Archive for February, 2010

Herb Stoddard in 1964 in familiar surroundings.

Herb Stoddard seen in familiar surroundings in 1964.

Happy birthday to Herbert Stoddard Sr.! Raised in a working-class family, he had no formal education beyond primary school. Yet he went on to become recognized as the “father” of wildlife management and a pioneer in the emerging field of fire ecology during his career. He may rightly be considered one of the first ecological foresters as well.

Born in Rockford, Illinois, Herb Stoddard made his career in the longleaf pine forests of the Red Hills region on the border of Georgia and Florida. At about age four, his family had moved to central Florida to grow oranges. There he learned from local cattlemen how fire worked in the longleaf system, experience that he applied later to his wildlife work. After seven years in Florida, the family returned to Rockford in 1900. Tired of school, Stoddard went to work on his uncle’s farm in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin, and soon began an apprenticeship with a local taxidermist that led to museum jobs.

Those museum jobs, where he specialized in birds, led to a position with the Bureau of the Biological Survey in 1924 conducting a field investigation of the life history of the bobwhite quail in the Red Hills. The bobwhite quail was a popular game bird in the region. The landowners, who collectively owned nearly 300,000 acres of former farmland converted to a hunting preserve, had grown concerned with the bird’s dwindling population and funded the Cooperative Quail Investigation. Stoddard, according to The Art of Managing Longleaf, the new book by Leon Neel, with Paul Sutter and Albert Way, was to “study the population dynamics of bobwhite quail and implement strategies to ensure their increase.” It was a bold move, in large part because when Stoddard arrived in the Red Hills, there was no field of wildlife management to guide him. As Sutter and Way note in their introduction, one of Stoddard’s major conclusions “was that the fate of the quail and other wildlife rested with the quality of their habitat rather than strict bag limits.” Stoddard produced a book, The Bobwhite Quail: Its Habits, Preservation, and Increase, in 1931 that is considered the “foundational text” for the field of wildlife management and is still referred to as “The Quail Bible.”

You can learn more about the Birthday Boy from his memoir. We have a copy in our library.

In addition to studying the quail on farmed lands, Stoddard looked at longleaf forests. It was there that he made his mark in forestry. Along with a handful of botanists, foresters, and land managers, he came to the realization that longleaf forests were dependent on frequent fire for their perpetuation. After the CQI ended and he had published his book, Stoddard established the Cooperative Quail Study Association in 1931 with funding from local landowners to continue his research. The Red Hills quickly became a center for ecological research, and eventually led to the establishment of both the Tall Timbers Research Station in Tallahassee, Florida, and the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center near Albany, Georgia.

During World War II, Stoddard became a forestry consultant on the quail preserves, and he hired Leon Neel, a recent graduate of the University of Georgia’s forestry school who had grown up nearby, as his assistant in 1950. Stoddard developed, and Neel perfected, a model of ecological land management that is now known as the Stoddard-Neel Method. The method allows for harvesting both timber and quail on a sustainable, profitable basis — a difficult balance to achieve and maintain. It requires an intimate knowledge of the land. It doesn’t follow formulas and can’t be taught in a textbook manner. As Albert Way describes it in a Forest History Today article on the method, “At its most basic, the Stoddard-Neel method strives to maintain a diverse understory through the use of frequent controlled fire, and a sustained-yield, multiage forest through conservative selection harvesting. Today, thanks in large part to the Stoddard-Neel method, some forests of the Red Hills and Dougherty Plain represent the most diverse longleaf-grassland environments remaining.”

The FHT article uses excerpts from oral history interviews conducted with Neel in 2004. Those interview tapes may be found here in Durham in our archive. Because there is so much more to this story than can be covered here, we recommend starting with Bert Way’s article as a primer and then moving on to the book about Neel and Herb Stoddard to learn more about the Stoddard-Neal Method and the man who created it.

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In one of his last acts as president, Theodore Roosevelt convened the North American Conservation Conference on this date 101 years ago. This event might ring a bell for faithful followers of the blog. The conference and its legacy were discussed in a previous blog entry. That entry, which originally appeared as an opinion piece in the Raleigh News and Observer, focused on Gifford Pinchot’s quest for what he called “permanent peace.” There was a great deal of background that we couldn’t fit into the op-ed piece. So, given the clamoring from our fans, we’re marking the anniversary of the conference by telling, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story.

Representatives from the U.S., Canada, and Mexico — including Miguel de Quevedo, the father of Mexican conservation — attended the international conference. It was the last of three important conferences on conservation hosted by Roosevelt. The other two — the Conference of Governors, held in May 1908, and the National Conservation Commission, convened in January 1909 as a prelude to the North American conference — had for the first time focused both public and media attention on the need for conserving natural resources in the United States. The American Forestry Association chronicled the international conference in its magazine, then called Conservation, and makes mention of the ill-fated fourth one to be held in the Netherlands in September 1909. Thirty nations had already accepted invitations to attend when Roosevelt’s successor, William Howard Taft, canceled it.

Commissioners to the North American Conservation Conference. President Roosevelt sits at center, Gifford Pinchot is standing third from left, and Miguel Quevedo is seated at far right.

The catalyst behind all four meetings was Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service and an enormous influence on the thinking of Theodore Roosevelt. In the 1930s, he captured the attention of President Franklin Roosevelt about a world conference on conservation. Pinchot, by now governor of Pennsylvania, had been talking with FDR about the need for such an international conference when war broke out in Europe in 1939. As war clouds gathered off the shores of the United States, Pinchot began putting an emphasis on “permanent” peace.

In May 1940, Pinchot addressed the Eighth American Scientific Congress and published his paper, “Conservation as a Foundation of Permanent Peace,” in the August issue of Nature (which was reprinted in Forest History Today in 2001). Mindful of what was happening in Europe and Asia at that moment, as a path to peace he suggested that “international cooperation in conserving, utilizing, and distributing natural resources to the mutual advantage of all nations might well remove one of the most dangerous of all obstacles to a just and permanent world peace.”

U.S. entry into the war in December 1941 didn’t deter Pinchot. As can be seen in his diaries here, during the war he continued refining the ideas put forth in 1940 and presented them again to FDR in 1945 shortly before Roosevelt died. Pinchot found FDR’s successor Harry Truman equally receptive and ready to champion Pinchot’s cause. The rest, as they say, is history — or is found in a history blog.

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