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Natural Rivals

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John Muir and Gifford Pinchot have often been seen as the embodiment of conflicting environmental philosophies. Muir, the preservationist and co-founder of the Sierra Club. Pinchot, the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service advocating sustainability in timber harvests, instituted conservation. The idealistic Muir saw nature as something special and separate; the pragmatic Pinchot accepted that people used the products of nature. The environmental movement’s original sin, and the root of many of it's difficulties, was its inability to reconcile these two viewpoints—and these two men.So how was it that Muir and Pinchot went camping together—and delighted in each other's company? Does this mean that the seemingly irreparable divide in environmental ethos is not as unbridgeable as it might seem? The perceived rivalry between these two men has obscured a fascinating and hopeful story. Muir and Pinchot actually spent years in an alliance that lead to the original movement for public lands. Their shared commitment to the glories of natural landscapes united their disparate talents and viewpoints to create a fledgling and uniquely American vision of land ownership and management.

John Clayton is the author of The Cowboy Girl which was a finalist for a High Plains Book Award, as well as Small Town Bound, Stories from Montana's Enduring Frontier, and Images of America: Red Lodge. Clayton writes for The Montana Quarterly and his book Wonderlandscape: Yellowstone National Park and the Evolution of an American Cultural Icon, also published by Pegasus Books, was an Honored Book at the Montana Book Award. He lives in Bozeman, Montana.

"Naturalist John Muir and U.S. Forest Service founder Gifford Pinchot, usually portrayed as rigid symbols of warring preservation vs. conservation approaches to public-land management, in fact had a nuanced rivalry with hopeful ramifications for modern environmental issues, argues journalist Clayton in this hybrid biography-history."

– Publishers Weekly (starred)

"A timely book. Clayton looks at the issue of public lands through the lens of these two, seemingly like-minded men. The book is populated with a number of fascinating figures. A substantial contribution to understanding our environmental past."

– Kirkus Reviews

"A crisply written double biography. Clayton paints vivid portraits of each, with Muir as the bedraggled backwoods explorer whose storytelling could charm the rich and powerful into supporting his causes, while practically minded New Yorker Pinchot peddled science and profitability to win political backing for his schemes. What makes their stories especially compelling is their preservation versus conservation debate, which still rages."

– Booklist

"Mr. Clayton writes with clarity, passion, and insight. This story is uneasily relevant to today…and may even provide a template for addressing climate change. We need our own John Muir and Gifford Pinchot."

– Wall Street Journal

More books from this author: John Clayton