Empire forestry and the origins of environmentalism

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46 Citations (Scopus)


When and where did the environmental movement begin? To understand how a public endued with the principles of laissez-faire reversed in such short order a century-old policy of government land disposal, this paper examines how public ownership of land came to be celebrated, with a newly defined professional corps of government foresters such as Dietrich Brandis and Gifford Pinchot feted as popular heroes. Hard-headed environmentalists and legislators found in empire forestry a ready-made model to construct vast areas of the public domain as a utensil for not only environmental but state purposes-industrial, settlement, and budgetary. The empire forestry matrix of government reservations, fire protection, and revenue-enhancing forests solved the tension between romantic preservationist notions and laissez-faire ideals and gave the compromise from which modern environmentalism emerged: it posed environmental problems and solutions as a means to construct the state. This article traces the international trail of modern environmentalism from India, under Lord Dalhousie's forest character, to the British colonies in Africa and Australasia where it matured, and finally to Canada, the United States and other parts of the globe where environmentalism permanently entered the pantheon of democratic political creeds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)529-552
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Historical Geography
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Archeology


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