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The Pinchot Institute: Building on the Conservation Legacy of Gifford Pinchot
Nels Johnson

Nels Johnson Fifty years is a rare event in the life of a non-profit organization. Most non-profits don’t survive that long and few of those that do remain as vibrant and unique as the Pinchot Institute.

Let me give you a sense of how the Pinchot Institute has a made a difference and why it will be even more important during the next fifty years. I’m going to highlight four distinguishing characteristics of Gifford Pinchot and how that legacy lives on in the work of the Pinchot Institute.

First, Innovate.
Gifford Pinchot was the first forester, established the first forestry school and became the first chief of the US Forest Service. The title of Pinchot’s book, Breaking New Ground, signaled the value Gifford Pinchot attached to being a pioneer.

The Forest Health-Human Health Initiative has received numerous accolades as one of the most creative approaches yet developed to address a multitude of conservation challenges. Our findings that rising health care costs are one of the prime factors forcing private woodland owners to sell their land for development has led to a number of emerging partnerships involving conservation organizations, family woodland owners, and a health care industry seeking new ways to reduce their “carbon footprint.”

Over the past five years, the Pinchot Institute has been developing a pilot project in western Oregon to test the feasibility of this concept, and to develop all of the mechanisms needed to create a program that eventually can be scaled up and applied in other locations across the country. This has involved a number of steps, from developing a process for measuring the amount of carbon saved by conserving and sustainably managing a tract of forest land, to translating the value of that carbon to payments for health care. In 2013, the Pinchot Institute formalized a partnership with PacificSource to issue debit cards to forest landowners to facilitate this process. Known as “ATreeM” cards, these debit cards are “refilled” by health care partners based on the value of the carbon credits they are buying, and then used by the landowner to pay for a variety of health care services. In August 2013, the federal government approved the use of such pre-paid cards for payment of health insurance costs under the Affordable Care Act.

Second, Convene.
Gifford Pinchot valued bringing people together to solve problems. Physical evidence of this can be seen at the Finger Bowl just up the hill where Gifford and his family invited guests to debate and discuss solutions to the country’s conservation and social problems.

Catalyzed by the Pinchot Institute, Common Waters brings public agencies, non-profits, and businesses together to implement collaborative projects to protect headwater forests and floodplains in the Upper Delaware. The partnership provides technical services to land owners and local officials and has funded projects on nearly 40,000 acres at priority sites in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. The Common Waters Fund, with nearly $2 million secured by the Pinchot Institute from the US Endowment for Forests and Communities and the USDA NRCS Innovation Grants Program has shown that there is a strong appetite among landowners to implement projects on their properties to safeguard and improve watershed conditions in the Upper Delaware.

Third, Community.
For Pinchot, conservation was important not merely to save forests from destruction but as a tool to advance democracy and improve people’s lives.

EcoMadera. Since 2002 PIC has worked with communities in northwestern Ecuador to implement sustainable forest management practices, develop markets for sustainably produced wood products, and improve social services. Forest harvesting and conversion rates have fallen sharply and community incomes have grown steadily. As a result, the EcoMadera project area retains the last healthy Pacific coastal plain forest in Ecuador. The EcoMadera community forestry enterprise is now the largest employer in the Rio Canandé watershed, with 55 community foresters, wood workers, and administrators, most of whomwere formerly working in illegal logging and clearing the forest for agriculture. EcoMadera is managing balsa tree plantations and produces 125,000 board feet per month of balsa wood laminates, which are sold internationally for the construction of wind turbine blades. This year, three female community employees took over key leadership roles in the business as factory manager and head of wood grading and kiln drying. Under their leadership the business has made dramatic increases in efficiency and product quality, a testament to the evolution of the community enterprise despite the local male-dominated culture.

Fourth, Anticipating the Future.
Gifford Pinchot was a visionary who imagined the future of forests and what their demise or conservation would mean for the American public. The institutions he helped build were designed to take the long view.

Forests in the Anthropocene Workshop. In conjunction with the 50th Anniversary commemoration, the Pinchot Institute hosted the Forests in the Anthropocene Workshop inWashington on September 17 and 18. This event attracted over 100 policymakers, researchers, and practitioners to explore the range of effects that climate change is expected to have on US forests and strategies that can be used to reduce climate impacts. More than 30 background papers summarized the scientific understandings of projected effects of climate change, describing resource management adaptation strategies, and identifying opportunities to evolve the existing institutional and policy frameworks to support climate adaptation implementation on both private and public forest lands. The final papers will be published by the USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station as a General Technical Report by May, 2014.

Those who were here would be proud of what was set in motion 50 years ago.

The Grey Towers National Historic Site, administered by the US Forest Service, has become a world class center for conservation leadership training and public education.

The Pinchot Institute plays a unique and indispensable role researching emerging conservation problems and testing innovative policy and management solutions.

The Grey Towers Heritage Association maintains a lively schedule of tours, educational experiences, and cultural events to ensure that all visitors leave with a greater understanding of Grey Towers, the Pinchot Family, and the history of conservation in America.

The challenges facing conservation are different, and in some ways more daunting, than they were fifty years ago. The Pinchot Institute and Grey Towers—if anything—will be more important for advancing forest conservation in the next half century than they were in the last.

Thanks to all of you who have supported the Pinchot Institute for Conservation in one way or another in the past and those of you who will do so in the future.

Nels Johnson is the Deputy State Director of The Nature Conservancy Pennsylvania Chapter and Chair of the Pinchot Institute Board of Directors.
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