Pinchot’s Principles, ca. 1905

“Pinchot’s Principles” are said to have been developed during a series of lectures in the early 1900s at Yale Forestry School. They essentially constitute “his advice to guide the behavior of foresters in public office.” They were printed in the February 1994 issue of the Journal of Forestry, and The list and most recently of the Forest History Society blog:

Pinchot Principles

  • A public official is there to serve the public and not to run them.
  • Public support of acts affecting public rights is absolutely required.
  • It is more trouble to consult the public than to ignore them, but that is what you are hired for.
  • Find out in advance what the public will stand for; if it is right and they won’t stand for it, postpone action and educate them.
  • Use the press first, last and all the time if you want to reach the public.
  • Get rid of the attitude of personal arrogance or pride of attainment of superior knowledge.
  • Don’t try any sly or foxy politics because a forester is not a politician.
  • Learn tact simply by being honest and sincere, and by learning to recognize the point of view of the other man and meet him with arguments he will understand.
  • Don’t be afraid to give credit to someone else even when it belongs to you; not to do so is the sure mark of a weak man, but to do so is the hardest lesson to learn; encourage others to do things; you may accomplish many things through others that you can’t get done on your single initiative.
  • Don’t be a knocker; use persuasion rather than force, when possible; plenty of knockers are to be had; your job is to promote unity.
  • Don’t make enemies unnecessarily and for trivial reasons; if you are any good you will make plenty of them on matters of straight honesty and public policy, and you need all the support you can get.

This list was assembled as telephones and automobiles were first becoming established in larger US cities, and photography was becoming available to everyone. Before radio, television, airplane travel, and Internet communications.

Are they worth considering in today’s USFS?

3 thoughts on “Pinchot’s Principles, ca. 1905”

  1. Bob, these have always been on my wall (the version with a photo of GP on horseback). Now I am not a historian, but the history I read suggests that GP was a darn good politician himself, good enough to become Governor.

    So I think it’s more complicated than that, since the Forest Service is managed by politicals who ultimately determine if they are going to wait to get support of the public and educate them or not. You can’t really complain about it, because that’s how the government works, yet GP was more independent than today’s folks. I can’t imagine, for example, someone chewing GP out for not achieving diversity goals. But it’s worth discussing… is the squelching of independence irreversible? Is there a happier medium?

    For example, the public clearly wants recreation. Yet somewhere between the FS and the administration (s) it’s not happening. And the press can’t be as helpful when they are trying to hang on by their fingernails.

    Although today’s challenges are challenging, I think GP’s thoughts still ring true, they just require more thinking about how to apply them.

  2. I agree with Sharon, but keep in mind that GP’s success was partly (largely?) premised on being close friends with President Theodore Roosevelt, who shared many of GP’s conservation views.

    Regardless, the intent of these principles still rings true today, albeit in a different format. GP was keenly aware of how important it was for the public to be involved the management of their land, as well as how Government employees should appear in the public eye. Reading through these principles now and again has helped me stay on track.

  3. Tony, I agree with you, it’s hard to imagine the then Secretary of Agriculture going on hunting trips with GP and TR. GP brought his own political chops to the Department and the Department (seemed to) leave him alone.
    That’s not likely to happen anymore. For one thing it’s unlikely that any administration would select a Chief with an independent power base, why take any risk?.So perhaps it’s time to say “times have changed since GP and TR and for the 21st century, it makes sense to put the FS in Interior with its land management and regulatory comrades.” Perhaps it makes sense to put NOAA Fisheries in Interior as well. then we would be more or less all one big lively and contentious family.


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