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Posts Tagged ‘Theodore Roosevelt’

As President-elect Barack Obama’s cabinet nominees are being finalized with little controversy, we here at Peeling Back the Bark can’t help but think back one hundred years ago and wonder what might have happened if, as newspapers speculated, Gifford Pinchot had been appointed to a cabinet position in William Howard Taft’s administration. Here’s what the Southern Lumberman, an industry newspaper, had to say on November 14, 1908.

Gifford Pinchot and Taft's Cabinet

(Click image to enlarge)

As chief of the U.S. Forest Service, Pinchot was frequently mentioned as suitable for either secretary of agriculture or secretary of the interior for two reasons. First, he was “the personal friend of President Roosevelt and one of his advisers.” Most reporters assumed that because Roosevelt had chosen Taft as his successor, Taft would want to continue Roosevelt’s policies and use many of his policymakers to do so. The second reason was his grasp of the issues faced by either department; there is little argument that from a knowledge standpoint, Pinchot was more than qualified for either post. “He is a keen student of the great problems of our national resources and their conservation,” observed the Providence (Rhode Island) Journal at the time.

The possibility of Pinchot’s nomination for either position raises several questions, but I’ll limit the discussion to two. (This assumes Taft, a conservative who disagreed with Roosevelt’s expansion of executive power, would have even nominated Pinchot.) First, would Pinchot have survived the nomination process? Western newspapers had been calling him “Czar Pinchot” for several years and probably would have demanded blocking his appointment. Western senators, resentful of Pinchot’s growing stature and Roosevelt’s usurping and circumventing of Congress’s power, had already succeeded in reining in Pinchot’s power in 1907 and might have tried to humble him before approving him. It would have been fun to watch those hearings!

One of several cartoons depicting Gifford Pinchot as a czar.

One of several cartoons depicting Gifford Pinchot as a czar bent on controlling all western natural resources. Another one called him "King of the Forest Reserve."

Assuming he was approved, the next question is: how long would Pinchot have lasted in Taft’s cabinet? Were the two men going to clash — and Pinchot dismissed — regardless of whether he was secretary or Forest Service chief? I suspect that even as a secretary, once Pinchot’s disillusion with Taft and his policies had set in, he would have sought some way to martyr himself for the cause of conservation. The end result would have been the same, with Pinchot and others trying to pull Roosevelt back into politics in order to challenge Taft in 1912.

"I'll tell Teddy on you!"

"I'll tell Teddy on you!"

What do you think? Would Pinchot have made a good Interior or Agriculture secretary under Taft? Would he have picked a fight and gotten fired for the cause, or stayed in the cabinet to fight for it? Would he even have been approved by Congress?

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What do you give a professional organization on its 108th birthday? Warm wishes, I suppose. But in the case of the Society of American Foresters, formally founded on November 30, 1900, in the cramped office of its first president, Gifford Pinchot, it seems appropriate to offer up something a bit more meaningful than an air-kiss or a genial hurrah.

A more significant memento might be to recall the charge that SAF members received from the president of the United States during the society’s third year: “I believe that there is no body of men who have it in their power today to do a greater service to the country,” Theodore Roosevelt asserted, “than those engaged in the scientific study of, and practical application of, approved methods of forestry for the preservation of the woods of the United States.” His confidence in their contributions as foresters and citizens surely warmed his listeners’ hearts. But they and he understood that this generous praise, while not misplaced, was a tad premature.

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With the forest fires still burning in southern California and some suggesting that fire season there is now a year-round event, the publication of the Fall 2008 issue of Forest History Today is rather timely, to say the least. The Forest History Society is proud to present in this special issue the papers delivered at the workshop on fire and the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) that preceded this spring’s American Society for Environmental History meeting in Boise. Articles by leading historians, journalists, and fire researchers look at the history of wildland-urban interface fires, the need to rethink the approach in the U.S. to fighting fire in the WUI, the role that historians can play in these discussions, and how news coverage of wildfires has changed over the years. Contributors include Steve Pyne, William Sommers, Jack Cohen, Mark Neuzil, Rocky Barker, and Patty Limerick. You can find the complete issue on the Forest History Today webpage.

In addition to articles on fire and WUI, you’ll find Steve Pyne’s fascinating history of an iconic fire painting (which graces the cover), a “Biographical Portrait” of Theodore Roosevelt in honor of his 150th birthday, and a “History on the Road” column that takes you on a tour of nineteenth-century charcoal kilns in Nevada.

The Spring 2008 issue of Forest History Today, with articles on the latest trends in nature-based outdoor recreation, the historic — and imperiled — ponderosa pine ecosystem, and an excerpt from Mike McCloskey’s memoir about his days in the Sierra Club, is also available online along with all previous issues.

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Today marks the 150th birthday of Theodore Roosevelt.  Considered one of our greatest presidents, it’s not for nothing that he’s on Mount Rushmore and still widely admired around the world.  He packed a lot of living into his sixty years.  An avid outdoorsman and naturalist, you can add cowboy, cattle rancher, sheriff, big-game hunter, war hero, conservationist, author, explorer, reformer, and Progressive — to name a few — to his list of jobs and accomplishments.  He’s known as the “Rough Rider” or the “Trustbuster,” but don’t call him “Teddy” — he didn’t like the name.

We celebrate Roosevelt here at FHS because of his importance to many areas of forest and conservation history.  He first published as a naturalist while still in college; most of his publications in the field still hold up well.  He was a co-founder of the Boone and Crockett Club, which fought to protect big-game habitats beginning in the 1890s.  While governor of New York (1898-1900), he pushed for scientific forest management of the Adirondack Forest Preserve and “also stressed the need for more qualified game wardens and enforcement of game laws, the importance of controlling forest fires, and, true to his ornithological interests, protection of song birds in the state.”*  And as U.S. president (1901-09), he built a solid foundation for the conservation and preservation of natural resources, adding millions of acres to the National Forest System, and establishing or expanding numerous national parks and monuments.  He also created the wildlife refuge system.  In sum, Theodore Roosevelt’s significance in American conservation history cannot be overstated.

Sketch of Theodore Roosevelt, by Rudy Wendelin

This sketch by Rudy Wendelin is from the FHS U.S. Forest Service History collection.

Celebrations will take place today at six different national parks or national historic sites that bear Roosevelt’s name or likeness: his birthplace in Manhattan; his home on Long Island, Sagamore Hill; the site of his inauguration in Buffalo, N.Y.; Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the Badlands of North Dakota, where he had his cattle ranch; Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota; and Theodore Roosevelt Island in Washington, D.C.  The National Park Service will be commemorating his life and accomplishments throughout the coming year at these sites as well as at the parks and the eighteen national monuments he created.  Celebrations will also be held at units of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service, founded by Roosevelt in 1903 and 1905 respectively.width="134"

In the upcoming issue of Forest History Today, the Biographical Portrait column examines Roosevelt’s place in forest and conservation history.  You can also learn a bit about his thinking on conservation policies by reading another article on TR from a past issue of FHT featured in a previous posting.  (Yes, he’s THAT important!)


* Brown, David P. “The Conservationist: T. Roosevelt/Pataki Article.” http://www.trthegreatnewyorker.com/Naturalist/nc-c.htm

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