Back to the Future
Congressman Sherwood, members of the Pinchot family, Eddie Brannon, and all of you who do such great work through the Pinchot Institute for Conservation: It’s an honor and a privilege for me to be hear today.
Today is a special day. It is Gifford Pinchot’s birthday. On this day, it’s especially fitting to rededicate this beautiful building to the cause of conservation—this piece of our national history, the home of Gifford Pinchot.
Who was Gifford Pinchot? For one thing, he was the nation’s first Chief Forester, the first Chief of the Forest Service. But he was more. Almost four decades ago, President John F. Kennedy first came here to dedicate Grey Towers. Gifford Pinchot, he said, “was more than a forester; he was the Father of American Conservation.” Pinchot made conservation a household word.
Thanks to the generosity of the Pinchot family, Grey Towers is more than a piece of our national heritage. It is also a piece of our future. In dedicating the Pinchot Institute for Conservation here at Grey Towers, President Kennedy defined its role. “It is far more fitting and proper,” said the President, “rather than merely honor what [Pinchot] did, to dedicate this institute to active work today. By it’s nature, it looks to the future and not to the past.”
Today, as we look to the future, three points in our national destiny come together at Grey Towers: the turn of the twentieth century and the birth of conservation; the 1960s and a rebirth of conservation, at Grey Towers and elsewhere; and the turn of the twenty-first century, a time of opportunity for the century to come. Our challenge today is to seize the opportunity to extend conservation and sustainable forestry for the benefit of generations to come.
For that, we need to go back to the lessons of the past. What challenges did Gifford Pinchot face? How have things changed? What role can the Pinchot Institute play in the future? I believe we need to look at four broad challenges:
1. The debate over how to manage America’s forests and rangelands. How will we resolve it?
2. The need for broad cooperation across ownerships. How can we strengthen it?
3. Global conservation. How can we strengthen our international partnerships?
4. Changing communities as more city folks move out into the countryside. How can we overcome clashing values—a growing polarization of positions?
Let me take a few minutes to talk about each of these challenges. I’ll say upfront: I don’t know the answers. I’m not sure anyone does. I think we’re all going to have to work through these issues together as a nation.
First, in the debate over land use, Gifford Pinchot was no shrinking violet. As a champion for conservation, he took great delight in plunging into the land use debates of his day. Some of those debates are still alive. For example, people still argue over how many of America’s federal wildlands should be withdrawn from certain uses. Feelings often run high.
I think organizations such as the Pinchot Institute can play a useful role here. They can frame the debate by helping people distinguish what unites them from what divides them. Five years ago, at the Seventh American Forest Conference, more than a thousand people came together, representing all kinds of conflicting interests. They were able to agree, often by large majorities, on 12 out of 13 visions for the future of America’s forests. I think that gives us hope that we can work together in the future based on what unites us.
Second, Gifford Pinchot played a dual role—the same role I play today as Forest Service Chief. On one hand, we manage some 192 million acres of national forests as a model for the nation. On the other hand, most forests—some 490 million acres—remain in nonfederal hands. That’s why it’s so important for us to work together for sustainable management across ownerships. As Chief Forester, Gifford Pinchot pioneered the cooperative forestry model we still follow today. The Forest Service has considerable authority to provide assistance, both technical and financial, to nonfederal landowners. The Pinchot Institute can help us define our cooperative partnerships.
Third, global issues have become much more important than they were in Pinchot’s day. For example, global commerce has introduced invasive species that have devastated many of our forests; and commercial forestry questions are now often international in scope. Forestry decisions in one country can profoundly affect others. Organizations such as the Pinchot Institute can help us articulate international agreements for sustainable forestry.
Finally, our nation is becoming more urban. Our cities are expanding to the edge of our wildlands; and more and more city folks are building homes out in the country, bringing their urban attitudes with them. Cultural differences are feeding the land use debate. The Pinchot Institute can help us explore ways to better serve our changing communities and to bridge the differences within and between them.
Land use quarrels; fragmented forest ownership; global implications; and changes in our communities. These are some of the challenges we will face in the years ahead.
As I said before, I don’t have all the answers. But I do know this: if we can work together on the basis of what unites us, then what divides us needn’t defeat us. As a basis for what unites us, I would offer this: What we leave on the land is more important than what we take away. In the spirit of Gifford Pinchot, let’s meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Let’s let Pinchot’s legacy be our guide.