They also connected with local groups that felt the same way… So there was a meeting of the science expertise and political power coming out of the East and local interests who were saying, “Yeah, that’s the same argument we’ve been making for more than two decades!” As a result you could have a national forest like the Angeles National Forest or the San Bernardino or any number of these that are spread out across the West.
The argument also works in the East. Even though many eastern forests, like the White Mountains and Green Mountains, had been obliterated over the previous century-and-a-half, the Weeks Act of 1911 — which was enacted after Pinchot and Roosevelt had been out of office but which they had pushed for while in office — gave the federal government for the first time the capacity to buy land from willing sellers. And what land was it going to be? What they had learned in the West was, go for the upper mountain watersheds… You look at where they went throughout the East and the Middle West, it’s high grounds and watersheds. In time that would expand in terms of other things they could purchase. But that act, and the run-up to getting it passed in 1911, was consistent with the action in the West, which meant that finally in 1911 we had a national Forest Service. So that the U.S. Forest Service, which was only in the West, was now covering and managing landscapes across the whole of the United States.
Pinchot can point to that as an accomplishment, as could Roosevelt, because it really was partly theirs. And in that way, it seems to me, I don’t know that in another time and place we could have gotten this done. I don’t know that in the 1920s you could have started fresh in a Republican set of administrations — which is a very different party than what Pinchot and Roosevelt belonged to — and achieved these ends. So they were lucky in their timing, and they were most effective in their energy.
Q: More broadly, the Forest Service reserves were only part of the public lands that were set aside as a consequence of policies from that era.
MILLER: If you look at the broad nature of public lands — including refuges, parks, grasslands, and the like — what we the people got out of this process, and the articulation of Roosevelt, Pinchot and a lot of other people made in the early part of the 20th century, was the capacity to slow down the onslaught of the Industrial Revolution on those lands in the first place. Also, we got a tourist industry: the landscapes that we can now climb on, hike in, camp on, fish, hunt, recreate in any number of ways. That was important in the early 20th century, but is absolutely essential in the 21st century since our population has exploded in size — it’s more than three times what Gifford Pinchot and Roosevelt knew. And so one of the things that they gave us is the capacity to go outdoors… That was not always what they had in mind; recreation was not first on their list of things that would happen. But it is how it has morphed.
Another thing was their careful understanding of why public lands matter from a resource point of view. Whether it’s mining or timber or grasslands (for livestock), if you could control our behavior on these lands, these millions of acres, you can also set those acres as a sort of educational process, to show how these processes work, to do the science and then take that management ethos into the communities that are working on private lands and say, “Look, we’ve discovered these things, and it might be possible for you to do better work, too.”