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Seeking the Greatest Good

Seeking the Greatest Good: The Conservation Legacy of Gifford Pinchot

Char Miller
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Seeking the Greatest Good
    Book Description:

    President John F. Kennedy officially dedicated the Pinchot Institute for Conservation Studies on September 24, 1963 to further the legacy and activism of conservationist Gifford Pinchot (1865-1946). Pinchot was the first chief of the United States Forest Service, appointed by Theodore Roosevelt in 1905. During his five-year term, he more than tripled the national forest reserves to 172 million acres. A pioneer in his field, Pinchot is widely regarded as one of the architects of American conservation and an adamant steward of natural resources for future generations.Author Char Miller highlights many of the important contributions of the Pinchot Institute through its first fifty years of operation. As a union of the United States Forest Service and the Conservation Foundation, a private New York-based think tank, the institute was created to formulate policy and develop conservation education programs. Miller chronicles the institution's founding, a donation of the Pinchot family, at its Grey Towers estate in Milford, Pennsylvania. He views the contributions of Pinchot family members, from the institute's initial conception by Pinchot's son, Gifford Bryce Pinchot, through the family's ongoing participation in current conservation programming. Miller describes the institute's unique fusion of policy makers, scientists, politicians, and activists to increase our understanding of and responses to urban and rural forestry, water quality, soil erosion, air pollution, endangered species, land management and planning, and hydraulic franking.Miller explores such innovative programs as Common Waters, which works to protect the local Delaware River Basin as a drinking water source for millions; EcoMadera, which trains the residents of Cristobal Colón in Ecuador in conservation land management and sustainable wood processing; and the Forest Health-Human Health Initiative, which offers health-care credits to rural American landowners who maintain their carbon-capturing forestlands. Many of these individuals are age sixty-five or older and face daunting medical expenses that may force them to sell their land for timber.Through these and countless other collaborative endeavors, the Pinchot Institute has continued to advance its namesake's ambition to protect ecosystems for future generations and provide vital environmental services in an age of a burgeoning population and a disruptive climate.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7921-0
    Subjects: History, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    On a warm Friday morning in late June 2012, a party of volunteers—mostly board members of the Pinchot Institute for Conservation and staffers from Grey Towers National Historic Site—put blade to ground on the Jorritsma family’s century-old dairy farm in Sussex County, New Jersey. Within minutes, they had dug a series of deep, round holes along the western bank of the Paulins Kill. As they planted willows and silky dogwood in the floodplain, still spongy underfoot from a recent storm, they could begin to see what the program’s advocates had in mind years earlier when they conceived the...


    • CHAPTER ONE This Old House
      (pp. 11-20)

      They came on a pilgrimage. In September 1961 the Gifford Pinchot Chapter of the Society of American Foresters held its annual meeting in Milford, Pennsylvania. It was the hometown of the group’s namesake, who had established the national society to which they belonged, had been the founding chief of the U.S. Forest Service, and later served two terms as governor of Pennsylvania. Most of all they came to commemorate Gifford Pinchot’s death fifteen years earlier by visiting his grave.

      But it was not the great one’s neoclassical mausoleum that caught their eye, even though it sits gracefully on a small...

    • CHAPTER TWO September 24, 1963
      (pp. 21-24)

      Jfk dropped out of the sky. Ferried from the Stewart Air Force Base in Newburgh, New York, on Marine One, the presidential helicopter, he put down at a makeshift landing pad at Grey Towers. The president’s stay was brief; one reporter timed his visit from touchdown to take off at exactly seventy minutes. Yet in that short period he toured the Pinchot family’s ancestral home, pressed the flesh up and down the rope line, paid his respects to family matriarch Ruth Pinchot in her adjacent abode, Forester’s Cottage, and delivered the last of five speeches dedicating the new Pinchot Institute...

    • CHAPTER THREE Home Grounds
      (pp. 25-34)

      Gazing out over the boisterous crowd of family, friends, and luminaries, Gifford Bryce Pinchot was reminded of similar gatherings that had occurred whenever one of his parents hit the campaign trail, which was often: “This seems to me to be a continuation of the wonderful days when my father and mother lived here, and I can only think how much they would have enjoyed being here to welcome you themselves.” Grateful that President Kennedy was on hand to dedicate the Pinchot Institute for Conservation Studies, he was convinced too that “my father and mother would feel the same way as...

    • CHAPTER FOUR The Inseparable World
      (pp. 35-43)

      Samuel H. Ordway Jr. was in a philosophical mood. As president of the Conservation Foundation, and thus a partner with the U.S. Forest Service in what he and his collaborators considered a “unique cooperative educational venture,” Ordway used his speech at the 1963 dedication ceremonies of the Pinchot Institute to reflect on the present state of the nation—as a polity and as a land.

      He found it wanting because his fellow citizens had not thought hard enough about their proper place on the planet: “We as people should be sentient and humble in our way. We know that in...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Under Fire
      (pp. 44-51)

      Orville L. Freeman, the secretary of agriculture, flew on Air Force One with President John F. Kennedy, heading north from Andrews Air Force Base to Stewart Air Force Base in New York, from which they would then take a chopper to Milford. Despite the significance of the forthcoming celebration at Grey Towers, the secretary wasn’t nervous because of his proximity to the charismatic president. The pair had developed a strong working relationship from the start of the Kennedy administration. A liberal governor of Minnesota before coming to Washington, Freeman had a sharp sense of humor that endeared him to the...

    • CHAPTER SIX Greening the Presidency
      (pp. 52-60)

      President Kennedy came to Milford to make a bit of mischief. That was Benjamin Bradlee’s later memory of the presidential trip to Grey Towers. Then aNewsweekcorrespondent covering the White House, as well as a presidential confidant—the Kennedys and Bradlees had lived next door to one another in Georgetown before the Massachusetts senator claimed the White House in November 1960—Bradlee’s version of events was a tale of three women: his wife Antoinette (Toni) Pinchot Bradlee, a niece of Gifford Pinchot’s; her sister, Mary Pinchot Meyer, the former wife of top CIA official Cort Meyer and a onetime...


    • CHAPTER SEVEN Conservation Education
      (pp. 63-77)

      The four-fold blessings bestowed on Grey Towers by the Pinchot family, the Conservation Foundation, the Forest Service, and the Executive Office of the President were complicated by the fact that each institution sought to shape the celebratory moment and contribute to a projected future in which the nation benefitted from the Pinchot Institute’s success. Yet the impact of the speakers and the entities they represented was also limited by their past beliefs and contemporary enthusiasms, constraining just how much the institute could achieve.

      None of these limitations bothered President Kennedy’s speechwriters (nor should they have). After all, the chief executive...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Branching Out
      (pp. 78-94)

      A funny thing happened when Jack Ward Thomas and Ronald A. Dixon decided to eat lunch in a graveyard. The two scientists were working in the U.S. Forest Service’s research unit at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and, in hopes of stretching their legs one noon hour, they strolled over to West Cemetery in the town’s center: “As country boys, it was not unusual for us to try to escape our stuffy office . . . in search of a more refreshing site to eat.” As genial as their environs and meal may have proved, their curiosity got the...

    • CHAPTER NINE Turning a White Elephant Gold
      (pp. 110-136)

      You can almost hear the fatigue in his voice. As Gifford Bryce Pinchot read through the 1982 master plan for Grey Towers, an environmental and cultural assessment that the National Environmental Policy Act (1970) required in advance of any sustained alteration to the national landmark, he was unimpressed and saddened. He had seen such documents before, having received any number of Forest Service plans over the past two decades promising the revitalization of his family’s former home. Tired of the agency’s failure to execute on previous ideas for how to best utilize the Milford manse, he was tired too of...

    • CHAPTER TEN Neutral Force
      (pp. 137-153)

      When the Grey Towers staff sat down to map out the relationship of the national historic landmark to the Pinchot Institute, they captured it with a Venn diagram. Named for John Venn, who in 1880 had refined the concept of an overlapping set of circles to represent the connections between two or more seemingly distinct sets of ideas, objects, or, in this case, institutions, the tool helps illustrate what is logical and probable at any particular moment. In 1999 it made sense for Grey Towers’ staff to highlight the lines of connectivity between the federal agency and an organization it...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Common Cause
      (pp. 154-170)

      It comes down to the land, its health and viability, its capacity to regenerate and sustain its ecological relations and their integrity. If salubrious and energetic, then the communities—biotic and human—depending on them will flourish. If not, then the consequences could be destabilizing.

      That was the message Gifford Pinchot’s parents conveyed to him on his twenty-first birthday when they presented him with a copy of George Perkins Marsh’sMan and Nature, a clarion call for an informed conservation stewardship that James and Mary Pinchot promised to enact on the many acres surrounding their just-opened Grey Towers estate. Aldo...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Looking Forward
      (pp. 171-176)

      The past, we are told, is prologue. But that does not mean its prescriptions are always translatable by the present or in the future. When Gifford Pinchot helped galvanize the nation to conserve and sustainably manage its forests or be confronted with a “timber famine,” the world population was well under two billion. Six decades later, when President Kennedy spoke at the dedication of the Pinchot Institute at Grey Towers, in which he too invoked a vision of environmental limits and natural resource scarcity, less than three billion people lived on the planet. Not surprisingly, then, the answers that many...