- Gifford Pinchot and the First Foresters: The Untold Story of the Brave Men and Women Who Launched the American Conservation Movement by Bibi Gaston, and: Gifford Pinchot: Selected Writings by Gifford Pinchot
Gifford Pinchot remains important in Pennsylvania history for his terms as governor and in national history for building the American conservation movement. Char Miller’s and Bibi Gaston’s books help to explain how he achieved this. Pinchot combined his love of nature with bureaucratic practicality, and it was through his proactive administrative methods that he built a particularly American version of environmental consciousness. A key bureaucratic action made during Pinchot’s career was his relocating the federal Division of Forestry from the Department of Interior to the Department of Agriculture in 1905. Pinchot believed that the forest would be best preserved if treated as a crop (72). This ideology allowed him to manage the environment as a resource. There was some animosity regarding this approach. Preservationists like John Muir clashed with Pinchot’s decision to allow public lands to be used for commercial use. Preservationists sought to free the environment from exploitation. Pinchot viewed conservation as more of a practical approach than preservation and decided that the best way to conserve the land is to be able to regulate its commercial use.
Despite the concerns by preservationists, Pinchot’s love for nature comes through in his writings listed in Char Miller’s final chapter “Natural Engagements.” This chapter is more personal to Pinchot. “In the air the pelicans looked enormous, like tent flies in a hurricane” (224). The descriptions and imagery throughout this chapter resonate long after the book is over. It shows the reader how important the purity of the environment was to Gifford Pinchot for its own sake. But his love for the environment did not deter his stance on his methods of conservation. He believed that dependency on natural resources and environmental sustainability could only be secured by federal regulation and that regulation could only be secured by economic arguments.
Bibi Gaston’s Gifford Pinchot and the First Foresters breathes more life into the man behind the writings in Miller’s book. Her inviting [End Page 287] introductions, excerpts, and selected photos make Pinchot more than a name on paper. The letters that she includes in her book shows the admiration and dedication that the first men and women of the US Forest Service had for him. Long after Pinchot’s dismissal as Chief Forester of the Service, he wanted the dedication of these men and women, the “Old Timers,” to be remembered. He wanted to preserve the history of the Service and the Old Timers in the Library of Congress. He put out advertisements and asked the Old Timers to send him “a picture of their work year by year” and maybe even the “reason or influence that led to forestry” (6). Gaston chooses twenty-seven excerpted responses from various Old Timers and Pinchot’s personal responses to them. All the contributions from the Old Timers demonstrate gratitude for their experience in the Service and their loyalty to Pinchot. One example: “The old Service was a constant inspiration. I remember Mr. Sherman’s favorite quotation: ‘We who follow the Colonel, follow the Colonel still,’” signed, “Very sincerely yours, Earle H. Frothingham” (15). In return, Pinchot expressed his gratitude for their letters.
These personal accounts indicate a sense of familiarity and shared purpose. One can really see how tight-knit the Forest Service became under Pinchot. He involved himself in every aspect of it. As its head, Pinchot provided the Old Timers a sense of belonging and purpose in their world. It is clear from his letters thanking them for their contribution that Pinchot respected and admired these men and women as much as they did him. Gaston chose letters that...