Muir’s Meanness and Pinchot’s practicality

Eli, I do indeed praise Gifford Pinchot, Theodore Roosevelt’s forestry chief, in Eco-Freaks. I point out, however, that he was at sword’s ends with Muir over many issues, including the damming of Hetch Hetchy valley to provide water to San Francisco. (Pinchot supported it, while Muir was staunchly opposed. Even today, the Sierra Club is trying to get it undammed. But San Francisco pols usually allied with them, such as Barbara Boxer and Nancy Pelosi, have basically told them to go jump in the dam.”)

Pinchot and Roosevelt were true conservationists, as am I, whereas Muir was a preservationist. Unfortunately, today’s green groups have followed Muir’s fantasy of preserving land as it always was, when in truth we don’t know how it always was.

I have issues with Pinchot and Roosevelt’s belief in nationalizing land. But I think their practical approach to managing the land is something we could emulate for the public land we do have. In fact, I point out in Eco-Freaks, that for all the enviros hectoring of Bush to be more like Theodore Roosevelt, his policies toward use of public land are much more in line TR than theirs are.

They strongly believed, for instance, in the routine harvesting of trees on public land for public use. Roosevelt said of public land, “We look upon these resources as a heritage to be made use of in establishing and promoting the comfort, prosperity, and happiness of the American people, but not to be wasted, deteriorated or needlessly destroyed.”

Pinchot wrote something that today would get him billed as a shill for industry. He said, “The object of our forest policy is not to preserve the forests because they are beautiful … or because they are refuges for the wild creatures of the wilderness … but the making of prosperous homes. Every other consideration comes as secondary.”

As for Muir and the American Indians, the quote comes from Chapter 5 of his book The Mountains of California, reprinted here on the Yosimite national park website. He is simply annoyed that they are in his way of the beauty of nature. A thoughtful article in the evironmental news site,, about environmentalism’s elitist history, also concludes that Muir’s “view was widely shared among preservationists” and led to the expelling of American Indians from national parks “to uphold the wilderness ideal.”