As a Nation we forget that the basic needs of Americans depend on the conservation of our natural resources. Or as once stated by Gifford Pinchot, “Without natural resources life itself is impossible. From birth to death, natural resources, transformed for human use, feed, clothe, shelter, and transport us. Upon them we depend for every material necessity, comfort, convenience, and protection in our lives. Without abundant resources prosperity is out of reach.”
Open space of all kinds will be needed forever for many purposes. So the United States wisely invests hundreds of millions of dollars each year to protect the best acres of wilderness, wildlands where we harvest timber, or areas more intensively managed for timber or agricultural crops.
Conservation and any kind of land management first requires knowing the metes and bounds. Gifford Pinchot and his allies knew this, doubling down on what had been a priority from the Nation’s founding. George Washington was a surveyor. Thomas Jefferson was obsessed by surveying and land acquisition, dispatching Lewis and Clark to record all they could in a journey across the West. In his time as the first Chief of the Forest Service under President Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot dispatched surveyors across the Nation to establish boundaries and assess resources, making possible the conservation of 122 million acres of National Forest.
We cannot forget that this history of bringing land into the public domain for the benefit of the American people was accompanied by some injustice and displacement, and disputes with the indigenous people who already used and occupied the land. The Institute is mindful of this history, and over the years has not only worked to ensure that tribal lands are fairly and properly recorded and respected, but that technical and financial assistance is available to tribes for sustainable land management.
For several years the Institute has been partnering with the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service and the Forest Service, among other agencies, to review survey boundaries, evaluate rights of way, and help title and register lands that have been protected through easements or otherwise acquired for the purposes of conservation.
Establishing the extent and ownership of conserved lands is critical to their protection over the long term. In some cases, changes in the landscape wrought by floods, or ever-shifting river channels, leads to disputes in ownership. In many more cases, conserved lands were never properly recorded or had boundaries based on ephemeral landmarks that have since disappeared. The Institute is working to ensure that lands in which the public has invested are less vulnerable to adverse possession, development, degradation, and even being sold through proper delineation, recording, and monitoring.