If you ever have occasion to speak to the public, here’s a quick tip: Try to avoid coming to the stage after one of the greatest presidents of the 20th century.
It sounds unlikely, but it happened to me Friday, when I spoke after Teddy Roosevelt at the Centennial Celebration of the National Elk Refuge in Jackson, Wyoming.
Well, OK. It wasn’t exactly THE Teddy Roosevelt, but the impersonator sure looked and sounded like the old Rough Rider himself. And I’m sure “TR” would have been pleased and amazed at the growth and success of the National Wildlife Refuge System he founded more than a century ago.
The National Elk Refuge, established in 1912 to protect winter habitat vital to the Jackson elk herd, was among the first refuges created after Roosevelt left office. It signified that the Refuge System was not simply the passion of a single president, but an enduring linchpin for North American conservation.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, homesteads, cattle, fences and farming encroached on traditional elk migration pathways and wintering areas. Elk had disappeared from more than 90 percent of their original range in the United States, and northwest Wyoming was one of the last elk strongholds. But the town of Jackson was growing, cutting off access to vital winter feeding grounds in the surrounding valley.
Early Jackson residents needed to protect their domestic cattle herds and haystacks, but they also recognized the importance of the Jackson elk herd and supported efforts to secure land dedicated to preservation of the herd.
A century later, the refuge is still a tangible reminder of the amazing and enduring benefits that occur when people pull together for conservation. And the passion for the Jackson elk herd that drove this refuge’s creation still burns, as we work with the community and our partners to respond to 21st Century challenges.
Today, we're looking to manage this herd more sustainably, and to reconnect it with its ancestral migratory pathways. We're engaging the public and our partners in the development of a new science-driven Comprehensive Conservation Plan. Along with the 2007 Bison and Elk Management Plan, this CCP will guide scientific management and public use of the refuge for the next 15 years.
TR once said: "We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune."
What I see happening here at the National Elk Refuge, and across the nation, is an inspiration. We’re doing our part, and most often a good bit more. I invite you to join us.