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ORIGIN AND PLAN OF THE CONFERENCE
The idea of conserving the Nation's resources arose partly from the recent forestry movement, partly from the still more recent waterway movement.
The germ of the idea took form in an address by President Roosevelt before the Society of American Foresters (of which he was and is an associate member), March 26, 1903. In expressions indicating perhaps more clearly than any of earlier date the interdependence of our resources, he said to the forest students:
Your attention must be directed to the preservation of the forests, not as an end in itself, but as a means of preserving the prosperity of the Nation. * * * In the arid region of the West agriculture depends first of all upon the available water supply. In such a region forest protection alone can maintain the stream flow necessary for irrigation and can prevent the great and destructive floods so ruinous to communities farther down the same streams. * The relation between forests and the whole mineral industry is an extremely intimate one. The very existence of lumbering * * depends upon the success of our work as a Nation in putting practical forestry into effective operation. As it is with mining and lumbering, so it is in only a less degree with transportation, manufactures, and commerce in general. The relation of all these industries to forestry is of the most intimate and dependent kind.
With continued development of the forest policy the interdependence of woodlands and waterways yearly became more evident; and it also became increasingly clear that both woods and waters are in their industrial aspects closely related not only to mineral production and the reclamation of arid lands but to all agriculture and to transportation.
The next formal expression appeared when the President, in response to petitions of the People of the Interior, appointed the Inland Waterways Commission. In the letter creating the Commission he declared:
It is becoming clear that our streams should be considered and conserved as great natural resources.
The time has come for merging local projects and uses of the inland waters in a comprehensive plan designed for the benefit of the entire country, * * * It is not possible to properly frame so large a plan
without taking account of the orderly development of other natural resources. Therefore, I ask that the Inland Waterways Commission shall consider the relations of the streams to the use of all the great permanent natural resources and their conservation for the making and maintenance of prosperous homes.
While the foregoing expressions indicated both the relations among the Nation's resources and the need for a wider utilization of them, they did little more than forecast a National duty. Conservation as a single problem and as a basis for National policy was outlined still more clearly in the President's address before the National Editorial Association in Jamestown, June 10, 1907, the tenor of which appears in the following passages:
In utilizing and conserving the natural resources of the Nation, the one characteristic more essential than any other is foresight. * No other Nation enjoys so wonderful a measure of present prosperity, which can of right be treated as an earnest of future success, and for no other are the rewards of foresight so great, so certain, and so easily foretold. Yet hitherto as a Nation we have tended to live with an eye single to the present, and have permitted the reckless waste and destruction of much of our National wealth.
The conservation of our natural resources and their proper use constitute the fundamental problem which underlies almost every other problem of our National life. Unless we maintain an adequate material basis for our civilization, we can not maintain the institutions in which we take so great and so just a pride; and to waste and destroy our natural resources means to undermine these material bases.
So much for what we are trying to do in utilizing our public lands for the public; in securing the use of the water, the forage, the coal, and the timber for the public. In all four movements my chief adviser, and the man first to suggest to me the courses which have actually proved so beneficial, was Mr Gifford Pinchot, the Chief of the National Forest Service. Mr Pinchot also suggested to me a movement supplementary to all of these movements, one which will itself lead the way in the general movement which he represents and with which he is actively identified, for the conservation of all our natural resources.
This was the appointment of the Inland Waterways Commission.
On May 14-23, 1907, the Inland Waterways Commission, while engaged in an inspection trip along the lower Mississippi at high-water stage, repeatedly discussed the policy of Conservation in its bearing on the general plans for waterway improvement toward which they were at work; and at their Fifteenth Session, on May 21 (aboard the steamer Mississippi), it was decided subject to approval by the President—to hold a conference or convention in Washington during the ensuing winter to discuss the conservation of the Nation's resources. Chairman Burton was formally authorized to issue to the press a brief statement framed by Vice-Chairman Newlands, and the chairman and Commissioner Pinchot were made a committee to convey the matter “to the President as an expression of the view of the Commission, leaving him to decide how the call shall issue.” Soon afterward this committee conferred informally with the President, and received his sanction for arranging such a meeting.
During ensuing months Commissioners Newlands, Pinchot, Newell, and McGee met on the Pacific coast, partly for the purpose of examining waterways and partly to consider and arrange details of the proposed assembly. Just before the opening of the Fifteenth Session of the National Irrigation Congress at Sacramento, early in September, a preliminary draft of programme was put in writing and sent to Chairman Burton. This draft corresponded closely in topics, speakers, and other details with the calendar subsequently adopted, except that up to this time the conference was designed primarily as one of experts rather than of statesmen.
At Sacramento it was learned by one of the commissioners present that the Lakes-to-Gulf Deep Waterway Association, then arranging for their Memphis convention, expected to bring together a score or more of State executives; and the suggestion was offered that, if the five Governors attending the Irrigation Congress should approve, it might be well to invite the State executives of the entire country to take part in the proposed conference in Washington. Senator Newlands, as Vice-Chairman of the Commission, at once acted on the suggestion by inviting Governors Gillett, Chamberlain, Mead, Cutler, and Kibbey to meet the four commissioners present and discuss the matter. All accepted except Governor Gillett, who had a conflicting engagement, but signified general approval. At the meeting the idea of Conservation in its relations to waterway improvement was outlined, together with the plan for the conference so far as developed; and in the course of discussion the further idea was brought out more clearly than before that the State Governor is of necessity the chief sponsor for the welfare of his commonwealth. Soon as suggested, this idea modified the pla for the meeting, and led to the decision that it should be primarily a Conference of Governors, and only secondarily a meeting of experts able authoritatively to convey information both to the Governors and to the Commission. The four Governors present signified full approval of the plan and the determination to take part in the Conference, Governor Chamberlain observing that he had already contemplated and even suggested meetings of Governors for the discussion of interstate questions.
The outcome of the Sacramento meeting and the progress in the preparation of plans for the Conference were informally communicated to the President, and in the draft of his Memphis address before the Lakes-to-Gulf Deep Waterway Association, prepared in advance for the press, he incorporated the announcement that the Inland Waterways Commission would, with his full approval, call a Conference of Governors and experts on the conservation of natural resources, to be held in Washington early in the ensuing winter. The announcement in this form was extensively published immediately after the delivery of the address on October 4.
Meantime the Commission was again engaged in an inspection trip down the Mississippi from St. Paul to Memphis at the low-water stage, in which the President took part October 1-4, passing from Keokuk to Memphis amid an ovation unparalleled in the history of the Interior. At the Twenty-third Session of the Commission, on October 3, presided over by the President, it was decided to make the arrangements for the Conference a matter of record through a formal letter. This letter was drafted later in the day; and out of consideration for the score of Governors who were assembled on a neighboring vessel as guests of the Business Men's League of St. Louis, the Commissioners met them on board their vessel and invited them to join in the request to the President that he authorize and formally announce the Conference. Through a natural delicacy, several of the Governors expressed the feeling that it would be better for the plan to originate wholly with the Commission; and accordingly on the morning of October 4 the following written communication was conveyed to the President:
OCTOBER 3, 1907. The PRESIDENT,
On board the U.S. Steamer Mississippi. Sır: In the course of inquiries made under your direction “that the Inland Waterways Commission shall consider the relations of the streams to the use of all the great permanent natural resources and their conservation for the making and maintenance of prosperous homes,” the members of the Commission have been led to feel that it would be desirable to hold a Conference on the general subject of the conservation of the natural resources of the Nation.
Among the reasons for such a Conference are the following:
1. Hitherto our National policy has been one of almost unrestricted disposal of natural resources, and this in more lavish measure than in any other nation in the world's history; and this policy of the Federal Government has been shared by the constituent States. Three consequences have ensued: First, unprecedented consumption of natural resources; second, exhaustion of these resources, to the extent that a large part of our available public lands have passed into great estates or corporate interests, our forests are so far depleted as to mulitply the cost of forest products, and our supplies of coal and iron ore are so far reduced as to enhance prices; and third, unequalled opportunity for private monopoly, to the extent that both the Federal and the State sovereignties have been compelled to enact laws for the protection of the People.
2. We are of opinion that the time has come for considering the policy of conserving these material resources on which the permanent prosperity of our country and the equal opportunity of all our People must depend; we are also of opinion that the policy of conservation is so marked an advance on that policy adopted at the outset of our National career as to demand the consideration of both Federal and State sponsors for the welfare of the People.
3. We are of opinion that the Conference may best be held in the National Capital next winter, and that the conferees should comprise