Maintaining the environment



John Muir and Gifford Pinchot were men who had a common interest; to take care of the environment. However, the approach of these two men was not the same; Gifford proposed that the environment needed to be conserved while Muir was of the opinion that the environment was to be preserved. Both men meant well to the environment but who among them was more correct than the other? According Gifford, environment conservation is the use of the natural resources by human beings and animals in a controlled way to prevent exploitation and misuse of the resources. On the other hand environment preservation means developing and implementing policies that prevent any usage of natural resources by either human beings or animals. In Muir’s view the natural resources were to remain out of reach from human beings; people should not in any way benefit from exploiting the natural deposits. Gifford view demonstrated a little leniency; people were to be given liberty to use the resources but only if their exploitation was to be done in a responsible manner. This paper will provide a broad discussion of both views in order to determine which view is ideal.

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Conservation of the Environment

In the 19th century the U.S was experiencing the Industrial Revolution; majority of the country’s industries were developed during this era. The development of these industries caused a rapid over-exploitation of the environment. The conservative movement group led by Gifford advocated for the country to protect its environment. This group lobbied for the natural resources to be used in a responsible way. The conservatives expect the natural deposits to be used in a way that is sustainable; the natural resources mined meet the current needs of the industries. The sustainability policy allows the environment to continue providing resources for future production. Gifford’s view was founded under three facets; natural resource management, maintaining the scenic nature of the environment and protecting the wildlife habitat. The principles were very important especially the protection historical sceneries which were part of the national heritage (McGeary, 80). Gifford advocated for the registry of these sites in the National Register of Historical Places.

Gifford expressed in his book, The Fight for Conservation, that the country was being governed by a ‘stupidly false statement’ when it borne the thought that the natural deposits were inexhaustible. Gifford was appointed Chief Forester by President Roosevelt, this administrative position allowed him to lobby for his policy of conservation. According to him unregulated exploitation of natural deposits would result to the collapse of the U.S economy; since the industries would lack vital raw materials in the future bring to a halt the production. This would cause closure of some industries in the country (McGeary, 76). This catastrophe could be avoided only if the government would regulate the excess exploitation of resources. Besides the natural deposits, Gifford advocated for the protection of the forest land. The forest land was under threat from private developers who were acquiring this land to build skyscrapers. The people were also overgrazing on the public land. These problems were constantly addressed by the conservatives.

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Preservation of the Environment

In the year 1982 Muir formed the Sierra Club with an aim of protecting the environment. His efforts were aimed at stopping the occupation of private land by developers. In Muir view the public land was under threat since the beginning of industrialization, industrialists were acquiring the forest lands and turning them into cities. Muir’s preservation ideology the environment, the public lands and the natural resources were not to be utilized by the citizens. The public was to exist separately without interfering with the environment. According to the preservationists the utility the individuals would derive from the environment was natural beauty and inspiration (Robinson, 30). Muir’s club was of the idea that human beings should change the form of land in order to increase on its utility but instead should focus on the basic benefit derived from the land.  Muir viewed the environment as sacred and believed that human beings should not have been allowed to meddle with it. He strongly advocated for the preservation of national parks and reserves all over the country. Muir could use the influence of his Sierra Club to meet President Roosevelt who supported his ideas. There was a great difference of ideology between Muir’s views and Gifford ideas.

Benefits of Conservation over Preservation


The ideology of conservation is more applicable than preservation. The end of 19th century and the beginning of 20th century saw the industrial growth in U.S.  Convincing the industrialists to stop mining and reconsider the harm they did to the environment was a ridiculous move by an individual. To be frank the U.S government wanted the country to be industrialized in order to reach the status of European countries which had already undergone the revolution. The government was not going to stop construction of cities and the expansion of industries for the sake of the environment (Loomis, 84). The conversation of the environment proved to be an applicable idea to promote than preservation. The government could implement guidelines that would prevent the overexploitation of the environment by industries and private developers. If the government tried to restrict the use of national resources the country would be in turmoil. Muir’s ideas were extreme which made them somehow impossible to implement.

Advocacy of Public Rights

This view is backed by the case of the Hetch Hetchy project in 1913. During this year the ideologies of these two men crushed yet again. The government wanted to build  a build a dam along the Hetch Hetchy valley in San Francisco in order to provide the residents of the city with water t drink. President Roosevelt consulted the two men and each of them was of a different opinion. According to Gifford the government was to proceed and construct the dam since it would benefit the residents of San Francisco. Although the dam was to be constructed in the forest the residents of this city would benefit if the government was to construct the dam. From Muir’s perspective the construction of the dam would violate the preservation of national parks, forests and game reserves (Havlick, 210). The government should not have proceeded with the construction of the dam since it would alter the serene atmosphere of the area. From Muir’s point of view the nature should not be interfered with even for the greater good of human beings. Pinchot’s vehemently opposed John’s view as meaningless; he said that if the environment was modified to change lives of individuals, it meant progress and development rather than destruction. Eventually, President Roosevelt accepted advice from Gifford and constructed the dam. If Muir’s ideas were considered residents of San Francisco would have lacked a basic necessity all in the name of serene environment. Muir’s ideology did not consider the basic element of life.

Economic Empowerment

If the government was to adopt the preservation principles U.S would lag behind in terms of economic development. The preservation principles would cripple the growing economy to its knees reason being; lack of raw materials to run the industries, lack of land for private developers to build and inadequate space for farmers to graze their livestock. In case the industries lacked the required raw materials many employees would be laid off from their jobs. This would increase the level of unemployment in the country. When the levels of unemployment in the country are high crime in the country escalates since many people try to use unorthodox means to get income (Culhane, 146). The standard of living in the country decreases. These factors are signs of a struggling economy; thus the preservation ideology was against the economic development the country was experiencing then. The conservation ideology allowed for the continued progress in the country’s economy but warned the government to beware of consequences of overexploitation of natural resources. The conservation ideology was friendly to both the environment and the industrialists.

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Pinchot and John were men with the same vision; to maintain the environment, forests, national reserves and game reserves in the U.S. However, the two men did not agree on how to go about it. This led to Pinchot developing the conservation ideology while John developed preservation philosophy. The conservation ideology was easily accepted in the society and even by President Roosevelt since it was in favor of the industrialization changes. On the other hand the preservative philosophy was viewed as too harsh since it prevented progress in the name of preserving a beautiful and serene environment. From my point of view, Gifford Pinchot was correct; the environment should be conserved and not preserved.

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  1. Culhane, Paul J. Public lands politics: Interest group influence on the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Routledge, 2013:113-156
  2. Havlick, David. “America’s Public Lands: From Yellowstone to Smokey Bear and Beyond.” The AAG Review of Books 3.4 (2015): 208-217.
  3. Loomis, John B. Integrated public lands management: principles and applications to national forests, parks, wildlife refuges, and BLM lands. Columbia University Press, 2013:76-138
  4. McGeary, M. Nelson. Gifford Pinchot: Forester-Politician. Princeton University Press, 2015:56-90
  5. Robinson, Glen O. The Forest Service: A study in public land management. Routledge, 2013:22-46
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