Fifty years is a short time of life for a tree. Each year is marked by a new ring of growth. The history of American conservation sprung from a proverbial acorn in the midst of the Pinchot family at Milford over 100 years ago. It has only been a half century, however, since President John F. Kennedy was at the Pinchot homestead of Grey Towers, dedicating the Pinchot Institute for Conservation studies.
Like a spreading, healthy oak tree, affected by the ravages of weather, pests and conflicting pressures of land use, American conservation has successfully confronted the times. This movement has done so with the ability of diverse streams of thought to converge and debate, facilitated in a large measure by the work done by the Institute.
Celebrating the legacy of caring for our environment and the sustainable hope of managing natural resources for generations ahead, Grey Towers National Historic Site held a 50th anniversary commemoration this past weekend.
The crowd gathered on the great lawn of the amphitheater below the Pinchot mansion, where on Sept. 24, 1963, Kennedy declared, "Government must provide a national policy framework for this new conservation emphasis... but government at any level needs sound information, objective research, and study... it is this function which the Pinchot Institute can serve most effectively."
Challenges remain ahead for that mature oak tree. Nothing can be taken for granted.
Peter Pinchot, grandson of the first U.S. Forester, Gifford Pinchot discussed the family legacy and how concern for managing America's forests arose during a time of reckless deforestation of the late 19th Century. James Pinchot sent his son Gifford to Europe to study conservation, as there was no school in the United States dealing with the subject. James responded by forming the Yale School of Forestry in downtown Milford, and established an experimental forest on the Grey Towers' property. A pioneering generation of conservation leaders arose from that vision, their studies rooted at the Grey Towers site, on what more than one speaker referred to as "hallowed ground."
Gifford was joined with his friend, Theodore Roosevelt, who shared his passion for nature. They needed to form a "political equation" to convince the American public that it was essential to manage our forests. Lumbering and agricultural interests loathing a plot left with trees, were fierce. Legislators were reluctant.
Gifford Pinchot, Roosevelt and fellow conservation pioneers shared a "big tent philosophy," said grandson Peter. They believed rather than taking wholly one side, they should invite diverse stakeholders to the table. That same inclusion has been the bedrock of the Pinchot Institute for Conservation.
Peter's father, Gifford Bryce Pinchot, in 1961 proposed on behalf of the family to donate the Pinchot estate at Grey Towers to the American people. The U.S. Forest Service manages the estate. The Pinchot Institute has offices at Grey Towers and in Washington, D.C., partnering with the Forest Service. The Institute is working on national and international forest management programs and research. The Institute is also working together in a public/private partnership called Common Waters, on conservation measures in the Upper Delaware River watershed.
Page 2 of 2 - The Grey Towers Heritage Association was formed in 2006 as a nonprofit organization, dedicated to local conservation, public education and public access to the Grey Towers site.
Tom Tidwell, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, was Master of Ceremonies. Also addressing the gathering were Niels Johnson, chairman, Pinchot Institute Board of Directors; Ellen Ferretti, Acting Secretary, PA Department of Conservation & Natural Resources (DCNR) and Robert Bonnie, USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources & Environment.
Ferretti spoke of the crucial tie between conservation and the state and local economies. Their task is to delicately balance sustainable resources while protecting the land.
Bonnie reported that new challenges face America's forests today. Although different, they still call for the same principles laid by Gifford Pinchot. While forests have rebounded, tremendous pressures exist from growing population and climate change.
Today's second growth forests help protect our water quality, give us open space, wildlife habitat and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
Increased population raises demand for natural resources. More and more homes are being placed in forest land. Forest fires have been particularly devastating thanks to decades of poor forest management. Fires are lasting longer and poses more risk to people.
Public involvement in decision making must continue, Bonnie noted.
Tidwell said he remains optimistic. Bonnie stated that Gifford Pinchot's "practical idealism" shows our way forward. Good science has advanced, and important conservation laws passed, showing that the public wants the forest lands managed.
Tidwell stressed that we must remain proactive and promote social advocacy so that the next generation can have forests to enjoy. He cited as their guiding principal, Gifford Pinchot's celebrated remark, "the greatest good for the greatest number in the long run."
For information on Grey Towers' public programs, call (570)296-9630.