The Compromise of Fall

When the nature lover John Muir worked together with hunting enthusiast Theodore Roosevelt, great things happened. For example, President Roosevelt expanded the protection of Yosemite National Park after spending time there with Muir. Muir inspired Roosevelt to act on his personal convictions and to use his elected power for the benefit of future generations. Roosevelt delivered to Muir the permanent protection of (at least a portion of) a wilderness to which Muir was profoundly devoted. It’s a darn shame environmentalists and hunters don’t get together more often.

Muir and Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir on Glacier Point, Yosemite Valley, California, c.1906, via The Evolution of the Conservation Movement/Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs Division.

Sadly, the two groups are usually at odds. Their reasons are complicated and many. At the heart lies differences of passionate opinion about Nature. But like Muir and Roosevelt, as far as I can tell, both the environmentalist and the hunter want the same thing.

They both want Nature to be protected from the wants of industry and over consumption. Both want the right to live in a way that fits Nature’s design. Both spend time sitting quietly outdoors, and so both are aware of what goes on there. These are the people who best understand the need to reserve some of Nature’s spaces so that life on earth can continue.

Tomorrow marks the opening day of archery season here in Pennsylvania. That means I must begin to be very careful about where I hike. During this gorgeous season, before I answer the forest’s loud and brilliant call…


…I must distinguish myself from the species on which the hunter preys.

Meanwhile, the hunter must follow the regulations set forth to keep humans safe and animals abundant. These are compromises we must make. This land shall be shared. And I can think of no one better to share it with than a person who is connected to the source of his or her sustenance and appreciates the ecology of the mammalian existence. We both understand the connection between clean water and diversified habitat, between diversified habitat and abundance, and between abundance and well-being. Why then should we not be friends?

“During his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt signed into existence 5 national parks, 18 national monuments, 55 national bird sanctuaries and wildlife refuges, and 150 national forests,” according to the Sierra Club, of which Muir was a founding member.

Muir spent his adult life confronting the differences of opinions between men, both foes and adversaries. “This forest battle,” he wrote, “is part of the eternal conflict between right and wrong. . . . sooner it is stirred up and debated before the people the better, for thus the light will be let into it.”* Discussion is what transformed Muir’s love of a thing into Roosevelt’s protection of it. Together they achieved more than they either could have done alone. May we continue the conversation they started long, long ago.