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Climate & Energy
The Enduring Value of the Pinchot Institute–US Forest Service Partnership
Tom Tidwell

Tom Tidwell The Pinchot Institute was dedicated at a pivotal time for natural resource conservation in America. The 1960s were a time of great ferment in the conservation community. The National Forests were furnishing great quantities of timber to build homes and communities following World War II. At the same time, growing numbers of Americans were discovering the wonderful opportunities for outdoor recreation on the National Forest System. They were also reading Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, and concerns were rising about habitat loss for fish and wildlife.

To balance competing uses, Congress passed the Multiple Use- Sustained Yield Act and a range of other environmental laws in the 1960s and 70s. At the time, the emerging trends and their policy implications were anything but clear. In response, the Forest Service turned to the Pinchot Institute for help.Over the years, the Institute has helped us at key points in the policy cycle— recognizing emerging issues, formulating and analyzing sustainable natural resource policy options, and evaluating the results of our decisions.

One example is a nationwide study that has demonstrated that public forest lands can be managed under internationally recognized standards of sustainable forestry. Certification has brought about improvements in forest management practices and increased society’s confidence in and support for public forest management.

Other studies have demonstrated that fire risks in federal forests can be significantly reduced by changing policies governing how federal agencies contract with local businesses for land management services. With the cooperation of public and private organizations and community leaders in more than six dozen pilot projects, these studies have shown that stewardship contracting can become an important tool for restoring the health and resilience of forest ecosystems, as well as supporting economic development in nearby communities.

New studies now underway will help answer other critical conservation questions: Can voluntary private investments by downstream communities and businesses support the conservation of private forest lands in the headwaters of key river systems such as the Delaware? Can we ensure that the increasing use of wood for renewable energy is environmentally sustainable in the long run? How will the accelerating effects of climate change on forests force us to come up with new strategies for protecting wildlife habitat, water resources, and biodiversity?

This very event illustrates the ongoing value of the Pinchot Institute. The Institute is dedicated to bringing together people and organizations representing a variety of perspectives. Here at Grey Towers, we have come together in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and respect to explore the challenges to forest conservation in the era of the Anthropocene.

For five decades, the Pinchot Institute has embraced the same mission: promoting rational civil dialogue and supporting policy-relevant research and education in conservation. As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Pinchot Institute, it is only fitting to salute the Institute for rededicating itself to this positive and inclusive ideal—for preparing to meet the conservation challenges ahead with both optimism and renewed resolve.

Tom Tidwell is Chief of the USDA Forest Service in Washington, DC.
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