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Climate & Energy
25th Anniversary of the Grey Towers Protocol
Jul 31, 2015
Forestry professionals have a special responsibility for the conservation and sustainable management of one of the most important natural resources on Earth. Forests represent a third of the planet’s land area, but they are home to two-thirds of the world’s animal and plant species, and they contain 90 percent of all the carbon in living organisms. Forestry professionals today are highly educated in the science of how these ecosystems work, and are increasingly skilled in understanding the economic, social, and cultural contexts that make sustainable forest management possible.

But science and economics are not always enough. Aldo Leopold taught that there is an underlying ethic in what foresters do, a moral responsibility to conserve and sustain these ecosystems for future generations and for the diversity of species that depend upon them. Foresters are the stewards of these important resources, with a responsibility to reflect this ethic in their own actions, but also to educate and to lead. This is the common vision that is uniting today’s forestry professionals across the nation and around the world.

This year will mark the 25th anniversary of the Grey Towers Protocol, which established a set of guiding principles for forest managers, based on the “moral imperative” of land stewardship. It also came to define in the minds of many the values, mission, and purposes of the Pinchot Institute. The Grey Towers Protocol was the outcome of a two-day symposium held at Grey Towers in November 1990, in conjunction with the centennial of the Forest Reserve Act of 1891. It was published by the Pinchot Institute in 1991 as a book entitled Land Stewardship in the Next Era of Conservation, and is still available from the Pinchot Institute in print and at http://www.pinchot.org/pubs/550.

The Grey Towers Protocol reflected the fundamental re-examination of forestry that was taking place at the time in the US. In the intervening 25 years, we have witnessed major changes in forestry—not least of which has been the shift in the management of the National Forests—toward the conservation and sustainable management of forests as complex, biologically-diverse ecosystems. Ideas and approaches that were controversial 25 years ago have become widely accepted now as standard practice on many private as well as public forest lands.

The commemoration of Gifford Pinchot’s birth 150 years ago—and the 25th anniversary of the Grey Towers Protocol—offer opportunities for us to reflect on the conservation ethic at the root of forestry as it developed in America, and the moral responsibility we share for conservation education and leadership today. Sustaining forests for all their environmental, economic, social, and cultural values in a world soon to be 10 billion people will require continuing improvement in our science, our practice, and in our professional commitment.
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