Natural Rivals: John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, and the Creation of America's Public Lands

Cover of the book Natural Rivals By John Clayton ’85. Pegasus Books, August 2019. Available on Amazon. John Muir, the most famous naturalist in American history, protected Yosemite, co-founded the Sierra Club, and is sometimes called the Father of the National Parks. A poor immigrant, self-taught, individualistic, and skeptical of institutions, his idealistic belief in the spiritual benefits of holistic natural systems led him to a philosophy of preserving wilderness unimpaired. Gifford Pinchot founded the U.S. Forest Service and advised his friend Theodore Roosevelt on environmental policy. Raised in wealth, educated in privilege, and interested in how institutions and community can overcome failures in individual virtue, Pinchot’s pragmatic belief in professional management led him to a philosophy of sustainably conserving natural resources. When such rival approaches meet, what happens? Although many people today think of public lands as an American birthright, their very existence was then in doubt, and dependent on a merger of the talents of these two men.