In his role as the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service, and founder of the Society of American Foresters, Gifford Pinchot was one of the founding fathers of forestry in the United States. Born into a wealthy family in 1865 in Simsbury, Connecticut, he was afforded the opportunity to attend prodigious private schools at home and abroad, and to travel and spend countless hours perusing various outdoor activities.
Upon entering Yale University in 1885, his father asked Gifford if he would like to study forestry, which was cutting-edge technology at the time. In fact, not a single person made a living as a forester in the U.S. during that time. Taking his father’s advice, Pinchot studied forestry in France and Germany, along with his general studies at Yale. Upon returning to the United States, Pinchot honed his skills for three years at the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, the so-called “cradle of forestry.”
As a young forester, Pinchot traveled through the West, studying and classifying the various forest types found there. In 1889, he became the fourth Chief of the Division of Forestry. The function of this organization was to apprise officials of the various timber resources found throughout the country. In 1900, Pinchot founded the Society of American Foresters, an organization that still exists today. It was the goal of the society to further the professional image and increase the knowledge base of forestry.
Pinchot coined the phrase “Conservation Ethic,” which means taking action to further the common good for society and the resource. In 1900, he and fellow Yale alumnus Henry Graves founded the Yale Forest School — the third such institution to offer course work leading to a degree in forestry in the U.S.
In 1905, Teddy Roosevelt appointed Pinchot as the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service. The USFS differed from the Division of Forestry in that it was transferred from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture, along with the national forests, which accounted for 56 million acres. Under Pinchot’s leadership, the USFS grew exponentially. This organization primarily hired graduate foresters from the three existing schools at Biltmore, Cornell and Yale University.
Later, the Forest Service became more decentralized, with a number of management units throughout the country, and much emphasis was given to practicing and developing forestry techniques through research and development.
Under Pinchot’s leadership, the forest reserves grew from 56 million acres to 172 million acres. Pinchot stayed with the USFS until the beginning of the Taft Administration, leaving in 1910. Besides being a very influential leader in forestry, Pinchot served two terms as the governor of Pennsylvania.
Pinchot died in 1946 from leukemia. Much of the overall organization of the USFS today is from Pinchot’s original design. The Gifford Pinchot National Forest exists in Washington State, and the Gifford Pinchot Park is in Pennsylvania.