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A New Monument for Gifford Pinchot?

Have you read the recent book The Big Burn by Timothy Egan? In the buildup to the fires of 1910, Egan provides many examples of the close personal and working rela­ tionship between SAF’s founder Gifford Pinchot and President Theodore Roosevelt and tells interesting stories about their many accomplishments and challenges as pioneering conservationists. For more reading on this subject, I highly recommend Char Miller’s Gifford Pinchot and the Making of Modern Envi­ronmentalism (2001) and, of course, Pinchot’s autobiography Breaking New Ground (1947).

Have you visited Roosevelt Island (Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial) and the memorial to our 26th President, created by architect-sculptor Eric Gugler in 1963-65? Roosevelt Island is a real gem in our area for foresters who need to periodically experience the "primeval forest" (for the rest of the story, ask NCSAF member Doug McCleary for a copy of his "An Abbreviated Natural and Human History of Theodore Roosevelt Island" that he wrote for walkers who toured the island during the 2000 National SAF Convention).

After reading Egan’s book and making numerous treks on Roosevelt Island it got me thinking: Is there a memorial to Gifford Pinchot in the Washington DC area or, for that matter, to any of the other conservation pioneers such as Hugh Hammond Bennett, Aldo Leopold, or the famous naturalist and preservationist John Muir? The answer, as far as I know, is no. Pinchot lived and worked for many years in Washington DC, and his home on 1615 Rhode Island Avenue (near Dupont Circle) was the birth­place of our Society when foresters first met there in November 1900. The home was torn down in the 1960s, and the site is now occupied by the Beacon Hotel. There is a memorial to Pinchot at his birthplace in Simsbury, Connecticut, and he is memorialized at his ancestral home, now the Grey Towers National Historic Site in Milford, Pennsylvania.

At our first 2012 NCSAF Ex­ecutive Committee meeting, we decided to form a committee to explore the idea of establishing a memorial to Gifford Pinchot on Roosevelt Island. Why should NCSAF be engaged in this activity? I believe the memorial would help bring broader public attention to: 1) Pinchot’s accomplishments and legacy as conservation and forestry leader; 2) his strong personal and productive working relationship with the 26th President; and 3) the profession of forestry, SAF, and the importance of forestry in the 21st century. The Pinchot Memorial exploratory committee so far includes NCSAF Secretary Jake Donnay, NCSAF Historian Doug McCleary, Al Sample (President of the Pinchot Institute), and myself. Although we are in the very early stages, the idea is already gaining support. We are also discussing the idea of partnering with the Pinchot Institute to submit an application for a commemorative stamp to be issued by the US Post Office. Perhaps another reason these ideas are resonating is the opportunity to unveil the memorial and issue the stamp as part of a larger celebration of Pinchot’s 150th birthday, August 11, 2015. Another historical note: 2013 is the 50th anniversary of the Pinchot Institute, which was dedicated by President John F. Kennedy on September 24, 1963.

We certainly have a long way to go from the idea stage to the actual unveiling of a Gifford Pinchot memorial on Theodore Roosevelt Island and the Post Office issuing a commemorative stamp. There are perhaps challenges ahead with estab­lishing a Pinchot memorial next to a memorial for a President? However, I believe that President Theodore Roosevelt would say ―Bully!" to the idea. After all, in his 1913 autobiography the 26th President said:

"Gifford Pinchot is the man to whom the nation owes most for what has been accomplished as regards the preservation of the natural resources of our country. He led, and indeed during its most vital period embodied, the fight for the preservation through use of our forests ... He was the foremost leader in the great struggle to coor­dinate all our social and gov­ernmental forces in the effort to secure the adoption of a rational and far-seeing policy for securing the conserva­tion of all our national resources. ... I believe it is but just to say that among the many, many public officials who under my administration rendered literally invaluable service to the people of the United States, he, on the whole, stood first."

If you have comments on the proposal or are interested in helping as the project moves forward please contact Andy Mason,, or 202-205-1694.

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