More than 108 years have passed since Gifford Pinchot became chief of the U.S. Forest Service. Yet today, with Tom Tidwell filling that role in a very different era, some of the same issues persist, along with others Pinchot might not have imagined.
“We’re fortunate that we have an organization that can handle complex issues, like our Research and Development branch of the Forest Service (efforts) to sustain private and international Forest systems,” said Tidwell.
Pinchot headed the Division of Forestry under the Department of Interior for seven years before the agency became the Forest Service under the Department of Agriculture. At the time, the nation’s forests were seen as inexhaustible, but Pinchot did not see it that way.
“Without natural resources, life itself is impossible. From birth to death, natural resources, transformed for human use, feed, clothe, shelter, and transport us,” Pinchot said. “Upon them we depend for every material necessity, comfort, convenience, and protection in our lives. Without abundant resources prosperity is out of reach.”
Pinchot, often referred to as the father of American conservation, increased the 56 million acres of public land under the Division of Forestry to Forest Service holdings of 150 national forests covering 172 million acres by 1910.
Today, Tidwell oversees more than 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands with similar yet disparate issues. The impacts of climate change – longer, hotter fire seasons and infestations of pests that have killed millions of trees – are among the important issues facing the agency today. Also, putting more demand on the land is a growing population that is not as connected to the land as in previous generations.
Tidwell recently presented the Pinchot Distinguished Lecture at the Pinchot Institute to help mark the 50th anniversary of the Pinchot Institute for Conservation Studies. The Mildford, Pa., institute is in Grey Towers, originally the summer estate of the James Pinchot, Gifford’s father, and later the primary home of Gifford Pinchot.
“We are so fortunate in this country to have the conservation legacy that people like Gifford Pinchot and Theodore Roosevelt really helped to establish for this country,” Tidwell said. “And today we have the honor and the responsibility to make sure we carry that out so that the next generations have that same range of opportunities and decision space about how to use these incredible resources.”
Tidwell said his top priorities include restoring healthy, resilient forest and grassland eco-systems, eco-systems that can sustain plentiful supplies of clean water, abundant habitat for fish and wildlife, renewable supplies of wood and energy and abundant recreational opportunities for all Americans.
After the lecture, guests were invited to ask the chief questions. Most questions were about climate change, policy and mission.
“Climate change is going to affect us and we need to have a better understanding of what the impacts are socially and economically,” said Tidwell.