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Archive for March, 2013

The Forest History Society is excited to announce that we’re developing a new documentary film. First in Forestry: Carl Schenck and the Biltmore Forest School will be the first documentary film to examine the pivotal role that the Biltmore Estate’s chief forester Carl Schenck and America’s first school of forestry played in American conservation history. It’ll be made in collaboration with UNC-TV and the Cradle of Forestry Interpretive Association for airing on PBS stations in North Carolina and possibly around the country.

Carl Schenck in woods (FHS473)Why Schenck and the Biltmore Forest School? Established in 1898 by Schenck, it was the first forestry school in North America. Its 300-plus graduates were part of the first generation of foresters in America, many of whom became leaders in the conservation movement. And the Biltmore’s forests are the site of the first large-scale forest management effort in the United States, as well as the first land purchased under the Weeks Act. But even though the school and Schenck’s contributions to American forestry were considered important enough that the school’s buildings and grounds were preserved as the Cradle of Forestry in America National Historic Site a half-century ago, no documentary film exists about him or the school. Schenck tends to be overshadowed by his contemporaries Gifford Pinchot, Teddy Roosevelt, and John Muir in forestry and conservation history—all subjects of documentary films.

Afraid that this will be a bone-dry, march-through-time history lesson? Fear not! At the heart of any good film is tension and drama, and the history of the Biltmore Forest School and its larger-than-life founder is a story spilling over with both. Think of it as forest history’s Downton Abbey. After all, it’s the height of the Victorian Era and Carl Schenck worked for one of the wealthiest men in the country at the largest private home ever built in the U.S. How’s that for a dramatic setting. Not dramatic enough? How about: He worked at a place built by robber baron money. No? Schenck was a hotheaded forester who didn’t shy away from a fight: He argued with Teddy Roosevelt over the future of America’s forests and he so angered Gifford Pinchot that Pinchot denounced him as an antichrist! Got your attention yet? When Schenck’s boss lied to him, Schenck punched him out and got fired! Soon thereafter, World War I broke out and Schenck found himself in the German army fighting against some of his former American students!

Biltmore Estate (FHS258)

So, you ask, when can I see this epic forest history documentary? That’s where you come in. We could trade on our good looks and charm to get this made, but, frankly, that won’t get us past the opening credits. So to help kickstart our fundraising for the documentary film, we’re excited to announce another first: Yours truly, The Mad B-Logger, aka, historian Jamie Lewis, has volunteered to run the inaugural From the Cradle to the Grave 30K Trail Race on May 18, 2013, and then the next day run the Biltmore Estate 15K—a total of 45 kilometers. I’m calling this effort “The Dash for the ‘Stache” in honor of Carl Schenck’s famous mustache. You can follow my training efforts on Twitter.

dash for the stacheEach of these races takes place on the land where Carl Schenck worked and made history. We’re suggesting a minimum donation of $45—that’s a dollar for every kilometer I run—with all proceeds going to the production of the film. Of course, any donation is welcome and appreciated. But why not get a little something for your money? To become a supporter of the film, visit our Donation page. As a thank-you for giving at certain levels, we’ve established a few incentives. We have a donor who has pledged to match every dollar donated at a 1:1 ratio, so the more you give, the sooner we can begin production of First in Forestry: Carl Schenck and the Biltmore Forest School. So please tell your friends and help spread the word.

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Eighty years ago, Rudy Wendelin was a young artist fresh out of the University of Kansas School of Architecture struggling like many others to find work during the Great Depression. Relief came in 1933 when he applied for a job in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, under the new Civilian Conservation program launched that same year. Wendelin got the job, a position as a draftsman with Region 9 of the U.S. Forest Service, and immediately began turning out various artwork, signs, displays, publications, architectural drawings, and much more for the agency. By 1936 the local newspapers were referring to him as “the Ding Darling of the United States [Forest] Service” after the famed cartoonist Jay Darling. Within four years Wendelin would be promoted to the Forest Service’s national office in Washington, DC, and go on to become well known as the primary artist and “caretaker” of Smokey Bear. His time in Milwaukee working on CCC projects, though, was a crucial step towards this future career success.

During his final year working for Region 9, Wendelin drew a series of sketches depicting the forestry work of the CCC that were used in an instructional pamphlet given to enrollees. Woodsmanship for the Civilian Conservation Corps, published annually from 1937 to 1941, served as a guide to using various tools, basic first-aid, poisonous plants and insects, and an introduction to conservation and forestry. Some of the artwork was also used in other CCC materials, like recruitment flyers. The cover image captures the spirit of the CCC then and the perception of it today—the strapping young man made strong from the work and smiling with gratitude for the opportunity.

“The mountains and forests of this country may seem a wilderness to those of the Civilian Conservation Corps who come from the cities and farms,” read the pamphlet’s text. “Experience in the C.C.C. . . . will, however, call for what is known as ‘Woodsmanship’ – the ability to live and work safely, conduct yourself in accordance with your surroundings, and adapt yourself to your environment. No one can be taught woodsmanship out of a book, but here are a few traits of a good woodsman.”

View selections of Wendelin’s CCC art from Woodsmanship below, and consult the Rudolph Wendelin Papers in the FHS archives for further information.

CCC artUsing the Shovel, CCC artwork.
Fighting Fires, CCC artwork. lookout tower art.
Carrying the Crosscut, CCC artwork.
Carrying the D.B. Ax
Felling Trees, CCC artwork.Drill Ye Tarriers
Holding the Ax
Planting Trees, CCC artwork.
Always Break your Matches
Dragon art.

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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 12, in which we examine Benny Beaver.

Although Benny Beaver is back in the news, don’t be confused. The one making news is Oregon State University’s mascot, and that’s because he’s been redesigned. Again. The Benny Beaver beloved by forest history buffs was the mascot for the Redwood Region Conservation Council (RRCC).

Benny BeaverThe RRCC was a forest products industry group in the Redwood-Douglas fir region of California that sought to inform the public about the necessity of conserving the area’s natural resources, in particular commercial timber, and the importance of doing so for the benefit of all. The RRCC was involved in certifying forests for the American Tree Farm System and already employed Woody and the Keep Green program to get the word out about fire prevention when Benny was introduced.

What makes this character stand apart from all those is that his creators went to the trouble of formulating a backstory for him. Benny was introduced in the summer of 1965 (we don’t know when they stopped using him). In the introduction below, besides learning about Benny’s extended family and ancestors, they even implied that he was OSU’s Benny Beaver—hence the reference to being mauled by a wolverine (in 1965’s Rose Bowl, the University of Michigan handily defeated OSU.) And when Benny was introduced, Bernard Z. Agrons was RRCC’s president, so we think that’s where the name of Benny’s great uncle came from. Anyway, his creators did such an entertaining job on the backstory that I’m going to let the announcement of Benny’s “hiring” do the talking.

Benjamin “Benny” Beaver—faller, bucker, dam-builder and member of the world-famed lumbering family—has joined the Redwood Region Conservation Council as its supervisor of forest activities.

Benny applied to RRCC headquarters for work following a six-month period of convalescence.

Last January 1 while inspecting the culinary qualities of the wood structures which support Pasadena’s Rose Bowl, he was seriously mauled by a curmudgeonly wolverine. Seems the wolverine had left his home in Michigan for a trip to Disneyland and had stopped off in Pasadena for some mild exercise. A beaver with a football was all he could find to tussle with.

Healed, Benny headed back to his familiar forest where, he says, the most dangerous creatures are 21-year-old loggers on Saturday night and a funny old bear who wears a silly hat.

Benny’s first assignment will be to work with that bear—Smokey they call him—in an effort to keep the Redwood Region green. But being a charter member of the “hard-hat-on-head, we’re-not-dead” club, Benny indicated he would try to talk Smokey out of wearing his felt campaign hat.

“Widow-makers,” he warned, “can drive you into the deck like a wicket.”

Well known as an industrious woods worker, Benny has numerous qualifications for his job in forest conservation.

His great-great-great granddaddy pioneered the technique of selective logging, and early lumberjacks copied Benny’s great uncle Bernard Z. Beaver’s method of getting logs from the forest to the mill by river floating.

As a matter of fact, Benny’s cousins still excavate canals—some several hundred feet long—to float wood for life’s necessities into their communities. Their dams are engineered perfectly to keep the water in the canals at a proper depth….

The announcement concluded: “RRCC hopes the Redwood Region will welcome Benny Beaver. We expect him to fight wildfire, prevent litter-bugging and help us tell the public that conservation means the wise and multiple use of our natural resources.”

That last statement reveals the stumbling block to success that so many forest history characters trip over: they are given too many things to simultaneously to represent and it confuses the target audience. Is Benny about fire prevention? Stopping litter bugs? Wise and multiple use? Aren’t the first two really just part of the third? This problem of a muddled message is why the Forest Service later created Woodsy Owl—people were trying to use Smokey Bear to talk about litter and other issues and it diluted the power of Smokey’s message. Further complicating Benny’s path to stardom was the introduction of Cal Green and Sniff and Snuff in California the same year Benny was introduced. How’s a beaver in cut-off overalls supposed to compete against charismatic Cal and the sartorial splendor of Sniff and Snuff? As Benny might say, dam if I know.

Fighting forest fires in northern California kept Benny as busy as a, well, you know.

Fighting forest fires in northern California kept Benny as busy as a, well, you know.

The RRCC made ads like these available to newspapers.

The RRCC made ads like these available to newspapers.

Redwood Region Conservation Council letterhead

Redwood Region Conservation Council letterhead featuring Benny Beaver.

RRCC Benny Beaver poster

RRCC vice president Norman Traverso with student poster contest winners, 1966.

RRCC bookmark.

RRCC promotional bookmark featuring the “Woody” character.

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