Sunday, November 13, 2016

CONSERVATION | Nov. 13–Ballinger-Pinchot Split

Richard Ballinger
This day in 1909, Colliers magazine accused Interior Secretary Richard Ballinger of backsliding on conservation in Alaskan coal lands. The ensuing Ballinger-Pinchot dispute/scandal reflected the ongoing tension between those who emphasized immediate use of natural resources and those seeking to  conserve them for future generations.

The controversy is highly relevant today when President-elect Trump is a climate change sceptic while the Republican party has strong conservationist roots dating back at least to Theodore Roosevelt, who on March 14, 1903 created the first National Wildlife Refuge (Pelican Island) and continuing to President Richard Nixon, who appointed the first Commissioner (William Ruckelshaus) to head to Environmental Protection Agency, and the surprisingly aggressive conservationist George W. Bush.

Gifford Pinchot
The Ballinger-Pinchot split pitted U.S. Forest Service Chief Gifford Pinchot and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Richard Achilles Ballinger. It drove apart the Republican Party before the 1912 presidential election, resulting in two GOP candidates (President William Howard Taft and former President Theodore Roosevelt) in 1912, throwing the election to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

Taft in March 1909 replaced TR's Interior Secretary, James Rudolph Garfield, with Richard Ballinger, a former Mayor of Seattle who had served as Commissioner of the General Land Office (GLO) under Secretary Garfield. Within weeks of taking office, Ballinger reversed some of Garfield's policies, restoring 3 million acres to private use. By July 1909, Gifford Pinchot, who had run the U.S. Forest Service since it had taken over management of forest reserves from the General Land Office in 1905, became convinced that Ballinger was bent on a plan to "stop the conservation movement".

By 1909, TR, Pinchot, and other conservationists feared Taft and Ballinger were seeking to reverse  their accomplishments. The Colliers article charged that Ballinger improperly used his office to help the Guggenheims and other powerful interests illegally gain access to Alaskan coal fields. Despite having stayed on as chief forester in the Taft administration, Pinchot openly criticized Ballinger and Taft, claiming they were violating principles of conservation and democracy.

Taft immediately fired Pinchot. After returning from his famous African safari, Roosevelt decided that Taft had betrayed him and had to be ousted. Roosevelt mounted an unsuccessful challenge to Taft on the independent Bull Moose ticket in 1912, but succeeded in denying him reelection.

Subsequent scholarship suggests that while Taft and Ballinger were undoubtedly less committed to conservation than TR and Pinchot, Ballinger may not have technically misused the power of his office.

The Pinchot family was involved in the circles that Inez Milholland and her husband Eugen Boissevain frequented, especially Amos Pinchot, nephew of Gifford Pinchot. Inez Milholland gave her life in 1916 in her effort to unseat Woodrow Wilson in his second term, because he would not support the Anthony Amendment (votes for women, which was eventually supported by Wilson after Inez's death, and became the 19th Amendment in 1920).

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