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Archive for March, 2010

Though the centennial of the Weeks Act is next year, the Forest History Society is already fielding queries about it from U.S. Forest Service employees and others whose work and livelihoods have been affected by the landmark legislation. Sponsored by Rep. John Weeks of Massachusetts and passed in 1911, the Weeks Act authorized the federal government to purchase lands in the eastern United States for stream-flow protection, and allowed for those lands to be managed as national forests by the U.S. Forest Service. The law also called for public-private cooperation for fire fighting around the country. Though subsequent laws expanded the power and reach of the act to western forests, for all intents and purposes the Weeks Act is the “organic act” of the eastern national forests.

To aid researchers and the generally inquisitive, the crack research and writing staff at FHS has combed through our library and archive and put together a new section of our U.S. Forest Service History pages about the history of the Weeks Act. There you will find an overview essay of the act and links to numerous items that document how the law came into being, its impact on land management, and how the law has been celebrated over the years. There’s even a PDF of the original law. You can find all of our outstanding research resources here.

For a brief video overview of the legislative history of the Weeks Act, take a look at the following clip, which is one of many DVD extras from “The Greatest Good,” a documentary on the history of the U.S. Forest Service:

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Recently, FHS member Joseph Jones moved from the forested land of Michigan to the treeless wonderland that is western North Dakota. We here at the Peeling Back the Bark HQ were fascinated by his description of a culture that values fireplaces where there is no apparent local supply of wood and asked him to share his thoughts on the matter.


Life for newly-minted Ph.D.s is hard these days. Jobs are scarce and family members don’t understand how someone with so much education can have such a hard time finding a job to pay the bills. After all, doesn’t a scholar sit around all day in a tweed jacket smoking a pipe and expounding on philosophical observations that no one else not attired in tweed cares about? Being in my last year as a visiting assistant professor at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, made me acutely aware of the disconnect between the popular image and the harsh reality for scholars on the job market.

Needless to say, given the conditions, I was thrilled to land the position of research historian for the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University in Dickinson, North Dakota. The Center has launched an initiative to digitize and catalog the entire collection of Theodore Roosevelt papers into an online digital library. I am responsible for doing research and writing, providing historical context, and making educational contacts for the Center.

Theodore Roosevelt Center staff on retreat at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. (l-r) Park Superintendent Valerie Naylor, Krystal Thomas, Sharon Kilzer, Grant Carlson, Joe Camisa, and Joseph Jones. (Courtesy of Clay Jenkinson)

Amidst the excitement of a new job was the challenge of relocating from Michigan to North Dakota in January with a four-month old and a cat. My wife squeezed her mother and our baby Rose into her car, while I loaded Dorie the cat into mine for the three-day drive in single-digit conditions. For a forest historian, there were many topics to discuss with Dorie. I bade goodbye to the familiar forests that line I-196 south of Holland (Mich.). I pondered urban forestry with numerous glimpses of the Cook County Forest Preserve (Ill.). I mused on when I’d have a chance to wander the grounds at the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center when entering Sauk County (Wisc.). Along I-94 northwest of Saint Cloud (Minn.), I skirted the edge of the prairie on my left with recreational lakes and forests to the right.

Yet all of these sites were familiar to me, a native of the Great Lakes region. Even though I had never been to western Minnesota, it felt familiar. The forest surrounding a rest area near Fergus Falls was a point of comfort despite temps colder than those usually found in northern Michigan. But the change was abrupt once we crossed the Red River into North Dakota. The contours of the land flattened and the forests vanished. The wide prairie opened before me and I learned that “wind-swept” is not just a literary adjective. Yet, what stood out on the eastern North Dakota landscape were the shelterbelts. The philosophical rise and fall of shelterbelts as an ecological and political concept were visible in their current condition. While the vertical and spatial arrangements envisioned by Raphael Zon were there, he would have been sorely disappointed in their maintenance. They appeared neglected and overgrown. The old growth was collapsing in on itself, while death had opened sections of the belts to open air. I am sure that Zon, America’s leading experiment station researcher in the first half of the twentieth century, would have wanted to investigate where his proposal had gone wrong and if the project was worth rehabilitation.
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