8 Politicians That Put Their Stamp on the Outdoors

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If you love the out­doors, you may fear los­ing access to pub­lic lands, or roll­backs in clean water and air pro­tec­tion. Amidst the entrenched par­ti­san bat­tles, it’s easy to for­get that con­ser­va­tion has often been a bipar­ti­san top­ic. Whether you love them or hate them, these politi­cians have at some point done some crit­i­cal work — often in unex­pect­ed ways — to pro­tect the envi­ron­ment. They come from both par­ties, and they may not be who you think.

Jimmy CarterJim­my Carter
With one stroke of his pen, Jim­my Carter final­ized pro­tect­ing wild places equal to the entire state of Cal­i­for­nia. On Decem­ber 2nd, 1980 as he was about to leave the White House, he signed the Alas­ka Nation­al Inter­est Lands Con­ser­va­tion Act, a sweep­ing con­ser­va­tion lega­cy that pro­tect­ed over 55 mil­lion acres. The names pre­served by ANILCA are now com­mon hall­marks of Alas­ka wild­ness: Misty Fjords, Admi­ral­ty Island, Wrangell-St. Elias, Kenai Fjords, Kat­mai, Gates of the Arc­tic and an expand­ed Denali Nation­al Park, to name a few. His push for renew­able ener­gy fore­saw cli­mate change and the via­bil­i­ty of solar, wind, and wave energy.

George H.W. BushGeorge H.W. Bush
The first eight years of the 1980s weren’t great for con­ser­va­tion. When Ronald Rea­gan left the White House and his Vice Pres­i­dent moved in, many expect­ed more of the same. But ear­ly in his term, Bush over­ruled his advi­sors and sup­port­ed a new­fan­gled mar­ket-based pol­i­cy tool to reduce acid rain. It was called “Cap-and-Trade”, and it’s a main­stay of cli­mate change poli­cies world­wide today. Bush used it to put the lid on sul­phur diox­ide emis­sions that were caus­ing acid rain. Bush also sup­port­ed the “no net loss” wet­lands pol­i­cy that led to the restora­tion of thou­sands of acres of wetlands.

Sherwood BoehlertSher­wood Boehlert
If you don’t hail from New York, you may nev­er have heard of Boehlert, a Repub­li­can Con­gress­man in Upstate New York from the 1980s until 2007. Dubbed the “Green Hor­net” for his com­bi­na­tion of envi­ron­men­tal leg­is­la­tion and will­ing­ness to put a sting in the side of his own par­ty, Boehlert was a strong advo­cate for cli­mate sci­ence and for the aver­age fuel effi­cien­cy of cars. If you dri­ve a hybrid, he’s one of the rea­sons why. Since leav­ing Con­gress, he’s worked on ener­gy issues with a lit­tle known fel­low by the name of Al Gore.

Richard NixonRichard Nixon
Nixon is infa­mous (and right­ly so) for Water­gate. He’s usu­al­ly left off the list of envi­ron­men­tal champions—but it’s his sig­na­ture on four major pieces of envi­ron­men­tal leg­is­la­tion: the Endan­gered Species Act, the Nation­al Envi­ron­men­tal Pol­i­cy Act, the Marine Mam­mal Pro­tec­tion Act, and the cre­ation of the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency, which con­trols air and water pol­lu­tion. For his first head of the EPA, he appointed…

William RuckelshausWilliam Ruck­elshaus
Nixon’s first head of the EPA, Ruck­elshaus had a rep­u­ta­tion as a no-non­sense attor­ney. Start­ing from scratch, he built the EPA’s author­i­ty in an era when dead fish lined the shores of Lake Erie and the Cuya­hoga Riv­er had recent­ly caught fire. He insisted—correctly—that DDT posed a greater human can­cer risk than many experts thought, and insist­ed on ban­ning it. He became famous lat­er, as act­ing head of the FBI, for resign­ing as part of the “Sat­ur­day Night Mas­sacre” when he refused to fire the Water­gate Spe­cial Prosecutor.

Barack ObamaBarack Oba­ma
Obama’s lega­cy includes 22 new or enlarged Nation­al Mon­u­ments and pro­tect­ed 265 acres of land and water, includ­ing three Mon­u­ments that, along with adjoin­ing nation­al parks, make up one of the largest desert pre­serves in the world. One of his first pieces of leg­is­la­tion was the 2009 Omnibus Pub­lic Land Act, which set aside wilder­ness for the first time in decades. In an era of bit­ter divi­sions, the Pub­lic Lands Act passed the Sen­ate by a bipar­ti­san vote of 77–20.

Ron WydenRon Wyden
Camp­ing, hik­ing and play­ing out­side make up a $646 bil­lion indus­try that employs more Amer­i­cans than Apple. Wyden, a Sen­a­tor from Ore­gon, under­stands the eco­nom­ic engine of out­door recre­ation bet­ter than any politi­cian in Wash­ing­ton D.C. In 2016, Wyden intro­duced the Recre­ation Not Red Tape Act, which would stream­line per­mit­ting, increase pro­grams to main­tain trails and camp­grounds, get kids and vet­er­ans out­doors on pub­lic lands, and enlarge the Pub­lic Land Ser­vice Corps. Right now, it’s still just a bill sit­ting there on Capi­tol Hill, but maybe it will be a law some­day. Wyden is cur­rent­ly spear­head­ing efforts to keep the EPA’s pro­tec­tions on air and water strong.

Teddy RooseveltTed­dy Roosevelt
No list of this type would be com­plete with­out TR. The orig­i­na­tor of the “vig­or­ous life,” Roo­sevelt cre­at­ed the Nation­al Wildlife Sys­tem and the Nation­al For­est sys­tem, pro­tect­ed the Grand Canyon, enlarged Yosemite, and des­ig­nat­ed the first Nation­al Mon­u­ments. But he did far more than that. What oth­er Pres­i­dent went bear hunt­ing, ditched his entourage to camp with John Muir for three days in Yosemite, and explored rivers in the Ama­zon? TR made the rugged out­doors fun­da­men­tal­ly American.