A Conspiracy of Optimism: Management of the National Forests since World War Two

By Paul W. Hirt | Go to book overview

Conclusion

Pinchot's legacy is still hotly debated today. What precedents did he set? How much of today's Forest Service is attributable to his original influence?37 Certainly, Pinchot was an unmitigated utilitarian concerned almost entirely with economic production values. But he was also something of a social radical who distrusted big business and promoted federal control over the economy to enhance social welfare. Certainly he felt nature should be controlled so as to provide maximum social utility, but he also repeatedly emphasized that timber management should be "conservative" in order to preserve the essential integrity of the forest. In the 1905 Wilson/ Pinchot letter establishing policy for national forest management Pinchot stated, "The permanence of the resources of the reserves is . . . indispensable to continued prosperity, and the policy of this Department for their protection and use will invariably be guided by this fact, always bearing in mind that the conservative use of these resources in no way conflicts with their permanent value" (emphasis his). Similarly, one of Pinchot's early forestry manuals called for "conservative lumbering to maintain and increase the productivity and the capital value of forest land."38 One thing seems clear: although Pinchot's emphasis on control and utility remained consistent, the agency's dedication to intensive technological manipulation of nature to enhance production went substantially beyond his precedent.

In 1939 Aldo Leopold, who was growing increasingly alienated from the mainstream of the forestry profession, contributed an essay to the Journal of Forestry titled, "A Biotic View of Land." In it, he cautioned his colleagues about the profession's trend toward increasingly intensive manipulations of the forest in pursuit of maximum yields as well as its increasing focus on the utility value of species. Pointing to the new science of ecology as a model, he suggested that foresters should view forests as communities of living, interdependent organisms, and should be more cautious about their wholesale efforts to grow useful species while eliminating the supposedly useless or destructive species. All species have a function in the ecosystem, he said; humans should not assume that they can simply throw away parts of the system with impunity.

Leopold was concerned about biological sustainability; that is, the continuing integrity or resilience of biotic systems. In this same 1939 essay, he argued that the less "violent" the manipulation of the system, the greater the

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