More than 70 years after his death, Gifford Pinchot remains an extremely powerful voice in America’s conservation movement -- influencing presidents, departments and even shaping the definition of conservation. In honor of Pinchot’s birthday on August 11, check out some fascinating stories and inspiring quotes from this pivotal figure in American history.
Gifford Pinchot established the modern definition of conservation as a “wise use” approach to public land. Conservationists believe in using land sustainably to preserve it for future generations, rather than allowing it to be exploited and lost forever. Pinchot’s conservation theory has often been conflated with John Muir’s idea of preservation. Muir believed that human actions could harm our nation’s landscapes and therefore should be avoided, sharply restricting access to these lands.
Pinchot’s ideas paralleled those of President Theodore Roosevelt and together the two led a national conservation movement. Today, Pinchot’s philosophy of multiple use continues to influence the mission of federal agencies like the U.S. Forest Service and Interior’s Bureau of Land Management.
The friendship that bloomed between Pinchot and Roosevelt was based on their shared love of the outdoors. Their combined work sparked federal action to conserve areas of cultural significance and great beauty. Pinchot also collaborated with Roosevelt’s administration on the National Forest Commission and as Chairman of the National Conservation Committee.
Pinchot led American forestry services for over a decade. He served as 1st Chief of the United States Forest Service and 4th chief of the Division of Forestry -- the predecessor to USFS. The USFS is part of the Department of Agriculture, a frequent partner of the Department of Interior.
Pinchot led a 12 year long conservation charge at these organizations. American conservation efforts strengthened after Pinchot’s decision to increase his staff almost tenfold and used the press to raise conservation awareness, even establishing his own in-house press bureau. In 1900, Pinchot solidified his forestry legacy by establishing the Society of American Foresters, which still exists as a nonprofit representing the forestry profession.
Pinchot was the first American to receive formal instruction in forestry. At the time, no academic institution in the United States offered forestry courses, but Pinchot wouldn’t let that stop his dream of becoming a true American conservationist. He studied at the National School of Waters and Forests in Nancy, France, in 1900. Later in life he decided to promote conservation in future generations. Gifford and his brother James founded the Yale School of Forestry, which still exists as a professional school to train environmental leaders for the future.
Under Pinchot’s control, national forests increased from 32 to 149, totalling 193 million acres by 1910. Pinchot’s tremendous impacts in American forestry earned him a forester’s commemoration: public lands named after him to honor his legacy. The Gifford Pinchot National Forest was renamed in 1949 to bear Pinchot’s name after his death. Gifford Pinchot State Park in Pennsylvania was also named to honor his contributions to the nation’s public lands. Both parks commemorate a pillar in the American conservation movement whose legacy can still be felt today.
“I have been governor every now and then, but I am a forester all the time.”
-- Gifford Pinchot
Although Pinchot served two terms as governor of Pennsylvania and spent over a decade working for the federal government, he always thought of himself as a forester more than anything.
Are you moved by Gifford Pinchot’s lifelong fight to conserve the outdoors? Learn more about his legacy or take time to experience the same outdoor wonders that Pinchot dedicated his life to.