Of Muir and Pinchot


In "A New Forest Paradigm," Nathan Rice refers to "John Muir's preservationist ideals" and "Gifford Pinchot's utilitarian forestry" (HCN, 4/29/13). Muir certainly fit the mold of a preservationist, believing nature should be preserved for its own sake. But many would argue that Pinchot was more of a traditional conservationist rather than a utilitarian. The latter believes nature is there for our use, to be exploited -- perhaps decimated -- for short-term gain, with little regard for immediate or long-term consequences. The former holds that nature should provide the greatest good for the greatest number for the longest time. Natural resources are to be managed and used in a sustainable manner over the long term.

While most of Pinchot's battles were with timber companies that he thought had too narrow a time horizon, he also battled the forest preservationists, like Muir, who were deeply opposed to massive timber cutting and commercializing nature. Pinchot advocated for the conservation of the nation's forest reserves by planned use and renewal. His main contribution was his leadership in promoting scientific forestry and emphasizing the controlled, profitable use of forests and other natural resources so they would be of maximum benefit to mankind. He called it "the art of producing from the forest whatever it can yield for the service of man." He was the first to demonstrate the practicality and profitability of managing forests for continuous cropping. His leadership put conservation of forests high on America's priority list.

These concepts laid the foundation for federal forest management. Of course, reality indicates that practices on some federal lands since the time of Pinchot have indeed taken on a utilitarian nature.

Walter Hunner
Electric City, Washington

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