Who was our most environmental president? The obvious answer is Theodore Roosevelt, but that is incorrect. Surprisingly, it was his later relative, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was inspired by Theodore Roosevelt, and came to office during the Great Depression in 1933.

FDR's great passion was not politics, but planting trees. Douglas Brinkley tells us in "Rightful Heritage" (2016) that he quickly developed a plan to put thousands of unemployed men to work in the Civilian Conservation Corps to rehabilitate America, while living in outdoor camps. Between its origin in 1933 and Congress' defunding it in 1942, it employed 3.4 million young men. They rehabilitated 40 million acres of eroded farmland, conserved over 18 million acres, many of which were made national forests, other of which were in 711 new state parks. FDR also made a multitude of national parks, national forests and national wildlife refuges — for which Brinkley provided three maps indicating their locations.

There was also a Works Progress Administration, which employed older unemployed men on 1.4 million projects: repairing 600,000 miles of streets and roads, built 120,000 public buildings, and 80,000 recreational facilities — before Congress also ended its funding in 1942. U.S. Armed Services then absorbed many men from both groups to fight World War II.

Frank Egerton


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