George Perkins Marsh (1801-1882)

  • Man has too long forgotten that the earth was given to him for usufruct alone, not for consumption, still less for profligate waste.
    --George Perkins Marsh

    Marsh’s ecological awareness ignited as he named the trees during buggy rides with his father throughout his childhood. He observed the cycles of damage and restoration in the forests and farmlands of Vermont. A natural linguist, Marsh learned twenty languages and, as a young man, gained incredible depth of knowledge in a variety of subjects including law, literature, and natural sciences. When his diligent studies led him to periodic blindness, he used his recovery as an opportunity to explore the natural world. As a result of his wide-ranging knowledge and respected character, Marsh held influential positions on the Vermont Supreme Legislative Council, as a U.S. Congressman, on the Smithsonian Select Committee, as an American Ambassador to Turkey and to Italy, as the Vermont Fish Commissioner, and many others. His studies and life experiences around the world led him to be published widely and read across disciplines. His most famous work was published in the midst of the Civil War, the pioneering conservation text Man and Nature (1864). In this book Marsh introduced the American public to the concepts of landscape conservation, climate change, invasive species, and watershed protection. Man and Nature, his other writings, and his passion for natural resources inspired the first U.S. Fish Commissioner and helped spur the creation of the U.S. Forest Service, protection of the Adirondack Mountains, and the reform of landscape management practices across the world. A product of early American industrialization and the U.S. Civil War, Marsh is widely considered the world’s first conservationist.