Pinchot, Gifford

Gifford Pinchot (1865-1946) was born in Connecticut to an affluent family with an interest in timber sales and management. After graduation from Yale University, Pinchot studied forest management at France’s L'Ecole Nationale Forestiere. He returned to the United States to become a pioneer in the field of conservation and the first professional forester in the country. He supervised George Vanderbilt’s vast Biltmore estate in North Carolina, surveyed forests for the state of New Jersey and in the west, and became chief of the Division of Forestry in the federal Department of Agriculture in 1898.

Pinchot belonged to President Roosevelt’s unofficial group of advisors in the Tennis Cabinet because he and Roosevelt saw eye-to-eye on most aspects of conservation. In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Pinchot the first head of the U.S. Forest Service which grew, with Pinchot’s vision, out of the Department of the Interior. Pinchot promoted conservationism—the efficient management of natural resources by trained professionals. His two-fold goal was to balance the demands of business (timber, mining, fishing and other extraction industries) with the need to conserve resources for the future of the nation. Realizing that natural resources were not limitless, Pinchot tried hard to impose sustainable use. He faced criticism from preservationists like John Muir, who believed fundamentally that wilderness must be left pristine. Rational federal oversight by his teams of foresters, Pinchot believed, would result in a middle path allowing American industry to flourish but not to over-harvest, to the benefit of future generations.

Relieved of his job in 1910 by President William H. Taft in what became known as the Pinchot-Ballinger Affair, Pinchot later supported Roosevelt’s 1912 Progressive Party. He served two terms as governor of Pennsylvania. Throughout his life he was a prolific writer and public spokesperson for conservationism. In 1947 Pinchot died, leaving his wife, Cornelia Bryce Pinchot, and their son, Gifford.