Douglas Brinkley on FDR’s Environmentalism

Civilian Conservation Corps recruitment posterWe’re very excited about all the buzz surrounding Douglas Brinkley’s Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America. (In fact, Gray Brechin is reviewing it for our Fall 2016 newsletter.) In a recent edition of the Saturday Evening Post, Brinkley provided a refresher on FDR’s conservationism and environmentalism, centering on the president’s ambitious—and realized—vision for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). It worth’s reading, even if you’re familiar with the CCC and with FDR’s environmentalist bent.

Without shying away from its various failings—including following local politics so as to not alienate Southern supporters, which led to segregated CCC camps in the Jim Crow South—Brinkley showcases Roosevelt as an architect of America’s landscapes, hearts, and minds: “Forests, like people, must be constantly productive,” FDR once asserted. “The problems of the future of both are interlocked. American forestry efforts must be consolidated, and advanced.” And, as Brinkley notes, this was more than idle talk: “Surrounded by maps of America, the president studied rivers and streams, deserts and forestlands. ‘I want,’ Roosevelt declared, ‘to personally check the location and scope of the camps.’ Roosevelt’s ‘tree army’ became a legend from the start, and he became a forester-in-chief hero to many conservation groups.”

We tend to think of the marriage of environmentalism and patriotism as something new. But as Brinkley asserts, “Roosevelt viewed his ‘boys’ not merely as temporary relief workers, but as makers of a permanent, greener new America.”



Gabriel Milner is Project Manager for The Living New Deal. He is a trained cultural historian who teaches courses in U.S. History at the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University.

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