This is the fabric of our nation. The resources and activities that enrich our
lives, ensure our welfare and define our American heritage. THIS is the Department of the Interior. Memories linger in these hallways. The beauty spots and scars of political history
etched into its foundation and painted on its walls. “The Department of the Interior was first
known as the Home Department. It was established four score and seven years
ago, and since that time its activities have been intertwined with the internal development
of the nation itself.” Since its creation in 1849 the Department
of the Interior has adapted to the changes that have shaped the nation at large. Our story is a coming-of-age story about a
country in its infancy and the agency that grows up alongside it. Manifest Destiny: The promise of land and
fortune inspires the nation to push westward, to explore old boundaries and draw new ones. ”Be it enacted by the Senate and House of
Representatives that any person who is the head of a family. . . .”
Enabled by a growing network of railroads and encouraged by legislation promising free
land to any homesteader willing to claim it, a tide of settlers ventures out in search
of a new life in America’s Wild West. It is a race to the frontier that offers a
new beginning and opportunity for some, but displacement and tragedy for many. “. . . an act to provide for an exchange
of land with the Indians and for their removal west of the River Mississippi . . . . “
“. . . an act to provide for the allotment of lands in severalty to Indians on various
reservations. . . . “
“Perhaps more than any other department of the federal government, the Interior Department
really does embody the history of our country: the story of our country’s struggles to
expand the horizons and make real the promises of America for all Americans . . . .”
Closer than ever, the wilderness looms on our doorstep, waiting to be explored. “There is something romantic in the thought
that in spite of the restless activity of our people and the almost fabulous rapidity
of their increase, vast tracts of the national domain yet remain unexplored. – New York Times, 1871”
The Interior Department rises to the challenge and sends out surveyors and scientists to
study the land. These explorers map and document this uncharted
territory and make discoveries that ignite the imagination. “What a world of grandeur is spread before
us. Cathedral-shaped buttes towering thousands
of feet . . . ledges from which the gods might quarry mountains . . . and canyon walls that
shrink the river into insignificance. John Wesley Powell, United States Geological
Survey.” As the nation’s borders expand and the new
discoveries transform American life, the government faces unprecedented management challenges. The Department of the Interior must evolve
with this changing world. The population pushes westward, but inhospitable
climates and terrain pose challenges for those who live off the land. “. . . an act for the construction of irrigation
works for the reclamation of arid land. Reclamation Act of 1902.” The Interior Department builds hydroelectric
dams in regions plagued by drought. “Here comes the water from the Grand Coulee,
rushing toward the dusty acres….” “This is the moment that people in this
area have waited for for more than a quarter of a century.” The dams bring water and power to the arid
West, creating habitable, arable land for generations to come. Faced with the demand for energy, public land
offers the natural resources needed to power the future. “It has now been shown that oil in substantial
quantities could be obtained by drilling. . . . “
“. . . Act of February 25th, 1920: An act to promote the mining of coal, phosphate,
oil, oil shale, gas and sodium on the public domain. Be it enacted by the Senate and the House
of Representatives. . . .”
Leases on the land managed by the Department of the Interior fuel the economy and hold
promise for a prosperous future. But with this rapid growth it becomes clear
that the natural resources will one day run out. “There came as cries from the wilderness,
warnings against the ravaging of our forests, the waste of our topsoil and the dissipation
of our oil reserves. . . .”
We come to learn that land management is a balancing act between use and conservation. To navigate this delicate balance, the Interior
Department dedicates new services to preserving public lands. “Be it enacted by the Senate and House of
Representatives . . . that there is hereby created in the Department of the Interior
a service to be called the National Park Service. . . .”
And new bureaus to regulate activities on the public lands and the development of their
natural resources. “It is the mission of the Bureau of Land
Management to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the public lands for the
use and enjoyment of present and future generations. . . .”
It is a balancing act that we don’t always get right. If this gets through, we’re still gonna
be stacking coal. But as scientific evidence mounts and the
impacts of human activity become clear, our priorities shift to address the new concerns. “The President’s remarks at the signing
of the Wilderness Preservation Act. . . “ “The Wilderness Bill preserves for our posterity nine million acres of this vast continent
in their original and unchanging beauty and wonder.” “ ‘Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation.’ Those are the words that Richard Nixon said
when he signed the Endangered Species Act.” “As stated in our American Constitution,
men and women have certain rights. But I also think the landscape has certain
rights. Wilderness itself has certain rights.” “The bill before me now, the Alaska National
Interest Lands Conservation Act, is one of the most important pieces of conservation
legislation.” As the Interior Department’s role in protecting our natural heritage grows, so too does its
responsibility to protect our cultural heritage. Our historical treasures at risk of destruction
at the hands of looters and developers, the people look to the Department of the Interior
to safeguard the nation’s memories and its cultural legacies. “The Congress finds and declares that the
spirit and direction of the Nation are founded upon and reflected in its historic heritage. The historical and cultural foundations of
the Nation should be preserved as a living part of our community life and development. . . .” (National Historic Preservation Act,
1966) The Department of the Interior’s story is
one of change. A pattern of conflict and resolution that
reflects the growing pains of a maturing nation. “Quite a bit has changed for the Bureau
of Indian Affairs since its inception in 1824. What started as an office to negotiate treaties
between the federal government and Indian tribes has grown into a bureau that looks
to help tribes become more self-sufficient.” Amidst the tide of history the Department
of the Interior adopts policies to uphold new principles and attempt to right the wrongs
of the past. “But the issue here really is our lack of
self determination.” Recognizing that is a long process with ongoing
challenges and many voices. “. . . always fighting to preserve who we
are as a people and where we came from.” “. . . I still have a connection to our homeland . . . .” “. . . stand up and be proud of who we are and what we are.” “. . . Remember that the land has a memory.” “. . . establishment of a meaningful Indian self-determination policy . . . .” From honoring our commitments and trust responsibilities to the tribal nations. and other American Indian farmers and ranchers. . . “ To preserving sites, icons and memories of
the past . . . Harnessing energy from the land, the wind
and the sun, to drive our economy and secure a sustainable future for all Americans on
this continent and across the seas. Ensuring the health of our waterways and the health of our lands by managing the impact
of our activities and extinguishing threats to our natural resources. “You guys have your regulation books as
well.” Through the scientific study of our landscapes,
our wildlife and of our marine environments Through the conservation of our wild areas for the enjoyment of everyone. Shaped by the events of the past, the Department
of the Interior has become an agency of many responsibilities but a single shared goal:
to steward and protect all that makes up our American heritage.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *