Sunday, October 04, 2009

A Republican Who Helped Save Forests

Gifford Pinchot. Breaking New Ground. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1998 (originally published in 1947)

This is a description of early American public policy on forest management and conservation from a leading advocate and administrator of these policies, Gifford Pinchot, the first leader of the U.S. Forest Service during the Theodore Roosevelt Administration.

Pinchot notes that most Americans gave no thought to forests into the 1860s and prior other than the realization that forests existed. France had recognized three centuries earlier under Colbert, a minister of King Louis XIV, but this knowledge had not spread to America. As people cut into forests for their purposes, there was no consideration that any damage could arise from these actions. In time, beginning around the 1880s, it was realized there is a need to manage replanting of trees and management of forests is required.

Gifford’s father was one of the original advocates of forest management policies. The author calls his called the Father of Forestry in America. The author saw well managed forests throughout Europe. He made it his mission to inform his country’s residents about the advantage of proper forest management.

Half of all American forests were held in private ownership around the 1890s. Most owners sought to cut trees and sell lumber as quickly as they could. An underground market of stolen timber from government owned forest land existed, and the government did little to stop this practice.

The first U.S. forest law was the Yellowstone National Park creation in 1872 which made it illegal to cut timber within Yellowstone National Park.

In 1873 the Timber Culture Act passed allowed homesteaders to claim some portions of public land by planting trees on the land. This idea generally failed as most trees failed to thrive before the homesteaders were able to obtain title of their lands.

In 1881, the U.S. Agriculture Department created a Forestry Division.

Pinchot and Interior Secretary Hoke Smith created new forest reserve land. In 1897, President Grover Cleveland increased by more than double the amount of forest reserves to over 21 million acres. The author notes that no forest management plan was created for this land.

President McKinley saved the Cleveland Reserves. The Interior Secretary was designated as the official in charge of selling trees on national land and preserving forests from destruction. Most of the first appointments to administer this were on a patronage basis. They had little expertise on forest management.

Governor Theodore Roosevelt support creating state forest reserve preserves within New York. When he became President, his first Congressional message was to create a Reclamation Service. This was the beginnings of what would become the U.S. Forest Service. This service transformed much desert land into farmland.

Issues over grazing captured far more attention on reserve matters than issues over forestry. In tine, people became more aware that land had been overgrazed and forests overcut. President Roosevelt began charging for grazing on Federal land. This was soundly objected to be Western Congressional members yet Roosevelt refused to back down. The beginnings of a national conservation effort began under Teddy Roosevelt.

Teddy Roosevelt wanted land to be held for the greatest public good over the longest time. He held the nation’s first national conservation conference. He further had the first inventory of the nation’s natural resources ever conducted. He insisted that forest on Indian Reservations be held for Indian use.

Roosevelt ended many corrupt land use practices. This upset the corrupt politicians yet Roosevelt stood up to them. He created the largest deposit of phosphate rock ever, which secured its future use as fertilizer, and prevented politicians from exploiting this reserve for their financial gain. He halted selling public land with coal at undervalued prices. He stepped in and halted corrupt use of Indian land.

The author was upset that President Taft stepped away from many of Roosevelt’s land practices. Pinchot declares that “conservative is the application of common sense to the common problems for the common good.”


Post a Comment

<< Home