The Presidents and the Forests


With this year’s presidential race in full swing (and Presidents’ Day on Monday), it’s an appropriate time to take a look at not just our country’s long and abiding relationship with forests but more specifically, the strong role that forests played with several U.S. presidents.

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative has a great story this week about the special connection that three presidents – George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt – had to trees. But it’s not just that trio – several other presidents were close to the forest. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, wrote about the importance of trees and open space.

“I never before knew the full value of trees…What would I not give that the trees planted nearest round the house at Monticello were full grown.”

According to the article from SFI, George Washington was a big proponent of trees.

Washington planted hundreds of native trees and shrubs at his vast Mount Vernon estate. These included acres of fruit trees including apple, pear, peach, apricot and, yes, even cherry. Vegetables were planted in a kitchen garden beginning in 1760, and the same garden has been cultivated continuously since then.

Lincoln, meanwhile, lived in a log cabin and made a living early in his life cutting logs for fencing, known as “rail splitting.” (More details here about Lincoln’s life as a rail splitter.)

Like other young boys on the frontier, Abraham Lincoln helped clear land, build fences, plant, tend crops, and care for livestock. As he grew older, his father regularly hired him out to other farmers—the wages Abraham brought home helped keep the family afloat.

Theodore Roosevelt was a major proponent of the outdoors and was a pioneer in the creation of our natonal forests.

Roosevelt’s commitment to forests helped establish 230 million acres of public lands, including 150 million acres of national forest and 23 national parks. In 1905, Roosevelt established the U.S. Forest Service and appointed Gifford Pinchot as its first Chief, to ensure the management and protection of the US national forests.

Roosevelt even instituted Arbor Day—one of SFI’s favorite holidays.

Roosevelt respected nature enough to realize the importance of renewal and conservation.

“It is time for us now as a nation to exercise the same reasonable foresight in dealing with our great natural resources that would be shown by any prudent man in conserving and widely using the property which contains the assurance of well-being for himself and his children.”