ted Roosevelt’s message in Jackson Hole really resonated,” Vogelheim said. “He believes the Republican moderates need to no longer be silent. His plea was that people need to step up and be heard, not just sit there or walk away, reclaim the party’s place in history as the champion of conservation.”
I asked Fosburgh what gives a person legitimacy in claiming to be guided by TR? “You have to be willing to walk the walk in addition to talking the talk of conservation. You don’t have to be a purist. TR and Muir disagreed. The root of the words conservation and conservatism is conserve. TR believed that where you use land you don’t despoil it. You leave it in better shape for future generations. That’s not a radical concept.”
° ° °
Back in Manhattan after colleagues again suggested recently that he run for the senate—as either a moderate Republican or Democrat—Roosevelt was repulsed at the thought of it likely costing $100 million to marshal a campaign with any chance of winning. One hundred million dollars for one seat in the senate. Rather than being on the stump talking issues, he said he’d have to be constantly on the phone hustling contributions, which he finds contrarian to the kind of candidate he’d want to be. It also would bring with it entanglements and potential appearances of conflict of interest—something that doesn’t seem to bother the current president.
Roosevelt believes that the old lion would find the influence of money in politics to be obscene.
Roosevelt has mused on what his great grandfather would make of Ryan Zinke. TR IV is not interested in taking aim with personal criticisms of the interior secretary. However, the old lion fervently believed that those who hold elected or appointed public office must be held to a higher standard. There are a number of things Zinke has done that TR IV avers would elicit loud roars of disapproval.
“What does being a TR conservationist or Republican mean? Where possible I try to call out people who aren’t representing his values honestly. I can’t speak for him but we do have his own words,” Roosevelt said. “He understood the importance of personal character and character as an ethos in politics. One of the things he really liked is the sense that he was battling for right and for morality. At one point he said that if he could no longer battle for those things, he wouldn’t be in politics.”
Chris Wood, the president and CEO of Trout Unlimited, says Roosevelt has credentials to be a critic that make him bulletproof. “He was one of the early pioneers who saw that TU had the potential to marry the on-the-ground presence of 400 chapters and 300,000 members and supporters along with a professional staff of lawyers, biologists, scientists and organizers into a force for conservation,” Wood says. “He helped to build the modern TU. Just as his great grandfather was literally a voice in the wilderness on the value of public lands, from his perch on Wall Street, Ted has become a voice of reason on the need for action on climate change.”
Not only does TU enjoy a membership that includes a lot of businesspeople and inhabitants of the suburbs with tony zip codes, but they vote and are pollinators of discussion.
Invited by Vogelheim to the Roosevelt talk in Jackson was Rob Sisson, president of ConservAmerica, which has 30,000 adherents, almost all of whom are Republicans and Independents who believe that protecting the environment and growing the American economy can and should go hand in hand. Its logo is a green elephant.
Sisson, a lifelong Republican with wide and deep connections, has been part of discussions on Capitol Hill involving Republicans who are trying to restore the party’s historic conservation legacy. Many are convinced the U.S. needs to take action on climate change, but are worried of being primaried out by the far right.
A diverse array of Republicans, reflecting different perspectives on conservation, gathered after Ted Roosevelt gave his talk to a standing-room only crowd in Jackson Hole. Front row, left to right: Mary Kay Turner; Ted Roosevelt IV; former U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming; and Morgan Wallace (daughter of Rob Wallace). Back row, left to right: Alex Muromcew, a Jackson Hole-based venture capitalist; Cornelius Kinsey, architect; Paul Vogelheim, Teton County GOP chairman and county commissioner; Rob Wallace, former chief of staff for the late Malcolm Wallop, senior executive for energy policy with General Electric, public policy expert and "TR conservationist"; Rob Sisson, CEO and president of ConservAmerica, John Turner, former state senator, national director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and former board member of Peabody Coal; and Nathaniel Sisson (son of Rob Sisson).
“It’s clear to me that people like Ted Roosevelt are not endangered or alone as they seem, though maybe if you consider him a grass-top (opinion) leader,” he says. “What we really have is a failure to give voice to the Republican pro-environment, pro-conservation grassroots. It isn’t registering, yet. It’s been a struggle but it’s changing. I worry, though, about the GOP being labeled the party that is anti-science, anti-government, anti-public lands which would put it at odds where American sentiment is.”
Randy Newberg, who calls himself a political independent, has grown tired of waiting around for Zinke to demonstrate his conservation mettle and says the number of destructive things he’s done, related to wildlife habitat protection and safeguarding the environment, is far in excess of any achievements. “There are real Theodore Roosevelt conservationists and there are counterfeits. It usually doesn’t take long for counterfeits to reveal themselves by their actions,” he says.
Newberg isn’t just a normal hunter and angler. He is a celebrity, overseeing a diverse social media platform that touts the value of public lands to hunters and anglers. His content reaches millions each year and it includes 65,000 subscribers to hunting and fishing-related Youtube video and podcasts, 56,000 Facebook followers, and 45,000 Instagram followers. He too identifies as a Teddy Roosevelt conservationist and his problem with Zinke relates to the interior secretary’s alliances with lawmakers from Utah—Sen. Lee and U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop—who are pushing the handover of federal public lands to states.
TR IV notes that such an agenda used to be fringe, but the Trump Administration and Zinke have enabled radicalism to go unchecked; it hasn’t helped that Republicans in Congress have gone silent. “Until this becomes painful for Republicans they will let these anti-conservation, anti-environment efforts continue,” Newberg says. “I admire Ted Roosevelt a hell of a lot. He’s using the cachet of his family legacy to push back on his party and say enough is enough.”
No one is perfect, TR IV says. Everyone should be entitled to seek redemption. Although Zinke has been part of an unprecedented push to reverse a legacy of environmental protection more than a century in the making, he can still try to prove himself worthy of claiming he is guided by the old lion, TR IV says. "My great grandfather subscribed to the notion that you criticize when it is necessary and you praise when it is earned. I would like to have plenty of ample reasons to applaud the interior secretary."
Referencing one of TR’s most famous speeches, Citizenship in a Republic, about the importance of citizens constantly waging the good fight in the arena whether they know they will prevail or not, TR IV refuses to rule out the GOP re-finding its way back to conservation roots. “As somebody who believes in doing the right thing for the future, I don’t want to believe it can’t happen. It might be true, that it can’t. But if you believe that, then you are sort of giving up the fight and I refuse to give up the fight. If given the opportunity with the right political leadership, our better nature will prevail.”
Meantime, Ted and Connie Roosevelt will continue their search to find a getaway in Greater Yellowstone where he feels at home.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is part of an ongoing series, "Those Who Faced A Challenge And Did The Right Thing," with research underwritten in part through a grant issued by The Cinnabar Foundation.
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