On Friday, November 30, 2018, we lost one of America's true conservation heroes. President George Herbert Walker Bush passed away at the age of 94 after a lifetime of service to this great nation. President Bush was born in a family of comfort and wealth, yet never saw himself above anyone else. He constantly led by example through giving of himself to a cause he believed was above all else: the United States of America.
President Bush attended the Phillips Academy in Massachusetts and, against his father's wishes, joined the Navy right after graduation rather than go on to college. He believed his country needed him then, not later, and he stepped up to do his part. This would establish a trend of service that would follow him throughout his life. After being shot down over the Pacific and miraculously rescued by a U.S. submarine, he finished out the war and returned home, where he attended Yale University. Instead of staying in New England, where his future was guaranteed, he took his family to Texas and began a career of business and politics. He was quoted as saying he "didn't wear button-down shirts, liked horseshoes, country music, and pork rinds." He was a man that was given everything, but chose everyone else. He loved the working man and the value system that came with that culture: home, family, and God's creations. George Herbert Walker Bush LOVED to fish and be in the outdoors, and he LOVED WETLANDS.
President Bush chose a Ducks Unlimited gathering as his venue to tout the newly passed North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) in 1989. NAWCA is one of, if not the, most influential laws ever enacted exclusively for the protection of wetland and grassland habitats. While waterfowl are certainly a primary focus of the law, they are not the only one. NAWCA directs that wetlands be protected and conserved for the benefit of waterfowl and all wildlife that benefit from wetlands. Nearly 30 million acres of wetland and grassland habitat have been conserved through NAWCA in North America, with assistance for habitat conservation going to Canada and Mexico as well. This law, and a wise President, recognized that migratory and resident species alike do not honor borders. Nature belongs to all mankind, regardless of the country in which it is found. In addition, 56 national wildlife refuges were added during President Bush's administration, more than any other one-term President.
As a field wetlands biologist in the 1980s with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I remember well his second most profound commitment to conservation. President Bush declared it to be a national policy that there would be "no net loss of wetlands." That policy has been accepted by every succeeding President, regardless of party, up to and including President Trump. It is seldom the case that a President has such impact on the mindset and value system of our country. President Bush succeeded. He did it in his "kinder and gentler" approach and his "thousand points of light," determined to include everyone and exclude no one.
On his 90th birthday, two of our great DU conservation leaders were with President Bush to thank him for a lifetime of service. DU President George Dunklin and WAT Trustee Johnny Morris were with the President to let him know how much we all loved him and appreciated everything he had done for wetlands and fish and wildlife conservation. No President since Teddy Roosevelt has had more influence on the conservation of this nation's magnificent natural resources. Rest in Peace, Sir, and thank you.