The (almost) 13th point of the Scout Law

We can all recite the 12 points of the Scout Law. Did you know there was serious talk of a 13th?

The committees launching the Boy Scouts of America drew on the nine-point Scout Law developed in 1908 for British Scouts by Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scouting movement. They added a few to Baden-Powell’s list and reworded several others before settling on the 12 points of the Scout Law as we know them today.

Gifford Pinchot, director of the U.S. Forest Service and the BSA’s first Chief Scout Forester, suggested a law pledging Scouts to the conservation of natural resources.

Pinchot offered three versions:

  • “A Boy Scout wastes nothing, but makes the best use of all he has.”
  • “A Boy Scout tries to leave the place where he has lived better than he found it.”
  • “A Boy Scout knows the Nation will continue after he is dead, and tries to stop the waste of natural resources.”

Not quite

BSA’s founders said no. Perhaps they couldn’t distill the idea down to a single word, like every other point of the Scout Law. Or they might have believed Pinchot’s suggestions were already evident in Scouts being helpful, kind and thrifty.

Even so, Pinchot must have been pleased that Conservation was one of Scouting’s first merit badges. The Handbook for Boys presented illustrations for the other 56 new badges as silhouettes: a pot for Cooking, a spoked wheel for Cycling, an anchor for Seamanship and so on.

The Conservation merit badge was different — a landscape, not a silhouette. The sun rose behind a snowcapped mountain. A river rushed between forested shorelines.

Scoutmasters soon discovered that conservation projects were ideal for combining outdoor adventures with Scouts’ eagerness to give back to the land. Newspapers reported on Scouts planting millions of trees, battling infestations of tent caterpillars and tussock moths, feeding wild birds during winter months and restocking lakes with fish in the summer. They were building and maintaining hiking trails on public lands all over America and caring for the pathways and campsites of BSA council camps.


Learning about and caring for nature expanded so much into other merit badges that in 1952 the Conservation badge was discontinued. Those today that have a strong conservation emphasis include:

  • Bird Study
  • Environmental Science
  • Forestry
  • Geology
  • Insect Study
  • Mammal Study
  • Nature
  • Oceanography
  • Plant Science
  • Reptile and Amphibian Study
  • Soil and Water Conservation
  • Sustainability

The conservation ethic has also been encouraged over the years by recognitions, including the Conservation Good Turn Award, Outdoor Ethics Awareness Award, Outdoor Ethics Action Award, National Outdoor Badge for Conservation and the World Conservation Award. The latest to join that list are the Distinguished Conservation Service Awards.

While not listed along with trustworthy, loyal and helpful, environmental stewardship has become a value infused in the experiences of every Scout. Pinchot might not have gotten conservation as a point of the Scout law, but he certainly got his point across.

Conservation Resources

Find out more on conservation awards, training opportunities and projects.



  1. In my old troop we had an unofficial 13th point to the scout law. “A scout is always hungry.”
    It would be cool if there was a conservation award that you could earn pieces of practicing different types of conservation like water, soil, energy, and forest conservation.

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