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Pinchot focus areas:

Climate & Energy
In this Issue: The Stewardship Ethic
Will Price

The theme of this issue, the stewardship ethic, was a transformative concept when it was first introduced into the lexicon of forestry a century ago by thinkers like Aldo Leopold and Gifford Pinchot. The influence of a moral imperative when managing the landscape—an ethic to sustain and protect our natural resources—has been variously interpreted (and heeded) in the intervening years. And in some cases past actions that may be regrettable are still debated or not scientifically understood (e.g. fire suppression and how to sustain fire-resilient ecosystems).

Climate change has been added to this challenge, and with it greater understanding and acceptance of the potential for reducing emissions through forestry, including by increasing wood use for energy and construction. Along with new demands on forestry arises the need to revisit policies that both incentivize and constrain management. How we manage the land to mitigate and adapt to climate change expands the geography of our ethical considerations. Interpreting and applying the stewardship ethic in a stand of trees is an ever more sophisticated exercise that makes us consider both global consequences and local economies. Also, a stewardship ethic applied in every place we “tinker” with nature is more necessary, since we cannot fully know what changes may come or parts will be lost. 

At the end of 2015, Al Sample stepped down as the President of the Institute after what was a very distinguished and accomplished tenure of 20 years. Under his direction, the Institute evolved and expanded from a staff of one to an organization with staff on both coasts and projects of many kinds throughout the country.

New England Aster. Credit: USFS/Sara Huebner I have appreciated Al’s generous advice as we seek to continue the growth and impact of the Institute. Even more important are the many years of support and guidance, through which I came to recognize the vital role the Institute can play to cultivate and test new ideas, and the need for courage when pursuing a “conservation ethic” and seeking the greatest good among competing interests. His depth of knowledge on the history of forestry in the US is incomparable. I know I speak for staff past and present when I express gratitude for making the Institute what it is today and look forward to working with him in his capacity as a Senior Fellow.

One of the hallmarks of the Institute has been its passion—in both mission and work—to act based on an understanding of the many different connections people have with land and nature. This passion endures. In this issue of The Pinchot Letter, Al’s introduction and the contributions from leaders in the field of conservation remind us of the ethical foundations of this field—and point to challenges today where we would be wise to evaluate our collective mission and purposes for action.

The timing of this issue coincides with some introspection within the Institute, during which its board and staff are revisiting the mission of conservation, both from the perspective of what work is needed, but also to define the future role of an idea-driven and passionate organization like the Institute. We have appreciated the generous and dedicated engagement of the Forest Service and our other partners and friends through this process.

In the natural resources community the stage is changing— with growing populations, global climate change, and public discourse that can poison reasoned compromises. So the stakes are higher. We believe that the work necessary to change the public discourse and create and test new approaches is critically reliant on collaborative work through partnerships the Institute will seek to create and renew. In my few months as Acting President I have already heard many ideas on what the Institute can be and what issues it should tackle next. These dialogues have inspired me and I look forward to continuing them and hearing from more of you as we continue our fight for conservation.
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