Archive for November, 2008

What do you give a professional organization on its 108th birthday? Warm wishes, I suppose. But in the case of the Society of American Foresters, formally founded on November 30, 1900, in the cramped office of its first president, Gifford Pinchot, it seems appropriate to offer up something a bit more meaningful than an air-kiss or a genial hurrah.

A more significant memento might be to recall the charge that SAF members received from the president of the United States during the society’s third year: “I believe that there is no body of men who have it in their power today to do a greater service to the country,” Theodore Roosevelt asserted, “than those engaged in the scientific study of, and practical application of, approved methods of forestry for the preservation of the woods of the United States.” His confidence in their contributions as foresters and citizens surely warmed his listeners’ hearts. But they and he understood that this generous praise, while not misplaced, was a tad premature.


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On this day in history, leading conservationist Gifford Pinchot and six other foresters founded the Society of American Foresters in Washington, D.C.  In its 108-year history, the Society has grown to become the largest professional organization for foresters in the world. Currently representing more than 15,000 forestry professionals and students working in private industry, educational settings, and local, state and federal government, SAF strives to advance the science and professional management of forest resources, enhance member competency, and promote sound forest management and conservation practices for the health of forest ecosystems.

The Forest History Society is the fortunate steward of the records of the Society of American Foresters — 449.5 linear feet, with more additions anticipated!  To describe SAF’s beginnings, I defer to the original meeting minutes, which we hold in our collection, to provide an account:

Washington, D.C. November 30, 1900.

Minutes of the First Meeting of the Society of American Foresters.

An informal meeting of foresters was called at the office of Mr. Pinchot on the morning of November 30th.  There were present Mr. [Gifford] Pinchot, Mr. [Overton] Price, Mr. [William] Hall, Mr. [Ralph] Hosmer, Mr. [Thomas] Sherrard, Mr. [E. T.] Allen, and Mr. [Henry] Graves.  It was stated that the object of the meeting was to discuss the feasibility of organizing a Society of American Foresters.  All those present were in favor of the organization of such a Society.

Mr. Pinchot was appointed temporary Chairman, and Mr. Graves temporary Secretary, in order that the Society might be formally organized.

A motion was made, seconded, and carried, that the society be known as the Society of American Foresters.  It was then moved and seconded that a committee of three be appointed by the Chair for the purpose of making recommendations as to the complete organization of this society. The Chair appointed Mr. Graves, Chairman, Mr. Price and Mr. Hosmer.  It was then decided that the Chair should call a meeting as soon as the report of the committee was ready.

Henry S. Graves, Sec’y Protem

Today also marks another significant event in forest history: the first appearance of a guest blogger on Peeling Back the Bark!  To celebrate the anniversary of SAF’s founding, we have invited historian Char Miller, senior fellow of the Pinchot Institute for Conservation, to comment.  In his entry, Miller recalls fledgling efforts at professional forestry, debates within the field, and forestry’s responsiveness to shifting challenges.

As Miller offers an overview of SAF, the rest of this post will highlight some interesting finds in our archival holdings.


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One hundred years ago today, Dr. Carl Schenck, resident forester at George W. Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate and founder of the Biltmore Forest School, opened a three-day forestry fair on the Biltmore grounds.  At a time when forestry work in America was still very much in its infancy, this unique fair was designed by Schenck to demonstrate to visitors the accomplishments and possibilities of scientific management and practical forestry techniques.  Schenck’s forest festival also celebrated the 20th anniversary of forest management on the Biltmore estate and the 10th anniversary of the Biltmore Forest School.

Click for full text of

Schenck sent personal letters inviting close to 400 people to the fair, including several senators, governors, and the newly elected president of the U.S., William Howard Taft (for a full look at the text from the invitations, which also included a program of planned events, see this excerpt from Cradle of Forestry in America: The Biltmore Forest School, 1898-1913).  Along with these letters of invitation, Schenck also mailed to each proposed guest a 55-page illustrated booklet, A Forest Fair in the Biltmore Forest, which served as both a guide to the forests at Biltmore as well as a textbook of forestry and conservation practices.  And although no presidents, senators, or governors made an appearance, some 50 to 100 guests, including foresters, lumbermen, furniture manufacturers, botanists, university professors, and more, took part in the events of the fair.


A group of Forest Fair attendees (from FHS Photo Collection).

The fair’s program, as designed by Schenck, featured three days of activities.  Visitors were given tours of the various forest plantations with Schenck as their educational guide, learning detailed lessons on forestry practices, planting techniques, logging operations, seed regeneration, soil composition, and more.  The fairgoers were also treated to tours of the nationally-famous Biltmore Estate nurseries and herbarium, as well as events such as a Gala Dinner, a fishing and shooting contest, and a possum hunt and barbecue.

Overall the fair was successful in demonstrating the importance of Schenck’s forestry and conservation practices to those in attendance.  Schenck and the fair were highly praised in various newspaper editorials following the fair’s completion.  An article in the Southern Lumberman commented that “this event will mark an epoch in American forestry.”


Dr. Schenck, at right, greets Fair guests at Biltmore Plaza (from FHS Photo Collection)

The successful nature of the fair unfortunately proved to be the last high point of Schenck’s pioneering forestry work at Biltmore.  The next year, 1909, saw his fallout with Vanderbilt and the end of the original Biltmore Forest School.  Schenck’s many contributions to American forestry, though, have long outlived his time at Biltmore, and his legacy continues to be celebrated today at the Cradle of Forestry in America.

For a great overview of the Fair see Harley E. Jolley’s article from the April 1970 issue of Forest History, “Biltmore Forest Fair, 1908.”

For a look at the Fair through primary source materials, see the FHS Biltmore Forestry Fair Collection, which includes a series of full-text articles from American Lumberman (whose editor attended the fair).  Also see the FHS Biltmore Forest School Images Collection which includes several photos taken at the Fair.

To read the complete first-hand account of Schenck’s time at the Biltmore, see Cradle of Forestry in America: The Biltmore Forest School, 1898-1913.

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With the forest fires still burning in southern California and some suggesting that fire season there is now a year-round event, the publication of the Fall 2008 issue of Forest History Today is rather timely, to say the least. The Forest History Society is proud to present in this special issue the papers delivered at the workshop on fire and the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) that preceded this spring’s American Society for Environmental History meeting in Boise. Articles by leading historians, journalists, and fire researchers look at the history of wildland-urban interface fires, the need to rethink the approach in the U.S. to fighting fire in the WUI, the role that historians can play in these discussions, and how news coverage of wildfires has changed over the years. Contributors include Steve Pyne, William Sommers, Jack Cohen, Mark Neuzil, Rocky Barker, and Patty Limerick. You can find the complete issue on the Forest History Today webpage.

In addition to articles on fire and WUI, you’ll find Steve Pyne’s fascinating history of an iconic fire painting (which graces the cover), a “Biographical Portrait” of Theodore Roosevelt in honor of his 150th birthday, and a “History on the Road” column that takes you on a tour of nineteenth-century charcoal kilns in Nevada.

The Spring 2008 issue of Forest History Today, with articles on the latest trends in nature-based outdoor recreation, the historic — and imperiled — ponderosa pine ecosystem, and an excerpt from Mike McCloskey’s memoir about his days in the Sierra Club, is also available online along with all previous issues.

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Ninety years ago today, on November 11, 1918, at 11:00 am Paris time, an armistice treaty was signed between the Allies and Germany, officially ending WWI on the Western Front and marking victory for the Allied forces.

To further mark the historical significance of November 11th, we would like to announce the launch of a new World War I-focused digital project. In our new digital collection, we have chosen to explore the importance of timber to the Allied military operations in Europe.  Timber was critical to the war effort, and this wasn’t only because of the protection it could provide front-line snipers:

German Sniper

From American Forestry, April 1918

In constant demand for almost every phase of Allied military operations, wood was used for building roads and railroads, constructing barracks, erecting telephone poles, supporting trenches, and numerous other building and construction projects.  To meet these demands, the U.S. Army formed two forestry engineering regiments (the 10th and 20th Engineers) and recruited experienced foresters, loggers, and sawmill workers from around the country to fill their ranks, many from the U.S. Forest Service.  The 10th and 20th Engineers maintained operations in various areas of France’s forestlands throughout the war, managing forest growth, felling timber, and operating sawmills.  The men of these regiments were able to streamline the process of producing wood for the Allied forces, and proved to greatly exceed all expectations of production.

WWI header

A new featured page on the FHS website provides access to a wealth of primary source materials and historical essays from various collections documenting the work done by the 10th and 20th Forestry Engineers during WWI.  So please take some time to explore World War I: 10th and 20th Forestry Engineers and learn more about the important role played by these forestry troops in securing victory for the Allies in the Great War.

For those interested in forestry-related activity on the homefront, be sure to read the September 3 post on “World War I Photos” and visit the associated photo galleries.

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Veterans Day poster

Since 1919, Americans have honored their servicemen and women on November 11.  Originally established as Armistice Day, President Woodrow Wilson declared a day of remembrance on the anniversary of the cessation of hostilities between the Allies and Germany. In so doing, Wilson exalted the “heroism of those who died in the country’s service” in World War I.  In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower extended this homage to American veterans of all wars.  Thus, on Veterans Day, Americans pay tribute to the service and sacrifice of the nation’s men and women in uniform.

In recent conflicts, more than 30,000 returning troops have been wounded, many severely.  These United States soldiers and their families face medical, psychological, and economic challenges as a result of the injuries and traumas endured.  They also contend with readjustment issues as the soldiers transition to civilian life.

Through a recently established partnership with the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), the National Park Service will provide enhanced programs and services for injured military members.  In addition to identifying a variety of activities and locations for WWP programs, the National Park Service will provide information on employment opportunities for veterans and their families.

“The words of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address . . . remind all of us ‘to care for him who shall have borne the battle,'” remarked National Park Service Director Mary A. Bomar.  “National parks are places of refuge and inspiration.  I am thrilled that this partnership will allow more veterans to be rejuvenated by the serenity, beauty, and recreational opportunities found in parks.”

The first collaborative project took place in October 2008.  Twelve returned soldiers and five staff and counselors traveled to Acadia National Park in Maine.  For four days, the group engaged in outdoor activities to build trust and to regain a sense of self-confidence.

“We take our young men and women who think their life is over and we show them life doesn’t stop at the hospital,” WWP national service director John Roberts explained to The Ellsworth American.

In 2002, a group of veterans responded to news coverage of the first wounded service members returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq by founding the Wounded Warrior Project.  WWP began delivering backpacks with essential care and comfort items to veterans at military trauma centers.  The organization expanded its program to include wilderness trips for veterans after they have left the hospital.  Now, with the new partnership between WWP and the National Park Service, discharged veterans will bike, hike, kayak, and rock climb in America’s national parks to continue rehabilitation and to build life skills they can take back to their home communities.

For more information, please visit:

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With votes cast, ballots counted, and winners announced, what does the 2008 election portend for the environmental movement?  Please join us as historian Robert Gottlieb discusses “The Next Environmentalism” in a public lecture on Tuesday, Nov. 11 at Duke University.

The Next Environmentalism: After the 2008 Election
Dr. Robert Gottlieb
November 11th at 4:30 p.m.
White Lecture Hall (113 Campus Dr.)
Duke University (East Campus)
Durham, NC

For more detailed information, visit these lecture announcements:

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