Book helps to fulfill hope to preserve legacy of early days of U.S. Forest Service
.......

MILFORD - The role of Gifford Pinchot and a group of the nation’s first forest rangers in the birth of America’s modern conservation movement is being told anew through Bibi Gaston’s recent book, “Gifford Pinchot and the Old Timers,” Volume I.

MILFORD - The role of Gifford Pinchot and a group of the nation’s first forest rangers in the birth of America’s modern conservation movement is being told anew through Bibi Gaston’s recent book, “Gifford Pinchot and the Old Timers,” Volume I.
Pinchot is well known locally for his home and grounds, Grey Towers National Historic Site, in Milford Township (Pike County). Owned and maintained by the United States Forest Service, Grey Towers is now home to The Pinchot Institute for Conservation, which carries on Pinchot’s conservation work. The Forest Service, assisted by the Grey Towers Heritage Association, opens the grounds to the public and conducts scheduled house tours, as well as many special programs that tell the story of conservation and Pinchot’s role in its development.
Gifford Pinchot (1865-1946) served as the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service under President Theodore Roosevelt from 1905 to 1910, and served twice as governor of Pennsylvania (1923-1927 and 1931-1935). Grey Towers was built by his parents, James Wallace Pinchot and Mayry Jane Eno, and was his summer retreat for most of his life.

Personal accounts

“Gifford Pinchot and the Old Timers” contains eleven the first hand narratives of young forest rangers and other personnel who travelled west while serving under Pinchot in the early years of the Forest Service. Together, President Roosevelt and Chief Forester Pinchot placed nearly 234 million acres of western land under federal protection for the long-term benefit of the American people. These rangers were charged with its oversight such as: handling conflicts with ranchers, taming the range wars, extinguishing wildfires, keeping record of trees, plants, people, and places.
Between 1937 and 1941, Pinchot personally contacted hundreds of his former employees -  most of whom were men- asking them to put down on paper their personal thoughts and recollections to help preserve this legacy. He intended to publish these accounts in a book.
Although Piinchot’s book never came together, the author of “Gifford Pinchot and the Old Timers” helped to fulfill that intention, with the release of her book in 2018 through Baked Apple Club Productions of New Milford, Connecticut.
As noted in the preface, “Old Timers” was a term of respect. Pinchot’s early foresters had seen and endured things most others could hardly imagine.
“Baked Apple Club” refers to a weekly gathering Pinchot started at his home in Washington, D.C. On Thursday evenings, young forest officers, stenographers and other professionals came for a meal and lecture on conservation and the environment, taught by experts in their field. On one evening the President himself appeared to give a “bully” talk to the young forest officers.

Discovery

The “Old Timer” accounts of these forestry pioneers, recorded in 5,000 pages of letters sent to Pinchot, had not come to light until Gaston was researching for a book on the life of her grandmother, Rosamond Pinchot, the niece of Gifford Pinchot. Gaston, who never knew her grandmother, was at the U.S. Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., the she said, “I stumbled across these letters in five or six blue boxes. They just stood out… The collection was called, “The Old Timers,” she said. “…They seemed very important… Several few foresters had made great effort to collect these letters for posterity these letters, just a few of which you have in this book.”
Pinchot, she said, was a packrat, but he also knew the incredible complexity of the political times in which he lived. Pinchot was at the forefront of progressive politics. Being ahead of his time meant that he was not always treated well.

Pinchot’s vision

Pinchot sought to transform public land policy by establishing and maintaining federal ownership and while managing natural resources for the benefit of future generations. He often sparred with preservationists such as John Muir, who was deeply opposed to exploitation, and commercialization of land.
Sadly, Roosevelt’s successor, President William Howard Taft, abandoned Pinchot’s conservation efforts, dismissed Pinchot as head of the Forest Service over a heated controversy known as the “Ballinger-Pinchot” affair.

The “Old Timer” accounts

In part, Gaston learned, the “Old Timers’” letters were an attempt by Pinchot to set the record straight about what had been accomplished despite intractable odds.
She added, “But he also wanted to highlight the work of these men and women he had in trained, and had who had served valiantly at a time when life was difficult, but at a time when the nation was also still fresh in a way.”
The book, she said, highlights Pinchot’s legacy,. But, she added, “Pinchot would say, no, this is the story of remarkable public servants, whose stories and sacrifices were forgotten.” It was Pinchot’s intention to have the history of the U.S. Forest Service told by the men and women on the ground.
These forester- narrators, she noted, lived at a time when people knew how to write and had time to write. They were trained, among other skills, in memo writing by the U.S. Forest Service.
Although Pinchot had not published the letters as hed hoped, he made sure they were preserved at the Library of Congress in perpetuity.
Gaston commented that their stories resonate today, as a reminder of public service. “They are very sweet letters…they are very kind. They are cordial and considerate. They show a side of the American character which I think we have forgotten, which is one of generosity, humility and kindness.”

Greatest Good

The early foresters, Gaston notes, worked on the front lines of conservation, helping to protect of the nation’s water and timber supply for the future.
The book reveals the dedication that Gifford Pinchot, and his younger brother Amos, were known for, Gaston noted. Lesser known is the personal sacrifice Gifford Pinchot endured, and dangers both brothers faced in what Gifford Pinchot called, “The Fight for Conservation.”
Gifford Pinchot believed that the purpose of conservation was to provide for  “The greatest good for the greatest number in the long run.”
The Gifford Pinchot collection at the Library of Congress helps bring nuances to the story of American conservation and the role Pinchot and the 226 “Old Timers” played in its establishment by the U.S. Forest Service under the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt.

Lesson for today

While formidable as history, Gaston noted, the story also shows how quickly the environment can deteriorate. This can be turned around, she said, if we collectively put our minds to the task.
Bringing the lessons of history to today, she added, “If we decide to address the environment with an activist president who cares about the things the Old Times fought form things can turn around very quickly.”
Pinchot knew the difficulties of bureaucratic inertia. During his career, he took his argument to each presidential administration. He also made the connection between natural resources and foreign policy, telling Franklin Delano Roosevelt that “conservation is a basis for permanent peace.”
Gaston commented that she did not think this connection has been well articulated since Pinchot.
“Gifford Pinchot and the Old Timers,” Volume 1 is the first in a series. Gaston stated that she hopes in time to have a second volume containing more of the narratives.

For more information about the book, “Gifford Pinchot and the Old Timers,” visit:
www.bibigaston.com
www.firstforesters.com
For more information about Gifford Pinchot and Grey Towers National Historic Site:
www.fs.usda.gov/greytowers
www.greytowers.org