Saturday, April 14, 2012

A Contract with the Earth 14: The Muir-Pinchot Debate

On page 130 of A Contract with the Earth, Newt Gingrich and Terry Maple say the following:

"The current debate about park management mirrors the Muir-Pinchot debate that arose during Teddy Roosevelt's presidency and continued for many years while Gifford Pinchot headed the National Park Service. The ultimate utilitarian, Pinchot believed that parks and reserves had to be managed. In fact, any park that experiences heavy human visitation will not be successful unless it is managed and managed well."

This passage stumped me somewhat. I was expecting for Newt and Maple to explain what the Muir-Pinchot debate was----as in where exactly John Muir and Gifford Pinchot differed. I can tell that Newt and Maple respect both men. Newt and Maple agree with Pinchot that parks and reserves should be managed well. And the chapter opens with a quotation of John Muir, who said:

"Few are altogether deaf to the preaching of pine trees. Their sermons on the mountains go to our hearts; and if people in general could be got into the woods, even for once, to hear the trees speak for themselves, all difficulties in the way of forest preservation would vanish."

So where did Gifford and Muir disagree? Although Newt and Maple do not say "Muir believed this, whereas Pinchot believed that", what they do share about these men exemplifies their positions, although I wish that Newt and Maple went into more detail.

The wikipedia article here explains where the difference was, as does this article on the Vermont Public Radio site. The wikipedia article states the following:

"In July 1896, Muir became associated with Gifford Pinchot, a national leader in the conservation movement. Pinchot was the first head of the United States Forest Service and a leading spokesman for the sustainable use of natural resources for the benefit of the people. His views eventually clashed with Muir and highlighted two diverging views of the use of the country's natural resources. Pinchot saw conservation as a means of managing the nation's natural resources for long-term sustainable commercial use. As a professional forester, his view was that "forestry is tree farming," without destroying the long-term viability of the forests. Muir valued nature for its spiritual and transcendental qualities. In one essay about the National Parks, he referred to them as "places for rest, inspiration, and prayers." He often encouraged city dwellers to experience nature for its spiritual nourishment. Both men opposed reckless exploitation of natural resources, including clear-cutting of forests. Even Muir acknowledged the need for timber and the forests to provide it, but Pinchot's view of wilderness management was far more utilitarian."

On the surface, the difference between the two-men sounds rather hair-splitting. Both were against ransacking the forests. Both acknowledged that the forests could be used for human commercial and utilitarian purposes, such as timber. But Muir believed that the forests had spiritual value and thus he leaned more towards preservation than Pinchot, who did not share Muir's spiritual outlook and was more open to using the forests for human commercial and utilitarian purposes. According to the wikipedia article, in terms of concrete issues, this meant that Pinchot supported the grazing of sheep in forest reserves, whereas Muir was against that, and Pinchot supported a dam that Muir opposed.

 (UPDATE: Newt and Maple go into more detail on the Muir-Pinchot debate later in the book.)

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