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Gifford Pinchot and John Muir's Contribution to The Conservation Side of The Progressive Reform Movement

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Conservation and Preservation

When looking over both the Conservation and the Preservation side of the later Progressive Reform Movement, two major figures stand out: Gifford Pinchot, and John Muir. Pinchot became the chief forester of the USDA on 1905, and his views were centered in the regulated use of US forests. He became famous under the Conservation movement, that focused on the idea that nature should serve humankind. On the other side Muir was one of the greatest proponents of preserving nature as it is and not being able to use it for the benefit of humans. He was the founder of the Sierra Club, and the biggest proponent of creating federally controlled nature areas and some of the national parks. Muir was a Preservationists which means that he protected nature for natures sake and not to serve humans. That was the collision between the two ideas of Conservation and Preservation, the one was protecting nature to better serve humans, and the second one to preserve nature just to have nature as it is.

The breaking point between the two ideologies occurred during the 1920s, with the Hetch Hetchy incident. The incident occurred because of the need of San Francisco to dam the Tuolomme river in order to provide a water reservoir for the city. Pinchot and the Conservationists supported the idea that the dam had to happen since it was needed for human need, and according to their ideology nature exists and we need to take care of it in order to serve humans. When it comes to the dilemma between saving nature and serving humans, Pinchot was all for the human perspective. Muir and the Preservationists on the other side, argued that the dam should not be created, because it would disturb and alternate the environment and the eco-system of the area. Once more the ideology of the Preservationists was that nature was not to be disturbed and alternated, but rather to be preserved as it is and remain pure and un-disturbed. What followed next was a political and environmental battle between the two to either alternate or preserve Hetch Hetchy. John Muir being the founder of the Sierra club gave a big fight to prevent the destruction of another natural environment. The final decision was taken by Muirs opponent Pinchot that argued to dam the river for humans shake on a congress deliberation on 1923 that approved the damming of the river.

To answer the question of what the reactions both Pinchot and Muir would be after watching the film Discovering Hetch Hetchy, I believe that they would have been very side-blinded and hardly focused on the meaning and the two sided perspective of the story. If Pinchot was to watch this movie I believe that his reaction would have been very positive and he would feel accomplisher dog his actions. Since his ideology is to take care of nature, but focus on human benefit, he would have been very excited to see that his plan worked and still benefits humankind today which is what really matters with preserving nature. Now if Muir was to watch the movie he would have been very disappointed and would have a sense of human failure over nature. Since he passed away very shortly after the dam was created he didn’t get to see the consequences and the distraction of the physical environment over his most beloved natural space. I believe that when he saw Hetch Hetchy under water and all its ecosystem alternated he would have been very angry with both humans and most of all the American government and its policy. It would have felt like a piece of his soul and life-long work was gone over human desire for exploitation of nature and use of every single source of natural outsource.

The thinking like a historian skill that I will use for this module is the Historical Perspective. The idea that I would use is the Preservation movement. Historians overtime explained the Preservation movement with great evolutionary and developing point. For example the greatest expansion of the movement happened after the creation of the Conservation movement. People that wanted the preservation of nature in the beginning started as one group with Transcedentalistic ideas, but later on there was a schism between the two with the greatest interest point over how and why we should preserve nature. We can argue that the Preservation movement started at that time of the schism. When the idea that nature is there for human use and we need to preserve it for the better being of humans, the group of people that believed that nature is there because that is its place and that humans don’t have any right to change that became the Preservationists. That constant over time change was the cause for the constant ideological update of the movement. Some of the theoretical frameworks that historians used to interpret the movement, included the theory that when Conservationists began the implementation of their policy and their ideology, the following occurrence would have been the formation and fight-back of the Preservation movement. Also the thought that when the instance of Hetch Hetchy came to the front scene, the Preservationists would have fought to pass their implementations. Some of the main sources that historical used to support their interpretations included personal accounts and descriptions of events and ideas, official paperwork that explains the certain interpretations, and also the political debates in congress, explain the fights between the two movements and their policy.

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Gifford Pinchot and John Muir’s Contribution to the Conservation Side of the Progressive Reform Movement. (2019, January 03). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 1, 2023, from
“Gifford Pinchot and John Muir’s Contribution to the Conservation Side of the Progressive Reform Movement.” GradesFixer, 03 Jan. 2019,
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