Washington State’s Gifford Pinchot… Oh, and a rather famous bear

August 12, 2023 at 6:37 p.m.
Gifford Pinchot, the founder and first chief of the USDA Forest Service. His 159th birthday is Aug. 11, 2023. (Graphic courtesy of the Pinchot Institute.)
Gifford Pinchot, the founder and first chief of the USDA Forest Service. His 159th birthday is Aug. 11, 2023. (Graphic courtesy of the Pinchot Institute.)

...by Robert Hudson Westover, US Forest Service

Tahk Lahk Lake and Mount Adams, Gifford Pinchot National Forest



August is a uniquely special month for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service. This is because two very important birthdays are celebrated. The first, on Aug. 9, is Smokey Bear’s birthday and the second, only two days later, August 11, is Gifford Pinchot’s birthday. They would be 79 and 159, respectively, this year. Although Smokey needs no introduction either inside or outside the wildland conservation world, Pinchot does.

This seems unfair, of course, I mean Pinchot was, as far back as 1905, the founder and first chief of the Forest Service and an early pioneer of the wildland’s conservation movement in America. But, as they say in entertainment, you never want to share a stage with a baby or a cute animal—or something to that effect.

You get the picture.

But even though Pinchot’s legacy may not be known to many of us, it doesn’t take away from the fact that all who have ever swam in, hiked in, camped in, or otherwise just had fun in a national forest or grasslands pays unwitting thanks and apperception to Gifford Pinchot—so much so that the Forest Service has a national forest named in his honor.

Located in the state of Washington, the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, located east of Longview and incorporating over 1.3 million acres of forest, wildlife habitat, watersheds and mountains—including Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and Mount Adams—was named in honor of this leader in the creation of the national forest system.

So, without this man, the public lands we all own, share and (try) to visit simply would not exist. Certainly not in the size and continental sweep of our public lands that exist in every state today. In fact, just Forest Service managed lands alone account for a land area bigger than the state of Texas

The beauty of what Pinchot, and other early preservation and conservationists, gave to us is seen in the structure of our massive national landholdings managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service and the National Park Service. In fact, our nation’s federal land management structure has been greatly replicated throughout the world!

It was this integrated land management framework that allowed the other legend, Smokey Bear, to be quickly employed across the country to remind us that “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires”. With well over 80% of all wildfires being started by people either by accident or intent, Smokey’s message is as strong as it was 79 years ago.

Thanks in large part to these towering legends, we have more than 600 million acres of federal public lands accessible to us all and the wisdom, if we are willing to listen, on how to protect them from human-caused fire for generations to come.
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