Archive for March, 2009

  • The setting: A bleak and blustery evening at an estate in 1930s Hopewell, N.J.
  • The scene: At 9:00 p.m., a well-dressed man hears a noise he later likens to an orange crate falling off a kitchen chair. Noting nothing amiss, he shrugs and returns to his evening activities. The night continues uneventfully until 10:00 p.m., when nurse Betty Gow checks on her young charge.  With a shock, she discovers the twenty-month-old boy missing.  Alarmed, Gow reports the disappearance to the well-dressed man and his wife, the child’s parents, who are revealed to be famed aviator Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

With this opening act, the night of March 1, 1932, ushered in the sensational “crime of the century” — and, unexpectedly, wood forensics.

The ensuing search for baby Charles, Jr., turned up a ransom note on the windowsill of the nursery.  This kidnapping claim prompted the Lindberghs’ estate caretaker to contact the local authorities, who called the New Jersey State Police.  When the first state troopers arrived, they investigated the outside area of the house, particularly the ground below the second-story nursery window.  They found footprints in the wet ground, but neither measured nor made plaster casts of them.  Two deep impressions pointed to the use of a ladder, and a carpenter’s chisel laid nearby.  Widening the search, the investigators recovered a homemade ladder in three sections.  The bottom section was broken, presumably during the ascent or descent.  Within the nursery, no blood stains or fingerprints provided evidence.

LINDY’S BABY KIDNAPPED screamed the morning newspaper headlines.  Though the case did not fall under federal jurisdiction, the FBI was put on the case, increasing the high intrigue.   For months to follow, the public would be captivated and agitated by stories of the botched police investigation, a series of ransom notes, and thousands of (mis)leads.  The story of Little Lindy’s kidnapping aroused public interest; 38,000 letters arrived at the Lindbergh estate offering sympathy, prayers, and assistance.

Among these offers was a letter from Arthur Koehler, chief wood technologist at the Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin. Koehler’s particular research interest in the identification, cellular structure and growth of wood gave him the specific training and abilities for what he proposed to do: detect clues in the broken ladder.  His letter went unanswered.


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In 1964, Congress created the Public Land Law Review Commission “to explore how to simplify public land laws and make administering them more effective.”  Now, forty-five years later, the General Accounting Office has released a report on the pros and cons of moving the Forest Service from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of the Interior.  (The full report and a condensed version are available online.)

The reorganization discussion pops up about once a decade.  The four most recent explorations of how to reconcile the management of federal lands between the two Cabinet-level departments all resulted in recommendations that were never acted on.  (Materials related to these and other earlier efforts are listed under “Reorganization” on our U.S. Forest Service History hub.)

The latest exploration, the GAO report released last month, offers no recommendations but sheds light on the problems and benefits of moving the Forest Service to Interior.  If anything, the emphasis on the lack of short-term gains led me to infer this report as a tacit endorsement of not reorganizing but rather for the four major land management agencies (the Forest Service under USDA and the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Fish and Wildlife Service in Interior) to simply work harder at cooperating and coordinating their efforts.

Congress asked the GAO to look into the matter because “the emergence of new challenges for both the Forest Service and Interior during a time of severe budgetary constraint, as well as the growing need for agencies to collaborate on large-scale natural resource problems, has revived interest in the potential for improving federal land management and program efficiency and effectiveness.”  They were asked specifically “to describe (1) how federal land management
would potentially be affected by moving the Forest Service into Interior and (2) what factors should be considered if Congress and the administration were to decide to move the Forest Service into Interior and what management practices could facilitate such a move.”

The report explores the cultural, organizational, and legal factors the government would need to consider if the move were made.  One concern is the impact the move might have on the Forest Service’s role in state and private land management — a mission focus the agency shares with USDA but doesn’t have in common with Interior.  (See pages 16-19 of the full report for more.)  Not surprisingly, Interior Department reviewers of the report observed “that a move would not necessarily diminish the Forest Service’s role in state and private forestry or cause the Forest Service to modify its current role.”  The Forest Service and various stakeholders disagree with that sentiment.  All reviewers from both departments agreed, however, that the Forest Service mission aligns well with the Bureau of Land Management’s multiple-use mission and a move to Interior could “increase the overall effectiveness of some of the agencies’ programs and policies.”  The obstacles for moving are many but not are insurmountable.  Yet the report’s focus on the expected limited short-term benefits makes them seem insurmountable.

It would, perhaps, have been more fruitful if in asking for this investigation Congress had not limited the GAO to the one question of moving the Forest Service to Interior.  It should have given the GAO the authority to look at the entire issue: what would be involved in moving some agencies or responsibilities to Agriculture under the Forest Service; moving some but not all of the Forest Service’s responsibilities (like grazing) to Interior; or if the two departments were combined.  Looking at only one question leaves the other ones to go begging.

In my opinion, by limiting the investigation, the GAO virtually assured that no new models or proposals could emerge.  Furthermore, this limited focus meant that the report would almost immediately begin gathering dust instead of beginning a much-needed conversation about how to manage public and private lands in the 21st century and beyond.

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In honor of International Women’s Day, please enjoy a brief sampling of FHS resources on women in forest-related professions.

Our U.S. Forest History portal highlights the contributions of many foresters, scientists, and others. The efforts of females employees are recognized, including those of:

  • Research scientist Eloise Gerry, who conducted pioneering work in microscopical studies of the anatomy of resin-yielding pines, and successfully developed methods to increase yield as well as prolong the working life of trees.
  • Public relations specialist Margaret March-Mount, also known as the “Ambassador of Trees.” March-Mount developed the pennies for pines Children’s Conservation Crusade, which encouraged children to give pennies for planting pine trees on national forests.
  • Hallie M. Daggett, who became the first female fire lookout in the Forest Service in 1913.   She spent 15 years on the job, working at the Eddy Gulch fire tower on the Klamath National Forest.

The Forest History Society Oral History Collection comprises more than 250 interviews conducted with individuals involved in the management and use of forests and their related resources.  Chosen individuals include women who have distinguished themselves through the primacy of their positions and their work achievements.  Many interviews conducted over the last couple of decades relate the contentious political atmosphere experienced by women who held relatively high positions of leadership within the U.S. Forest Service.

Full transcripts are available online for the interviews with Geri Vanderveer Bergen, the agency’s first female forest supervisor, and Wendy Milner Herrett, the first female district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service.

In the Fall 2008 issue of Forest History Today, FHS staff reviewed the recently published A Mile in Her Boots: Women Who Work in the Wild (see p. 69).  This collection of stories by female wilderness and outdoor professionals is easily accessible to the general reader.  The anthology allows the reader to leisurely explore the different experiences, including forest ranger, outdoor guide, scientist, smokejumper, and fire lookout.

The Photograph Collection offers varied and interesting images of women in forest management and the wood products industry. The images below are linked to a larger version of the image and detailed caption information. If you would like to see more, please search the FHS Image Database, using the search terms “women” or “women at work.”

Spreading casein water resistant glue at the Forest products Laboratory

Spraying clear varnish on the cane seat of chair, Tell City Chair Factory.

Fire lookout Thelma Duke operates radio at Chase Mountain lookout tower in Oregon.

Ranger's Clerk reading precipitation gauge.

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On March 7, 1991, U.S. District Court Judge William Dwyer blocked logging of all old-growth trees on national forests in the Pacific Northwest that were habitat for the northern spotted owl to protect the animal.  Ruling in favor of the National Audubon Society and the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, Dwyer declared the U.S. Forest Service’s 1986 Forest Management Plan as inadequate to protect the owl.  The Forest Service was ordered to halt more than 75 percent of its planned timber sales until the agency developed a final plan to protect the threatened species.  The spotted owl was emblematic of a larger, very complex debate over the management of what is commonly called old-growth timber.  The debate was very heated — lives were threatened over the potential loss of timber jobs in the Pacific Northwest as tempers boiled over.

You can learn more about the northern spotted owl controversy through our U.S. Forest Service History pages.  The controversy has generated lots of documents, articles, and books.  In our U.S. Forest Service History Collection database alone we have 123 listings under the key words “spotted owl,” and several dozen more listings in our Environmental History Bibliography.  Many of the items listed in the databases are housed here at FHS.  Among the documents are some political cartoons like the one below.  While this cartoon does a great job of explaining who the parties involved in the controversy were, it also shows how oversimplified the debate had become.

From the U.S. Forest Service History Collection

By Milt Priggee, The Spokesman Review.  From the U.S. Forest Service History Collection.

Newspapers often described it in even simpler terms: owls vs. jobs.

But perhaps our favorite item is an artifact manufactured by the Gag Foods Company at the height of the controversy in the early 1990s.  It’s a box parodying Hamburger Helper and Tuna Helper that riffed on the controversy.  The company promised to donate profits from the sale of the item to both environmental and logging groups.  A search online revealed that a lawsuit filed by General Mills alleging copyright infringement of the product names and package designs of their two products forced the end of production of this joke.

Spotted Owl Helper - Yum!

The front of the box and …

Here's the back of the box. There are some other tasty meals.

the back of the box.

FHS acquired this gag product when our previous president, Pete Steen, picked it up on travel in the Pacific Northwest.  Spotted Owl Helper provides a unique take on a controversial historical issue, and is now preserved as one of the physical articfacts in our library collections.

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