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The following book review by FHS staff historian James G. Lewis appears in the Scientists’ Nightstand section of the July-August 2014 issue of American Scientist.

ARMING MOTHER NATURE: The Birth of Catastrophic Environmentalism. Jacob Darwin Hamblin. 320 pp. Oxford University Press, 2013. $29.95.arming mother nature cover

In May 1960 scientists and military officers at NATO headquarters came to a conclusion about the massive earthquake that had just stunned Chile: One nation’s natural disaster is another’s military opportunity. The earthquake, still the most powerful ever recorded, triggered mudslides, floods, tsunamis, even a volcanic eruption, leaving hundreds dead and thousands homeless. It sent 35-foot waves racing across the ocean at 450 miles per hour before smashing into Japan, Australia, and the Philippines. Nonetheless, says Jacob Darwin Hamblin in his book Arming Mother Nature, from their vantage point in Paris NATO leaders saw the seismic event “as a shining example of what Americans might soon implement against the Soviet Union.” If they could determine where to place a hydrogen bomb in the Earth’s crust, scientists thought they might be able to replicate what happened in the Pacific and cripple the Soviet state, all while maintaining a degree of plausible deniability.

NATO used the term environmental warfare for this new strategy—that is, harnessing nature’s physical forces and biological pathways to wage a global war. After opening his book with the unsettling Chile anecdote, Hamblin, who teaches the history of science and technology at Oregon State University, lays out a fascinating and often disturbing history of American efforts to enlist Mother Nature in the war against Communism. Under the guise of national security, he says, “military and civilian scientific work proceeded together.” Triggering earthquakes with subterranean explosions, controlling the weather with hydrogen bombs, introducing pathogens via air-dropped contaminated bird feathers—no scheme was too outlandish to contemplate. The government even conducted experiments on American civilian and military populations as well as on America’s enemies. In the context of war, anything could be morally justified.

The desire to control and manipulate nature on a massive scale—and the belief that doing so was viable—had emerged earlier, during World War II. American military leaders took note of how fires caused by incendiary bombs Allied forces had dropped on Japanese and German urban centers consumed city after city. Washington strategists contemplated using biochemical weapons on Japanese rice fields to deprive both civilians and soldiers of the primary staple of their diet. Ultimately they wanted to manipulate nature on the atomic level. Fearful that the Germans were developing an atomic bomb, the United States raced to develop one first. For the next half-century the desire to outpace the enemy in weapons development drove military doctrine and much scientific research. Says Hamblin, “Scientific growth after World War II owes its greatest debt to the U.S. armed services, which paid the lion’s share of the bill.”

Yet these atomic-era mushroom clouds came with a kind of silver lining for environmentalists. In time, the tireless search for vulnerabilities to exploit expanded and deepened our scientific understanding of nature. By the late 1950s, public questions arose about the human impact on the environment, leading eventually to predictions of environmental catastrophe. The data used by those in the international environmental movement came directly from military-funded research. Moreover, global climate change would not have been detected during the latter years of the 20th century without scientific projects funded by the U.S. Defense Department.

Arming Mother Nature is divided into three thematic sections that are loosely chronological. The first, “Pathways of Nature,” covers the brief period following World War II when the Americans were the only ones with nuclear arms but possessed so few that the military wanted other, less costly weapons of mass destruction (a phrase government officials tried to avoid using publicly then) to stem the rising tide of Communism. The military believed it required flexibility in how it might respond to the threat. Before the Soviets’ emergence as a nuclear power, a flexible response meant using biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons. (As we’ll see, in the 1960s “flexible response” would take on a whole different meaning.) In addition to researching biological and radiological warfare, scientists strove to learn more about how disease becomes epidemic. Some initial experiments focused on crop destruction rather than on infecting crops with disease: Anti-livestock and anti-crop weapons seemed the most logical and cost-effective approach. Other researchers debated which pathogens to mass-produce and the best ways to spread them.

“Forces of Nature,” the second section, covers the first decade of the thermonuclear era. Research and policy as well as military strategy shifted with the Soviet detonation of an atomic bomb in 1949. The blast triggered more questions: Could the United States wage and win a nuclear war? If not, how could the West defeat the Soviets and their allies? Manipulating nature became a major focus of strategic thinking, and the military dollars followed. Opinions within the nuclear research community were divided over the most effective use of a bomb: dropping a nuclear device directly on a city or introducing floods and wildfires by targeting dams and forests. Meanwhile, research into developing bigger and more powerful nuclear weapons had led some scientists to study nuclear fallout and its effects. As researchers learned more, their thinking turned increasingly toward using geophysical forces, such as oceans and winds, militarily. It was within this context that American defensive planners perceived opportunity in the aftermath of the 1960 Chile earthquake.

The third section, “Gatekeepers of Nature,” picks up around the time President Kennedy issued the military doctrine of Flexible Response, calling for a diversified nuclear arsenal as well as the use of small, specialized combat units such as the Army’s Special Forces. Many Americans believed, as Kennedy did, that science and technology could help win wars abroad while also solving problems such as hunger and disease at home. “Scientists,” Hamblin says, “were not merely asked to do research or to develop technology but to plan global strategy. That encouraged civilian scientists to think of the whole Earth as the playing field.” They used computers and game theory to develop models predicting the outcome of countless scenarios. Hamblin observes, “Military planning and environmental prediction were rarely far removed from each other, as they asked the same questions, drew from the same data, and often involved the same scientists.”

It is not surprising, then, that Americans learned of the environmental damage caused by nuclear testing and chemical spraying from scientists such as Paul Ehrlich, Barry Commoner, and Rachel Carson, who consulted military researchers’ data in their own work. At the time few realized that environmental scientists often drew on data and reports generated from projects funded by the Defense Department. In writings aimed at the general public, environmentalists discussed the planet’s future in catastrophic terms. That books like Carson’s Silent Spring and Erlich’s The Population Bomb became bestsellers reflected Americans’ growing concern over the environment in the 1960s.

The Vietnam War proved a turning point in the history of catastrophic environmentalism. In his chapter on the war, Hamblin examines how and why military and civilian scientists openly used Vietnam as a vast “playing field” for all manner of biochemical weapon research. Even the U.S. Forest Service got involved, loaning fire researchers to the Department of Defense, where they experimented with spraying defoliants and dropping incendiary bombs intended to consume swaths of jungle in massive forest fires. But soon the war abroad fueled widespread protest back home, and antiwar activism paved the way for environmental activism. By 1969 the environmental movement had grown powerful enough that American policy makers and diplomats needed to act if they were to maintain control of what was now a global issue. President Nixon pushed through robust environmental legislation and attempted to promote environmental issues through NATO, keeping the United States in a leadership position. Discussing ecological issues with the Soviets provided additional points of engagement besides nuclear disarmament and helped open a path for negotiating nonproliferation and arms-limitation treaties in the 1970s.

Although the relationship between scientists and military leaders transformed yet again in the face of new environmental challenges in the 1980s—the droughts in Africa, the global AIDS epidemic, and the scientific debate over climate change—and after the end of the Cold War, the connection that has existed between them since World War II remains today. Indeed, soon after the attacks of September 11, 2001, American policy makers, scientists, and defense experts began discussing how terrorists might use forest fires as a weapon on American soil and ways to defend against it.

As a strategy, environmental warfare went global decades ago, and now the temptation to arm Mother Nature may always be with us. Arming Mother Nature reminds us that we do so at our peril.

Click here to read the original review on the American Scientist website.

Before I left to join the Thoreau-Wabanaki Journey on May 26, I had planned to write a blog post that would tie together the 150th anniversary of the publication of Henry David Thoreau’s The Maine Woods with George Perkins Marsh’s Man and Nature and the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Wilderness Act. The pièce de résistance would be posting it in time for National Get Outdoors Day on June 14. (As if those weren’t enough signs from Above about what to write, Mark Harvey’s new book on Howard Zahniser, architect of the Wilderness Act, arrived in the office today. It opens with a quote from Thoreau’s “Chesuncook,” the second essay in The Maine Woods.) After all, paddling through wilderness in northern Maine would offer the perfect opportunity for bringing these themes together in one essay.

But when friends ask me to tell them about the canoe trip down the Penobscot River, I find I’m at a loss for words. They are stunned by this. Usually when I start talking of history or recent travels they remind me at some point that they have a plane to catch next week or it’s time to schedule a root canal. But my trip leaves me unable to really describe what I saw and did. And that, perhaps, was the point of the trip. It was for the experience of being in wilderness, not to document it through writing or photographs. Though I tried to do that, I found my enjoyment increased greatly once I stopped trying to interpret or capture it for others or even for myself. To intellectualize or deconstruct wilderness is to miss the point of being there. The reason for being there was to be there—to be present in the moment, to experience it, with all my senses. Thoreau told me why I was there when he wrote in his journal, “The value of any experience is measured, of course, not by the amount of money, but the amount of development we get out of it.” It took a day or so for me to come to this realization. I was initially so focused on documenting the trip that I was limiting my experience. Everything changed with this epiphany.

So, perhaps the question I should answer is, what did I experience?

Quiet. In the wilderness there’s a level of quiet that cannot be found anywhere else but there. We had a couple of days where we heard no mechanical sounds—no cars, no airplanes, no cell phones. No hum of a refrigerator or air conditioner. The quiet would be broken by sounds I now desperately miss: the murmur of rapids or of conversation coming from another boat or tent, the excited shout when someone spotted an eagle soaring above or a muskrat swimming about us, the cursing of the cold in the morning or the mosquitoes in the evening. Yet even the negatives became positives. Is there any greater sound on a cold morning than hearing “Coffee’s ready” or after swatting away bugs while setting up the tent than “Dinner’s ready!”? After returning to what we came to call “uncivilization” and getting in a car, I couldn’t stand to have the radio on and preferred having the window down so I could just hear the wind. (Perhaps “window” should be spelled “wind-oh!” to truly reflect that delightful feeling of hearing the wind rushing by.) We had long stretches on the river where I’d only hear the sound of paddles entering and exiting the water. But, oh, the quiet! I cannot find it in Uncivilization. This is why we have the Wilderness Act, to provide a place to escape to, to protect Civilization from the Uncivilized.

An emptiness that filled my soul. It felt like there were probably fewer people living in northern Maine now than when Thoreau traveled through there some 160 years ago. The area seems devoid of people. When talking with a native Mainer afterward, I described the region as a “big empty.” He immediately understood this as the great compliment I meant it as. So often we hear people say they want to “get away from it all,” when in fact they mean they want to go to a place that is not their home or office. Usually this means to some other building—be it a vacation house or hotel or resort. Whereas in the middle of nowhere, in the Big Empty, I truly was away from it all. Being “inside” meant being in a tent and the “bathroom” had some of the best views imaginable. We spent three nights on islands that only three weeks before had been under water. Initially intending to post to social media during the trip, I quickly realized this was impossible and put my cell phone away, shoving it to the bottom of my bag. I hoped we wouldn’t have connectivity until the last day. It was a little depressing that we had it before then.

Being on the river led me to not only embrace but to understand Thoreau’s exhortation in Walden: “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail.” Time on the water brought about that simplicity; my “affairs” were reduced to three—eat, drink, paddle. Eat everything offered to me whether I like it or not, drink as much water and coffee as possible to stay hydrated, and paddle hard and straight to get where we needed to go. Granted, we were well provisioned, so unlike Thoreau I didn’t worry about getting by on hard bread or the modern equivalent, dehydrated foods, or having to forage. (However, one night we supplemented dinner with ground nuts harvested from around the campsite. Quite the tasty luxury!)

But, simplicity! Why worry about inclement weather or being in wet clothes? These are things I couldn’t control, so why fret or grouse about them? As HDT said of traveling in Maine, “You soon come to disregard rain on such excursions.” One of the most relaxing afternoons was spent sitting under the forest canopy during a thunderstorm that drove us off the river. (Sit and listen to a thunderstorm and tell me it’s not relaxing.) We often quoted Thoreau from A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers: “Cold and damp? Are they not as rich experience as warmth and dryness?” The simpler things became, the happier I became. Emptying my mind of worry filled my soul.

IMG_3962

Thoreau is right: Cold and damp is as rich an experience as warm and dry.

The Hudson River landscape painters were right. I came away from the trip understanding that some Hudson River School painters captured reality in their works. Sanford Gifford, Frederick Church, Albert Bierstadt, and others make great use of light to draw the viewer’s focus to a particular point in a painting. But until now I’d thought what they depicted on canvas could never have occurred in nature, that they were exaggerating the contrasts between light and darks places. I was disabused of this on my first morning in camp.

The view that proved my suppositions all wrong. Though that's not Mount Katahdin in the background, the effect is the same as in Church's painting.

The view that proved my suppositions all wrong. Though that’s not Mount Katahdin in the background, the effect is the same as in Church’s painting.

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“Mount Katahdin from Millinocket Camp” by Frederick Church (1895) (Wikimedia Commons; painting is at the Portland Museum of Art)

And I experienced humbleness. It’s good to be reminded that you can learn a whole lot by opening your eyes, ears, and mind. Like a good way to predict the weather is to actually look at the sky! Whoa. I know, right? Who thinks of that nowadays, what with instant weather apps on their phone? But sure enough, after we spotted a cloud formation called a “mare’s tail,” we had rain within 24 hours, just as the old local saying said we would. Or that the smallest of obstacles—like a single rock in the river lurking just below the surface—can upend a boat. Or that experts are considered experts for a reason. I experienced this time and again with our lead guide, who ensured that 52 people made it through the trip without injury, as well as with the two professors who served as Thoreau experts and with the members of the Penobscot Indian Nation who shared their intimate knowledge of the area and their history with us. I remain in awe of all of them, and stand humbled before them, as I do the landscape they love and shared with the rest of us.

Roger Underwood has kindly shared with us some research he’s recently done on the history of colonial forestry. It comes from his recent book Foresters of the Raj–Stories from Indian and Australian Forests, an anthology of stories dealing with the evolution of forestry in India during the latter half of the 19th century, and the development of models and systems that were ultimately exported all over the English-speaking world, including Australia and the United States (Yorkgum Publishing, 2013).

As part of a project looking at the history of “colonial forestry”(1) I have been studying forest and land management in India during the period from about 1860 to 1920. The subject is of interest because the forest conservation policies and management practices developed in India at that time later became a template for early forest policies and practices in Australia (where I have worked nearly all of my life as a forester), New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States of America.

An unexpected outcome of this research was to find that 19th- and early 20th-century Indian foresters were also deeply concerned about Indian wildlife, and that in their published writings on this issue can be discerned some of the earliest concepts of professional wildlife management.

The outcome was unexpected because a notable aspect of forestry in India in the 19th century was the widespread love of hunting wild animals, or shikar, amongst officers of the Indian Forest Service. Sometimes this was done in the line of duty, a forester being called out to dispatch a rogue elephant or a man-eating tiger. But hunting was also regarded by many forest officers (especially those who had transferred from the Army into the Forest Service) as a sport, a contest between man and beast.

Furthermore, hunting was part of the culture of the rich and powerful who dominated India during the time of the British Raj, including the Indian aristocracy and the British gentlemen who sat at the top of the Indian Civil Service (James, 1997).

Indeed, shikar was officially encouraged. In his obituary for Harry Hill, the recently departed but much admired Inspector-General of the Indian Forest Department, former Inspector-General Dietrich Brandis described Hill as not just a fine forester, but a “great sportsman,” by which he meant a great hunter. Brandis then went on to say:

A forester, more than anyone else, must use his eyes and must be able, on the spot, to draw conclusions from what he has observed. The training of a sportsman is an excellent help in his work. It makes life in the forest delightful to him, it induces him not only to visit forests but to live in them. He becomes much [more] familiar with the development of [the forest] than a man who is not a sportsman (Brandis, 1903).

The notion of hunting as a sport goes back centuries, possibly as far back as to times when people no longer had to hunt solely for food. And while the “sport” is based partly on a hereditary (perhaps genetic) competitive urge to kill or be killed, there is another element, as Brandis observed: the hunt takes the hunter into the forest and the countryside, where the beauty and challenges of nature can also be enjoyed, and where there is time and opportunity to reflect on wider problems and issues.

Sir Dietrich Brandis is considered the father of forestry in India and was extremely influential in forestry matters in the United States.

Sir Dietrich Brandis is considered the father of forestry in India and, as a mentor to Gifford Pinchot and Carl Schenck, was also extremely influential in forestry matters in the United States.

Continue Reading »

Everyone knows Smokey Bear, Woodsy Owl, and maybe even Ranger Rick Raccoon, but there are many other forest and forestry-related fictional characters that long ago fell by the wayside. Peeling Back the Bark‘s series on “Forgotten Characters from Forest History” continues with Part 14, in which we examine Abel Woodman.

“A Character is Coming to Crossett.”

This was the headline on a small announcement item greeting scrupulous readers of the December 1947 issue of Forest Echoes. As our faithful Peeling Back the Barkers know, Forest Echoes was the popular local monthly magazine published by the Crossett Lumber Company of Crossett, Arkansas, between 1939 and 1962. But who was this new character being teased in the magazine’s final issue of 1947? Curious readers were assured of an answer in the new year: “Don’t miss next month’s Forest Echoes, you owe it to yourself to meet this character.”

As promised, the mysterious new character made his debut in the January 1948 issue. Found in a one-panel comic in the back of the magazine was a well-built man with beady eyes, smoking a pipe and holding a large axe. The man was dressed in traditional lumberjack garb (boots, suspenders, flannel shirt) and there was no doubt about his location—a large Crossett smokestack was visible in the background.

Abel Woodman, January 1948

First-ever appearance of the man who would become Abel Woodman, January 1948 (click to enlarge).

The only problem was he had no name. To rectify this, the Forest Echoes editorial staff created a contest, inviting readers to submit their name ideas for the new character. As seen under the cartoon above, the best entry would win a $25 U.S. Savings Bond (side note: The “I ain’t Mr. Hush…” comment references a famed 1946 contest on the Truth or Consequences radio game show, where host Ralph Edwards phoned random people and asked them to identify a mystery voice known only as “Mr. Hush”).

The following month a winner was announced. Thanks to the entry of William “Bill” Preston Haisty, the new character was officially christened “Abel Woodman.”

Winner William "Bill" Preston Haisty, February 1948

Click to view the full February 1948 Abel Woodman cartoon.

Abel Woodman immediately became a regular monthly feature of the magazine. At the back of every issue readers would find Abel delivering a message on forest conservation, job safety, or some other local topic, always in his own humorous way. Like the Forest Echoes publication itself, the Abel Woodman cartoon was a reflection of life in Crossett and Crossett’s view of the world (in this case through the eyes of artist Lee Davis). Abel Woodman cartoons provided a unique commentary on issues specific to Crossett (a new town jail, Crossett High football, a redesigned company logo, the joys of Crossett bleached food board!) as well as more general concerns (taxes, the dangers of drinking and hunting, anxiety over the atomic bomb).

Abel remained a permanent fixture on the inside back cover until the final issue of Forest Echoes in June 1962 (the year Georgia-Pacific purchased the Crossett Lumber Company). For this fourteen-year run, the Abel comic was drawn by artist Lee Davis. In his final year Davis found a way to put himself in the action alongside Abel.

Abel Woodman by Lee Davis, March 1962

Davis did get help from the public along the way. In 1958 Forest Echoes held a “Cartoon Editor” contest, inviting the public to submit “a situation and appropriate remark for an Abel Woodman cartoon.” Ten winners won $10 each and had their cartoon ideas drawn by Davis and printed. The first winning entry (from Lloyd Gardner) was published in March 1958, and is notable in that it foresaw “Moon Trees” a good thirteen years ahead of Stuart Roosa’s journey into space.

Abel Woodman March 1958

The final Abel Woodman cartoon ran in the last issue of Forest Echoes in June of 1962. His glory years seemingly already behind him, Abel had been reduced to company shill—touting the benefits of charcoal made by the Crossett Chemical Company. Despite this inauspicious end, Abel Woodman lives on in Crossett. In 2002 an “Abel Woodman” statue was erected in a small park in the middle of town. The original Abel Woodman also lives on here at FHS in our collection of Forest Echoes magazines, and our other materials documenting the history of the company town of Crossett, Arkansas.

Continue below to view a few more Abel cartoon classics. Continue Reading »

We’ve asked Karen Schoenewaldt, Registrar at The Center for Art in Wood, to share with us the exciting work going between the Center and Bartram’s Gardens following a storm that took down many trees at the Gardens. The resulting art exhibition will be touring for the next two years and the Center is soliciting ideas for venues to host the exhibition.

A violent rain and wind storm was the catalyst that brought two Philadelphia organizations together — Bartram’s Gardens, the home of famed 18th-century explorer and botanist John Bartram, and The Center for Art in Wood, a museum and research library with a rapidly growing collection of wood art. When the storm devastated the grounds at Bartram’s in June 2010, local wood turner and past Center board member Brad Whitman wondered if this loss could form the basis of an art project. Within six months the Center put out a call for artists to propose and create works that incorporate thirteen types of trees felled by the high winds.

Mitch Ryerson, United States | Bartram's Bench, 2013 | Cast stone, black locust | 42” x 16 feet x 36”

Mitch Ryerson, United States | Bartram’s Bench, 2013 | Cast stone, black locust | 42” x 16 feet x 36”

The initiative afforded artists a unique opportunity to “remix” the history, inspirations, and materials from one of America’s oldest gardens into sculptural objects and installations. Bartram’s Boxes Remix challenges artists to free themselves and make unexpected work that they had not yet time to create.

The title was inspired by the boxes John Bartram designed and shipped to colleagues in England starting in 1735, which contained seeds, plants, and curiosities that he had gathered in his travels through the eastern American colonies.

His practice and the designed gardens he created on the outskirts of Philadelphia became an international hub of plant knowledge and diffusion, preserved now as a historic site.

The Center’s call for entries attracted over 100 responses from artists around the world. Fifty-eight artists attended two retreats the Center sponsored at the Garden. On these visits, the artists explored the site for inspiration, were briefed on the Bartram archives, and examined the refuse wood available to be recycled into art.

Christopher Weiland, United States | Seed Collector, 2013 | Poplar, fountain grass seed | 9 x 4 x 4”

Christopher Weiland, United States | Seed Collector, 2013 | Poplar, fountain grass seed | 9 x 4 x 4”

This unique exhibition brings together 36 projects by 39 artists and will run May 2 through July 19, 2014, at The Center for Art in Wood and Bartram’s Gardens and then travel for two years. Each artist’s proposals and finished work can be seen online at Center’s website under “Traveling Exhibitions.” A lavishly illustrated catalog will accompany the show.

The organizers are currently planning the tour schedule and welcome ideas for venues that could host the exhibition for any period through 2016. Details about the tour are available on the “Traveling Exhibitions” page. For more information about the Center and Bartram’s Garden please visit the Center’s website or that of Bartram Garden’s.

Some examples of the art produced are below. The works are as diverse as the materials they worked with.

Fred Rose, United States | Sassy Sassafras all Mittens and Gloves Root Beer Roots, Filé Gumbo Leaves the fragrant cousins of Family Lauraceae Avocado, Camphor, Bay Laurel, Cinnamon, 2013 | Sassafras albidum – Sassafras, wood and log from Bartram’s Garden Persea – Avocado, wood from Los Angeles Hire’s Root Beer Improved Extract bottle Iron, Glass, Illustration by Mary Jo Rado. | 40 x 14 x 8”

Fred Rose, United States | Sassy Sassafras all Mittens and Gloves Root Beer Roots, Filé Gumbo Leaves the fragrant cousins of Family Lauraceae Avocado, Camphor, Bay Laurel, Cinnamon, 2013 | Sassafras albidum – Sassafras, wood and log from Bartram’s Garden Persea – Avocado, wood from Los Angeles Hire’s Root Beer Improved Extract bottle Iron, Glass, Illustration by Mary Jo Rado. | 40 x 14 x 8”

Nathan Hansen, United States | 131 Rings, 2013 | Aluminum, bark, motor | 42 x 42 x 42”

Nathan Hansen, United States | 131 Rings, 2013 | Aluminum, bark, motor | 42 x 42 x 42”

Some artists chose to collaborate, as is seen in the following two pieces (four photos).

Amy Forsyth with Katie Hudnall, United States | Seed Cabinet, 2013 | Oak, walnut, mahogany, maple, ash, basswood, drawings (watercolor and color pencil on paper) Wood surfaces are varnished, milk-painted, and/or ebonized | Closed: 60 x 29 x 24"

Amy Forsyth with Katie Hudnall, United States | Seed Cabinet, 2013 | Oak, walnut, mahogany, maple, ash, basswood, drawings (watercolor and color pencil on paper) Wood surfaces are varnished, milk-painted, and/or ebonized | Closed: 60 x 29 x 24″

Amy Forsyth with Katie Hudnall, United States | Seed Cabinet, 2013 | Oak, walnut, mahogany, maple, ash, basswood, drawings (watercolor and color pencil on paper) Wood surfaces are varnished, milk-painted, and/or ebonized | Open: (door open, lid up, bridge down) 72 x 47 x 48”

Amy Forsyth with Katie Hudnall, United States | Seed Cabinet, 2013 | Oak, walnut, mahogany, maple, ash, basswood, drawings (watercolor and color pencil on paper) Wood surfaces are varnished, milk-painted, and/or ebonized | Open: (door open, lid up, bridge down) 72 x 47 x 48”

Katie Hudnall with Amy Forsyth, United States | The Cataloger’s Desk, 2013 | Plywoods, found materials, salvaged wood, hardware | 60 x 15 x 18”

Hudnall_cataloging desk front open 2 copy - Copy

Katie Hudnall with Amy Forsyth, United States | The Cataloger’s Desk, 2013 | Plywoods, found materials, salvaged wood, hardware | 60 x 15 x 18” [open]

Ron Fleming, United States | Franklin Tree, 2012 | Tulip wood from Bartram's Garden | 12 x 9½”

Ron Fleming, United States | Franklin Tree, 2012 | Tulip wood from Bartram’s Garden | 12 x 9½”

Neil Donovan & John Vahanian, United States | Precarious Crossing, 2013 | Stump- Wood from Bartram Garden. Disk - Maple, Wisteria Vine, Boat - Ash, Seed form (integrated into the Wisteria Vine) Cherry, Grind stone | 51 x 58 x 36” Wood Disk Dia. 26"

Neil Donovan & John Vahanian, United States | Precarious Crossing, 2013 | Stump – Wood from Bartram Garden. Disk – Maple, Wisteria Vine. Boat – Ash, Seed form (integrated into the Wisteria Vine) Cherry, Grind stone | 51 x 58 x 36” Wood Disk Dia. 26″

We asked Andy Mason of the National Capital chapter of the Society of American Foresters to share with us what he recently learned about a family with deep forestry roots.

Shirley Ann Mattoon was there on September 24, 1963, joining the large crowd that welcomed President John F. Kennedy to Milford, Pennsylvania, and Grey Towers for the dedication of the Pinchot Institute for Conservation. On this day, Gifford Pinchot’s ancestral home, was given by the Pinchot family to the American people and is now managed as a national historic site by the U.S. Forest Service. Known to her friends as “Sam,” now 88 years old, Shirley was a celebrity at the 50th anniversary of the 1963 dedication. She had many other stories to tell us about that day and her family of foresters with connections to Pinchot as we sat and enjoyed appetizers and sipped wine on a beautiful moonlit fall evening on the lawn in front of the Grey Towers mansion.

Sam Mattoon

Sam Mattoon identifying herself in this 1963 photo of President John F. Kennedy at Grey Towers. President Kennedy is to the right of the man with the camera.

Sam’s husband, John A. Mattoon, a second-generation forester and U.S. Forest Service employee, was also there in 1963 with just a few things on his mind. John worked for the national “I&E” office (Information and Education office, known today as the Office of Communication and Conservation Education), and with the chief of I&E (his boss) on assignment in Europe, John had a major role in coordinating the president’s visit and the event.

Sam Mattoon (right) with Margie Mattoon Cox (John A. Mattoon’s sister) at the 1963 dedication.

Sam Mattoon (right) with Margie Mattoon Cox (John A. Mattoon’s sister) at the 1963 dedication.

When he retired in 1983, John A. Mattoon had more than 40 years of federal service that began in World War II, when he served as a naval aviator flying a Curtiss Helldiver bomber with the 88th squadron on the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown. For several heroic actions in the Pacific, he earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses and two Air Medals. He graduated from Penn State before the war and received a master’s degree from the Yale School of Forestry in 1950.

Early in his distinguished natural resources career, in the 1950s, John A. Mattoon was district ranger on national forests in Colorado, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. He transferred to the Washington Office, where he worked closely with Forest Service artist Rudy Wendelin and others to help promote Smokey Bear into the icon it remains today. While in Washington, Mattoon and Wendelin also worked together to design the agency’s shoulder patch that was used beginning in 1963 until the early 1970s.

John A. Mattoon (center) with fellow employees showing off their new Forest Service shoulder emblems at the Pisgah Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest, 1963

John A. Mattoon (center) with fellow employees showing off their new Forest Service shoulder emblems at the Pisgah Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest, 1963

After 24 years with the U.S. Forest Service, Mattoon transferred to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and continued his work to promote conservation and educate the public about it. He had a major role in developing the advertising campaign for Johnny Horizon, BLM’s very successful symbol of the late 1960s and early 1970s that encouraged litter cleanup and brought attention to air and water pollution and other issues. He also worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and ended his federal career in the Department of the Interior working on the Alaska pipeline and the Endangered Species Act, among other issues. When he retired in 1983, his colleagues presented him with a framed simulated press release that described how he was widely admired throughout his long career by coworkers, the conservation community, and the news media for his “outstanding personal and professional integrity, unswerving loyalty, and dedication to open communication.”

Singer Burl Ives, broadcaster Arthur Godfrey, and Secretary of the Interior Wally Hickel follow John A. Mattoon (far right) at a Johnny Horizon publicity event on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 1970 (Photo by Jack Rottier, National Park Service)

Singer Burl Ives, broadcaster Arthur Godfrey, and Secretary of the Interior Wally Hickel follow John A. Mattoon (far right) at a Johnny Horizon publicity event on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 1970 (Photo by Jack Rottier, National Park Service)

The forestry roots of the Mattoon family go deep. John A. Mattoon’s father, Merwin “Chic” Mattoon, was also a Yale Forestry School graduate (class of 1914) and the first forest supervisor of the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. The Pisgah was the first national forest established under the Weeks Act of 1911 and included a portion of the Biltmore Estate, where Gifford Pinchot first put scientific forestry to work in America. The first school of forestry in the United States—the Biltmore Forest School—was also there, now preserved as the Cradle of Forestry in America National Historic Site.

John and Margie Mattoon on a U.S. Forest Service parade float, Asheville, North Carolina, circa 1930

John and and his sister Margie Mattoon on a U.S. Forest Service parade float, Asheville, North Carolina, circa 1930

“Party on Big Levels Federal Refuge—May 1939” is written on the back of this photo, along with the following identifications: “Standing (Left to Right): T. E. Clarke, Leo Couch, E. Addy, Dr. Jackson, C. O. Handley, Carl Nolting, M. A. Mattoon (tall man wearing a vest), R. M. Evans, D. J. Wooley, and H. S. Mosby. Bottom Row (Left to Right): B. C. Park, G. L. Varney, A. L. Nelson, S. P. Goodloe, Dr. H. L. Shantz, and Mr. Thornton.”

“Party on Big Levels Federal Refuge—May 1939” is written on the back of this photo, along with the following identifications: “Standing (Left to Right): T. E. Clarke, Leo Couch, E. Addy, Dr. Jackson, C. O. Handley, Carl Nolting, M. A. Mattoon (tall man wearing a vest), R. M. Evans, D. J. Wooley, and H. S. Mosby. Bottom Row (Left to Right): B. C. Park, G. L. Varney, A. L. Nelson, S. P. Goodloe, Dr. H. L. Shantz, and Mr. Thornton.”

And the family roots go even deeper. Merwin Mattoon married Marguerite McLean of Simsbury, Connecticut, Gifford Pinchot’s birthplace and early childhood home. Pinchot was close friends with another McLean family member, George P. McLean. Gifford and George were said to be “soulmates” and loved the Simsbury woods. George would gain fame as governor of Connecticut and a three-term U.S. senator. Gifford also knew George’s brother, John B. McLean; the two reportedly met in 1895 to help establish the Connecticut Forestry Association. Merwin was also personal friends with Gifford Pinchot and would fish with him as well as with L. L. Bean. Both Merwin and Marguerite Mattoon are buried in the Hop Meadow cemetery at Simsbury. William “Bill” Cox, grandson of Merwin, great-grandson of John B. McLean, and nephew of John and Sam Mattoon, lives in Simsbury.

The Mattoon family tree includes yet one more forester: Wilbur Reed Mattoon, Yale Class of 1904. Known as W. R. or “Matty,” he was one of the first extension foresters who worked throughout the South to promote farm forestry and the possibilities of growing timber in that region. He is recognized for many publications and speeches and as one of the best writers in the Forest Service on forestry matters (from 1959 oral interview with Elwood L. Demmon, Asheville, by Elwood R. Maunder, Forest History Foundation, Inc.). One example of his work is “Forestry Lessons on Home Woodlands” (USDA Department Bulletin No. 863), issued in 1920.

Through their associations with Gifford Pinchot, the U.S. Forest Service, other conservation agencies and organizations, the Yale School of Forestry, and a love of the woods, the Mattoons and McLeans certainly had a role in shaping early forestry and conservation in the United States. Thanks to Sam Mattoon and her family, we have now quilted these two families into that rich history. Do you have a story to tell about another “first family of forestry”? Please contact Jamie Lewis, Forest History Society historian.

Andy Mason is the chairperson of the National Capital Society of American Foresters. This article was prepared with the aid of Shirley Ann “Sam” Mattoon, Bill Cox, and Margie Mattoon Cox. Tom Thompson and Karl Brauneis (both foresters and U.S. Forest Service retirees) also made important contributions to this story.

A significant amount of Michigan’s public forests today owe their existence to the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s. Known as “Roosevelt’s Tree Army,” CCC enrollees played a crucial role in reforestation efforts throughout the country during the Great Depression, and nowhere was the impact of their work more significant than in Michigan. Between 1933 and 1942, CCC workers in Michigan planted 485 million trees, more than were planted in any other state.

These plantings by the CCC took place on both state and federal land, but much of it occurred on the five national forests that existed in Michigan by the late 1930s: the Ottawa, Hiawatha and Marquette forests in the Upper Peninsula, and the Manistee and Huron forests to the south (the Marquette was later consolidated with the Hiawatha in 1962, and the two forests in the Lower Peninsula were combined administratively in 1955 to form the Huron-Manistee).

1941 Map of Michigan's National Forests

Michigan’s National Forests in 1941.

Michigan’s massive reforestation effort during the 1930s would not have been possible without the work of tree nurseries administered by the Forest Service. Most of the state’s planting stock was provided by four USFS nursery operations: the Beal Nursery in East Tawas, the Wyman Nursery in Manistique, the Chittenden Nursery in Wellston, and the Toumey Nursery in Watersmeet. By 1941 these nurseries were providing an average of 97 million seedlings each year for Michigan’s national forests.

The visual history of these nurseries is documented in four new image galleries recently added to the FHS website. With more than 150 historic photos, the galleries showcase the important work behind the reforestation efforts which transformed Michigan’s landscape. Continue below to view the photos in each gallery and to learn more about the history of each nursery.

Joseph Sparks, official artist for Huron National Forest, sketching CCC boys at Beal Nursery

Joseph Sparks, official artist for Huron National Forest, sketching CCC boys at Beal Nursery, 1934.

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