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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Pinchot’s bust

The earth and its resources belong of right to its people.

Conservation is a foresighted utilization, preservation and/or renewal of forest, waters, lands and minerals, for the greatest good of the greatest number for the longest time.

- Gifford Pinchot

During my too-brief tenure as DCNR Secretary, I helped resurrect a bronze bust of Gifford Pinchot – the former Governor of Pennsylvania and “father of conservation” – that had been callously relegated to gathering dust in a state government storage room.  I had the bust retrieved and placed in the reception area outside my office in the Rachel Carson Office Building in downtown Harrisburg - mounted on a wood pedestal just outside my office door. 

Pinchot’s bust stood next to the 2009 award that recognized Pennsylvania’s state park system as the best managed park system in the nation. (I’ve been edited out of the video; that was inevitable, since I left the agency in January, 2011. Such is life.)

Pinchot’s bust served as a reminder to every visitor to the DCNR executive suite of the vision that inspired our work, and the legacy that we had the privilege of stewarding.

In December of my first year as Secretary, I hosted the annual Christmas open house for agency staff. The members of my executive staff and I provided coffee and refreshments as a small thanks to our agency colleagues – at least those who worked in the central office – for everything they did, every day, to conserve Pennsylvania’s irreplaceable natural resources and serve the citizens of the state. It was always a special time - punctuated with song and diminished by some inadequate words from the Secretary - sharing the holiday spirit with the finest public servants I’ve ever worked with.

On that December morning, as colleagues began to gather in the reception area outside my office, I jokingly placed a Santa Claus hat atop Pinchot’s bust. A trusted member of my executive team saw me doing it and – frowning - walked over, took the hat off the bust, and handed it to me, gently saying, “No.”

I’ll never forget that moment, or the lesson that it taught me – one of many that I learned in that golden interval when I was fortunate enough to lead DCNR. The conservation ethic - and reverence for it - runs deep in DCNR. It’s intensely personal and meaningful, and inspires what the women and men of the agency do every day to conserve Pennsylvania’s natural heritage - the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come.

I think about that teaching moment - where I was the student - beside Pinchot’s bust. And I lament the ineducable reigning ideology that would put Pinchot’s bust back into storage, if not sell it for scrap


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