On this date in 1822, Franklin B. Hough was born on the western edge of the Adirondack Mountains in Lewis County, New York. Hough would become the first forestry agent of the U.S. government, the first chief of the Division of Forestry, and one of the most influential figures in early American forestry. Gifford Pinchot himself would refer to Hough as “perhaps the chief pioneer in forestry in the United States.”
Franklin Hough began his professional career as a practicing physician, but retired from medicine in 1852 in order to pursue his research and writing interests. Hough wrote several histories of the Adirondack region and also oversaw the New York State census in 1855 and 1865. While compiling census data for the latter, Hough was alarmed by the declining trend in available timber in the state. This discovery led to the cause of forest preservation becoming his life’s work.
In the 1870s, when his calls for allowing active forest management in the proposed Adirondack forest preserve went unheeded, he turned his focus to the federal government. In 1873 Hough presented a greatly influential paper, “On the Duty of Governments in the Preservation of Forests,” to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Hough’s paper revealed the depletion of America’s eastern forests and declared the need for forest preservation and forestry education. The paper was especially notable because it called on governments to aid in forest preservation efforts, a radical departure from American free market ideals. Hough recommended that laws be passed to protect forest growth, and urged the scientists in attendance to bring to the attention of Congress and their state governments “the subject of protection to the forests, and their cultivation, regulation, and encouragement.” The following day a committee was appointed, with Hough as chair, to petition Congress about the critical national need for forest preservation.
The actions of this committee, as well as Hough’s own work, would lead Congress on August 15, 1876, to create the office of Special Agent in the Department of Agriculture to assess the state of the forests and lumber in the U.S. Commissioner of Agriculture Frederick Watts appointed Hough to this position on August 30th.
Over the next year, Hough traveled the country and began preparing his detailed report on the nation’s forests. (more…)