Remarks at a Meeting of the Society of American Foresters at the Residence of Mr. Gifford Pinchot

March 26, 1903

Mr. Pinchot, Mr. Secretary, and gentlemen:

I have felt that this evening the meeting was of such a character as not merely to warrant but in a sense require that I should break through my custom of not coming out to make speeches of this sort. For I believe there are few bodies of men who have it in their power to do a greater service to the country than those engaged in the scientific study and practical application of improved methods of forestry for the preservation of our woods in the United States. I am glad to see here this evening not only the officials, including the head, of the Department of Agriculture, but those, like Governor Richards, most concerned in carrying out the policy of the Department of the Interior.

First and foremost, you can never afford to forget for one moment what is the object of the forest policy. Primarily that object is not to preserve forests because they are beautiful—though that is good in itself—not to preserve them because they are refuges for the wild creatures of the wilderness—though that too is good in itself—but the primary object of the forest policy as of the land policy of the United States, is the making of prosperous homes, is part of the traditional policy of home-making of our country. Every other consideration comes as secondary. The whole. effort of the government in dealing with the forests must be directed to this end, keeping in view the fact that it is not only necessary to start the homes as prosperous, but to keep them so. That is the way the forests have need to be kept. You can start a prosperous home by destroying the forest, but you do not keep it. You will be able to make that policy permanently the policy of the country only in so far as you are able to make the people at large, and then all the people concretely, interested in the results in the different localities, appreciative of what it means; give them a full recognition of its value, and make them earnest and zealous adherents of it. Keep that in mind too. In a government such as ours it is out of the question to impose a policy like this upon the people from without. A permanent policy can come only from the intelligent conviction of the people themselves that it is wise, and useful; nay, indispensable. We shall decide in the long run whether we will or will not preserve the forests of the Rocky Mountains accordingly as we are or are not able to make the people of the States around the mountains, in their neighborhood, hearty believers in the policy of forest preservation. This is the only way in which this policy can be made a permanent success. In other words, you must convince the people of the truth—and it is the truth—that the success of home-makers depends in the long run upon the wisdom with which the Nation takes care of its forests. That seems a strong statement. It is none too strong. There are small sections of this country where what is done with the woodlands makes no difference; but over the great extent of the country the ultimate well being of the home-maker will depend in very large part upon the intelligent use made of the forests. In other words, you, yourselves, must keep this practical object before your mind. You must remember that the forest which contributes nothing to the wealth, progress, or safety of the country is of no interest to the government, and it should be of little to the forester. Your attention should be directed not to the preservation of the forests as an end in itself, but as the means for preserving and increasing the prosperity of the Nation. Forestry is the preservation of forests by wise use. We shall succeed, not by preventing the use, but by making the forests of use to the settler, the rancher, the miner, the man who lives in the neighborhood, and indirectly the man who may live hundreds of miles off, down the course of some great river which has its rise among the forests.

The forest problem is in many ways the most vital internal problem of the United States. The more closely this statement is examined the more evident its truth becomes. In the arid regions of the West agricultural prosperity depends first of all upon the available water supply. Forest protection alone can maintain the streamflow necessary for irrigation in the West and prevent floods destructive to agriculture and manufactures in the East. The relation between forests and the whole mineral industry is an extremely intimate one, for mines cannot be developed without timber, and usually not without timber close at hand. In many regions of the West ore is more abundant than wood, and where the ore is of low grade, transportation of the necessary mine timbers from a distance is out of the question. The use of the mine is strictly limited to the man who has timber available close at hand. The very existence of lumbering, the fourth great industry of the United States, depends upon the success of your work and our work as a Nation in putting practical forestry into effective operation.

As it is with mining and lumbering, so it is in only less degree with transportation, manufacture, and commerce in general. The relation of all these industries to the forests is of the most intimate and dependent kind. It is a matter for congratulation that so many of these great interests are waking up to this fact. The railroads, especially, managed as they are by men who are obliged by the very nature of their profession to possess insight into the future, have awakened to a clearer realization of the vast importance of economical use both of timber and of forests. Even the grazing industry, as it is carried out in the great West, which might at first sight appear to have little relation to forestry, is nevertheless closely related to it, because great areas of winter range would be entirely useless without the summer range in the mountains, where the forest reserves lie.

The forest resources of our country are already seriously depleted.

They can be renewed and maintained only by the co-operation of the forester and the lumberman. The most striking and encouraging fact in the forest situation is that lumbermen are realizing that practical lumbering and practical forestry are allies and not enemies, and that the future of each depends upon the other. The resolutions passed at the last great meeting of the representative lumber interests held here in Washington are strong proof of this fact and the most encouraging feature of the present situation. As long as we could not make the men concerned in the great lumbering industry realize that the foresters were endeavoring to work in their interests and not against them, the headway that could be made was but small. And we will be able to work effectively to bring about immediate results of permanent importance largely in proportion as we are able to convince the men at the head of that great business of the practical wisdom of what the foresters of the United States are seeking to accomplish. In the last analysis, the attitude of the lumbermen toward your work will be the chief factor of the success or failure of that work. In other words, gentlemen, I cannot too often say to you, as indeed it cannot be too often said to any body of men of high ideals and of scientific training who are endeavoring to accomplish work of real worth for the country, you must keep your ideals, and yet seek to realize them in practical ways.

The United States is exhausting its forest supplies far more rapidly than they are being produced. The situation is a grave one, and there is but one remedy. That remedy is the introduction of practical forestry on a large scale, and of course that is impossible without trained men; men trained in the closet and trained by actual field work, under practical conditions. You will have created a new profession; a profession of the highest importance; a profession of the highest usefulness toward the State; and you are in honor bound to yourselves and to the people to make your profession stand as high as the profession of law, as the profession of medicine, as any other profession most intimately connected with our highest and finest development as a nation. You are engaged in pioneer work in a calling whose opportunities for public service are very great. Treat the calling seriously; remember how much it means for the country as a whole; remember that if you do your work in crude fashion, if you only half learn your profession, you discredit it as well as yourselves. Give yourselves every chance by thorough and generous preparation and by acquiring not only a thorough knowledge, but a wide outlook over all the questions on which you have to touch. The profession which you have adopted is one which touches the Republic on almost every side, political, social, industrial, commercial; and to rise to its level you will need a wide acquaintance with the general life of the Nation, and a viewpoint both broad and high. Any profession which makes you deal with your fellowmen at large makes it necessary that, if you are to succeed, you should understand what these fellowmen are, and not merely what they are thought to be by people who live in the closet and the parlor. You must know who the men are with whom you are acting; how they feel; how far you can go; when you have to stop; when it is necessary to push on; you must know all of these things if you are going to do work of the highest value.

I believe that the foresters of the United States will create and apply a more effective system of forestry than we have yet seen. If you don't, gentlemen, I will feel that you have fallen behind your brethren of other callings; and I don't believe you will fall behind them. Nowhere else is the development of a country more closely bound up with the creation and execution of a judicious forest policy. This is of course especially true of the West; but it is true of the East also. Fortunately in the West we have been able relatively to the growth of the country to begin at an earlier day; so that we have been able to provide great forest reserves in the Rocky Mountains, instead of waiting and attempting to get Congress to pay a very large sum for their creation, as we are now endeavoring to do in the Southern Appalachians. In the administration of the national forest reserves, the introduction of conservative lumbering on the timber tract of the lumberman and the woodlot of the farmer, in the practical solution of forest problems which affect every industry and every activity of the nation, the members of this society have an unexampled field before them. You have heavy responsibilities—every man that does any work that is worth doing has a heavy responsibility—for upon the quality of your work the development of forestry in the United States and the protection of the industries which depend upon it will largely rest. You have made a good beginning, and I congratulate you upon it. Not only is a sound national forest policy coming rapidly into being, but the lumber men of the country are proving their interest in forestry by practicing it. Twenty years ago a meeting such as this to-night would have been impossible, and the desires we hear expressed would have been treated as having no possible relation to practical life. I think, Mr. Secretary, that since you first came into Congress here there has been a complete revolution in the attitude of public men toward this question. We have reached a point where American foresters, trained in American forest schools, are attacking American forest problems with success. That is the way to meet the larger work you have be fore you. It is a work of peculiar difficulty, because precedents are lacking. It will demand training, steadiness, devotion, and above all esprit de corps, fealty to the body of which you are members, zeal to keep the practice as well as the ideals of that body high. The more harmoniously you work with each other, the better your work will be. And above all a condition precedent upon your usefulness to the body politic as a whole is the way in which you are able both to instill your own ideals into the mass of your fellowmen with whom you come in contact, and at the same time to show your ability to work in practical fashion with them; to convince them that as a business matter it will pay for them to co-operate with you; to convince the public of that, and then also to convince the people of the localities of the neighborhoods in which you work, and especially the lumbermen and all others who make their life trades dealing with the forests.

Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks at a Meeting of the Society of American Foresters at the Residence of Mr. Gifford Pinchot Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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