French foresters research Pinchot legacy at Grey Towers

| 29 Sep 2011 | 08:15

MILFORD - Two French forestry professionals recently spent a week at Grey Towers National Historic Site culling through books and documents in an attempt to strengthen the connection between the French School of Forestry and the practice of scientific forestry in America. The link between the two is Gifford Pinchot, who studied forestry at Ecole Forestiere de Nancy in 1889. At that time in America there were no forestry schools, no practicing foresters and forests were being clear cut for their timber. Pinchot learned in Europe that forests could be managed and utilized at the same time and he set out to convince America of the same. In 1905, he helped found and served as first chief of the US Forest Service. Grey Towers, Pinchot’s ancestral home, contains numerous textbooks, maps, notes, diaries and other historic artifacts that “fascinated” the two French researchers. Some of the items, part of the extensive collection now maintained by the US Forest Service at Grey Towers, had never been interpreted because they are written in French. Of particular interest to the researchers was one of Pinchot’s original textbooks, “Traite de Silviculture” (Methods of Silviculture), complete with underlined passages and handwritten notes in the margins. The two cross-referenced the materials they found with Pinchot’s 1889 diary entries. “It is extraordinary to have such detail,” said Francois Le Tacon, Director of Research at Centre Inra de Nancy, France. The text book and Pinchot’s notes “fascinate us, because it shows what he thought was important, and this is what he used to introduce forestry in America,” said Le Tacon. “This book was the first - and the best -- silviculture textbook published in the world,”he added. “It had a fantastic effect on Pinchot…nobody in America believed the forests could be managed, but he did, and then he came home and did it.” Pinchot studied forestry for one year in Europe because there was no place to learn professional forestry in America in the 1880s. Upon his return, he teamed up with President Theodore Roosevelt to create the US Forest Service, setting aside nearly 200 million acres as National Forests. The Pinchot family then endowed the Yale School of Forestry so that others could be trained professionally. Summer school for the Yale students was held at Grey Towers from 1901-1926. While in Milford, the two French researchers also visited Delaware Valley High School and spoke with students in the French classes. Students had an opportunity to converse in French, and to learn more about the researchers’ jobs in France and about what they were doing in Milford. The two French researchers learned of Grey Towers and the historic textbooks in June 2005, when they visited as part of an exchange program that celebrated the US Forest Service Centennial.