Archive for April, 2009

In recent weeks, Durham, North Carolina, has been flooded with generous sunlight and summer-like highs.  These soaring temperatures are no match for our burgeoning pride, however, as Peeling Back the Bark has earned some virtual hardware.

We are pleased to report that ArchivesNext has announced the selections for the Best Archives on the Web awards for 2009.  Among some stiff competition, Peeling Back the Bark has been named a winner in the “Best Institutional Blog” category!  As the judges’ comments revealed, this honor, gentle readers, is due in no small part to you:

Interesting short articles with lots and lots of archival focus.  Best of all, there is evidence of an active readership of this blog…

We will continue to explore the riches of the Forest History Society Library and Archives if you will continue to be our “best of all”: an active and interested constituency.  Agreed?  Agreed!  Good deal.

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“There is no aristocracy in trees. They are not haughty. They will thrive near the humblest cabin on our fertile prairies, just as well and become just as refreshing to the eye and as fruitful as they will in the shadow of a king’s palace.” — J. Sterling Morton

Before there was Earth Day, there was Arbor Day, the original environmental holiday that started it all. In honor of the national observance of Arbor Day this Friday, we would like to honor its founder, Julius Sterling Morton.  Morton,  a farmer, journalist, politician, territorial official, and the third Secretary of Agriculture, was born on this day in 1832 in Adams, New York.

J. Sterling Morton found his life’s calling through the fateful decision in 1854 to settle with his wife in the new Nebraska Territory. There, Morton began working for the territory’s first newspaper, the Nebraska City News, quickly rising to editor. Through frequent editorials throughout the 1850s,  he advocated for tree planting on the area’s open prairies.

Julius Sterling Morton

Julius Sterling Morton

Morton also became involved in the territorial government, serving in Nebraska’s Legislative Assembly before being appointed as Secretary of the Territory by President Buchanan in 1858. After a series of political defeats, Morton took a position on the State Board of Agriculture, where he was able to put his interest in tree planting into action.

At a meeting of the Nebraska Board of Agriculture on January 4, 1872, Morton introduced a resolution that April 10th “be set apart and consecrated for tree planting in the State of Nebraska and that the State Board of Agriculture hereby name it Arbor Day.” The resolution passed unanimously.


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When William B. Greeley was appointed as the third chief of the U.S. Forest Service on April 15, 1920, he was already embroiled in a fight over the future of American forestry and private forests. Greeley’s lengthy and distinguished Forest Service career is largely defined by a controversy that — once it was resolved — assured the continued existence of private forests and meant that the United States would not have nationalized forests, as many were advocating in the 1920s and 1930s. In short, the resolution affirmed with whom the Forest Service would do business and what that business was.

Who is William B. Greeley? After reading George T. Morgan Jr.’s biographical study — the first and still the only one of Greeley — I feel like I still don’t know. Sixty-seven pages. That’s all Morgan used to discuss the life and work of Greeley. He moves so swiftly in covering Greeley’s seventy-six years that he doesn’t bother telling us when he was born or when he died. He hits the highlights of his subject’s life but does so in a hagiographic treatment of the forester. To better understand Greeley — and his impact on the Forest Service and forest land management — it’s time for someone to undertake a new examination of this pivotal figure in public and private forestry history.

Born in Oswego, New York, on September 6, 1879, Greeley’s family moved to California when he was eleven. After graduating from the University of California, he went to the Yale School of Forestry, where he made an impression on the school’s dean and his future boss, Henry Graves, before graduating at the top of his class with a master’s degree in forestry in 1904. (Greeley would be the first of several Forest Service chiefs trained at Yale.) He joined the Forest Service that year and quickly rose through the agency’s ranks, making district (what is now regional) forester in the northern Rockies within four years. As he had done with ranchers as a supervisor on the Sequoia National Forest, in District (now Region) 1, he also cooperated with local lumbermen on issues important to them. The Big Blowup of 1910 in Idaho and Montana taught Greeley and others that fire protection and suppression were absolutely necessary to protecting America’s timber. He wrote about the evils of light burning as part of the broader federal campaign to stamp out forest fires and began pushing for private, state, and federal cooperation to deal with the fire “menace.” In time, he would help construct the federal fire policy with which we are in many ways still grappling.

William B. Greeley, USFS chief, 1920-28

No, it's not Harry Potter. It's Forest Service chief William Greeley, who served from 1920 to 1928.

Transferred to Washington in 1911 as chief of the Branch of Forest Management (or Silviculture), Greeley found himself in an ideal position to further develop his ideas about public-private cooperation. In 1917, he argued in his landmark report Some Public and Economic Aspects of the Lumber Industry that lumbermen were overcutting not out of malicious intent or greed, but because of necessity: his research showed severe competition, overinvestment, and inappropriate tax laws forced their hands. (more…)

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