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BFernowIf you find yourself in New York’s Adirondack Park, be sure to add a walk through Fernow Forest to the Forest History Bucket List of things to do while there. It’s a nice place to spend an hour or so stretching your legs and learning about Bernhard Fernow, an important yet underappreciated figure in North American forest history, while looking at a sample of his work in New York.

Make no mistake: visiting either forest in the United States named for Bernhard Fernow is worthwhile. In West Virginia is the Fernow Experimental Forest on the Monongahela National Forest, operated by the U.S. Forest Service. This 4,300-acre forest offers mountain biking trails and other recreational activities. I’ve not been there yet, but it’s on my bucket list. The one in the Adirondacks is under the control of the state’s department of natural resources.

It’s fitting that Fernow has two forests named for him. As chief of the U.S. Division, predecessor to the U.S. Forest Service, of Forestry he placed the small bureau firmly on scientific footing, writing scores of reports and conducting and coordinating research. Such efforts during his twelve years with the division (1886–1898) make him one of the founding fathers of American forest research, something he rarely receives recognition for. He is better known as the father of professional forestry education in North America. A long-time advocate for forestry education in the America, in 1898, he left the Division of Forestry to establish the New York State College of Forestry at Cornell University. It was the first professional forestry school in the United States (meaning, the first school to offer a college degree). After the school shut down in 1903 (see below), he taught at Yale’s forestry school and elsewhere for a few years. In 1907, he founded the forestry program at Pennsylvania State College’s main campus, teaching there in the spring of 1907 before heading to the University of Toronto and establishing Canada’s first forestry school, where he stayed until his retirement in 1920. The Fernow Forest in West Virginia is a nod to his research leadership; the one in the Adirondacks is one to his work in forestry education.

Fernow located Cornell’s experimental forest on 30,000 acres in the heart of the Adirondack State Park, a decision that would contribute to the demise of the school just five years after it opened. He clearcut the hardwood forest and ordered the planting of the commercially valuable species of white pine and Norway spruce as part of his effort to demonstrate that good forest management could pay. The school sold the lumber to the Brooklyn Cooperage Company, which had set up a mill on the site. Unfortunately, the operation was near several wealthy landowners who didn’t care for the noise and smoke coming from the school’s woods and petitioned the governor to shut down the school. He complied by eliminating funding for the school in 1903, effectively killing it.

Don't blink or you'll miss the sign.

Don’t blink or you’ll miss the sign.

But walking the Fernow Forest Trail in the Adirondacks can help a visitor understand what he was trying to accomplish. It was no small goal he had in mind, trying to teach his students the fundamentals of forestry and demonstrate to an indifferent country that forest management could turn a profit and produce a steady supply of lumber.

Located on a 68-acre tract that was once part of the school forest, the trail is a under a mile long, a well-groomed dirt path that’s fairly level and easily navigated. Much like Fernow the historic figure, it’s easy to overlook the trail along the road. Marked by an underwhelming sign, with parking in a pullout on the shoulder of NY 3, you have to pay attention when looking for it or you’ll go right by it. Unlike the Carl Schenck Redwood Grove in California, which is a good distance from the road, you never quite get away from the sound of cars in Fernow Forest.

Also unlike Schenck Grove, which celebrates the man and his ebullient spirit, Fernow’s trail is like him—all business, with an emphasis on education. This trail not only informs you about Fernow and the school, but also how and why he was managing the land, what has occurred on the land since the school’s demise, and a bit about the geological history of the land. The forest is no longer actively managed except for trail maintenance done by students from nearby Paul Smith’s College (also worth visiting). With that background, let’s get going.

When you start the walk, be sure to sign in at the trailhead so the state knows how many people use it. Borrow a laminated trail map, which interprets the different stops along the trail.

2-trailhead

Be sure to peruse the sign-in sheets to see where others visited from. Someone from France had visited not long before I did.

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Click on the image to read the pamphlet.

At stop #1, you learn that you’ve been walking through a northern hardwood forest and are about to transition to the softwoods of the Fernow Forest (which begins at stop #2). It consists largely of Norway spruce and eastern white pines (indicated with signs at stops 4 and 5, respectively) planted at Fernow’s direction in rows. Most rows are still visible, running perpendicular to the trail.

4-Stop2

Stop #3 commemorates the man himself with a tablet attached to a massive boulder.

6a-tablet

The tablet reads: “This Forest Plantation and Trail Dedicated to BERNHARD E. FERNOW 1851 – 1923.” It includes this quote from Fernow: “I have been unusually lucky to see the results of my work. I have been a plowman who hardly expected to see the crop greening, yet fate has been good to me in letting me catch at least a glimpse of the ripening harvest.”

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In just two short paragraphs, the Edmonton newspaper account captured the destruction and relief felt that all were safe after a wildfire overwhelmed the town:

Swept away in the maelstrom of a raging forest fire which descended upon the place like a furnace blast on Monday afternoon, the little village … is today a mere smouldering mass of ruin and desolation, and its entire population is homeless and bereft of all personal effects, save scant articles of clothing which could be worn through the nerve-wracking struggle the people were forced to make to preserve their lives.

The absence of a death toll in the catastrophe is due to the heroic measures taken by the citizens, who rushed into the waters of the lake and defied suffocating heat and smoke by means of wet blankets. Only such measures saved many of the women and little children, the intensity of the fire being shown by the burning of the very reeds along the shore and surface of the lake.

That report may sound like the Fort McMurray fire that’s forced the evacuation of tens of thousands in Alberta. But it is not. It’s from the Edmonton Bulletin, dated May 21, 1919. The article was recounting the wildfire that burned over the village of Lac La Biche about 200 km (120 miles) northeast of Edmonton. In time, historians labeled it the Great Fire of 1919, and later still forget that it even happened. It’s rather remarkable that a fire that burned about 2 million hectares (5 million acres) and transformed a region’s landscape and culture could be forgotten, but it was. (If people can forget a forest, then forgetting a fire seems plausible.)

Fortunately, historians Peter J. Murphy, Cordy Tymstra, and Merle Massie document the Great Fire and its impact and legacy—and why it faded from memory—in “The Great Fire of 1919: People and A Shared Firestorm in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada,” available in the most recent issue of Forest History TodayThe Great Fire is not the largest on record. That honor belongs to The Chinchaga Firestorm, the largest wildfire ever documented in North America. But what sets it apart from others is the fire’s lasting impact on the landscape and soil, fire policy, and ownership of public lands—impacts the “The Great Fire of 1919” details.

The parallels between the Great Fire and Fort McMurray fire are striking: dry conditions “that desiccated the surrounding region and created a tinder-dry powder keg”; it was not one fire but a complex of many fires; the source of the fire is unknown; and that residents of one village—in 1919, it was Lac La Biche; today it’s Fort McMurray—managed to get out of harm’s way. But in 1919, not all were so lucky. In one instance, a group of 23 Cree were camping at Sekip Lake when the fire overran them in a matter of minutes. Eleven died, including a father who’s quick action saved his wife and children, though “the 12 survivors ‘bore the marks of their burns for life.'” Massie explained in a blog post written during last year’s fire season how the family might have been caught unaware of the approaching fire: “A boreal forest fire is deadly, a conflagration along the ground. Crowning, climbing up the trees to burn the tops like matches, a crowned forest fire is even more deadly. When whipped by vicious gale force winds, or across a boreal landscape dried to tinder, such a forest fire moves faster than either humans or animals.”

The boreal forest is a fire-based ecological regime, explains Massie in her book Forest Prairie Edge. “When a dry season hits, the boreal forest contains a magnitude of flammable timber and debris, peat and moss, shrubs and grasses…. In general, fire hazard is highest in jack pine stands, intermediate in spruce or fir stands, and low in hardwood (primarily trembling aspen) stands, except in a dry spring, when forest floor debris is particularly flammable.” According to Stephen Pyne in Awful Splendour, his history of fire in Canada, “The boreal region is home to Canada’s largest fires, its greatest fire problems, and its most distinctive fire regimes, the ones that define Canada as a fire nation…. Over 90 percent of the country’s big fires, which account for over 97 percent of its burned area, lie within the boreal belt.” Additionally, as Peter Murphy pointed out in an email today, the Fort McMurray fire reminds us “that the boreal forest complex can support the growth of large and high-intensity fires with its continuity of flammable fuels; and that spring can be a particularly hazardous time between ‘break-up and green-up’—that period after the snow is gone, ice breaks up, and before new leaves and needles are fully formed.” Perhaps looking at the calendar and realizing it’s only the first week of May, Cordy Tymstra, the Wildfire Science Coordinator with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry in Edmonton and author of The Chinchaga Firestorm offered this via email: “There is a lot of fire season remaining and a lot of fire still on the landscape around Fort McMurray.”

To read more about about the 1919 fire or other major Canadian fires, see: https://www.facebook.com/HyloVeniceCentenary/posts/257744001047212 http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/what-can-we-learn-from-the-worst-fires-in-canadian-history/

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Three cheers for the diligence and hard work of archivists! Without their labor it would be next to impossible to write informed historical narrative. In this blog entry, David Brownstein conducts a conversation with Tom Anderson, Provincial Archives of Alberta, and with Peter Murphy, Forest History Association of Alberta, regarding the Canadian Forest History Preservation Project. The project is a collaboration between the Canadian Forest Service, the Network in Canadian History and Environment (NiCHE), and the Forest History Society. The goal is to locate valuable forest history material in danger of loss or destruction, and aid in its transfer to an appropriate archive. The Canadian Forest History Preservation Project wants to hear from you if you know of any prospects.

David Brownstein: Tom, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Tom Anderson: In 2003 I graduated from the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies, at the University of British Columbia. I began work at the Provincial Archives of Alberta (PAA) in Edmonton, in 2004. I was a government records archivist for 5 years before moving to my current position as Team Lead, Private Records, where I am part of the group responsible for acquiring, preserving, and making available non-governmental records.

DB: Describe the PAA forest history holdings for us.

TA: The Provincial Archives is the repository for government records of enduring value, as well as private records of individuals, businesses, schools, associations, and societies in Alberta. Our holdings cover the whole of the province, and we are lucky to have extensive forest, environment, and resource-related records, tracing the development and history of forests and forest professionals. We hold records of those in government responsible for forests from the federal field notes of timber and land surveys and management of timber berths, up to present-day provincial ministries, ranging from the departments of Mines and Minerals, Lands and Forests, and the Department of Sustainable Resource Development. The records, be they cabinet papers, memoranda, policy records, work diaries of rangers, films, photographs, forest cover maps, or even blueprints of ranger stations, cover all aspects of forest management.

We hold records related to forest officers and their training, forest protection, timber management, reforestation, land use and climate change, equipment, legislation and regulation, and research and recreation.

As our mandate to acquire records covers the whole of the province of Alberta and is not limited to government created materials, the PAA also has textual records, photographs and films of logging, mill owners, municipalities and their efforts to fight fires, environmental groups, aerial photographs created by Weldwood of Canada, records of various flyers and their companies, and even records of bush pilots in the province. The records either directly or indirectly document the change in forests and environment over time.

DB: How can people decide if they have anything of value that deserves archival protection?

TA: Any person, family, business, or group with forest history records can either contact you for assistance, David, or they can contact an archives to discuss the records in their possession. We look to acquire records that document the lives, work, history, and culture of the province, and donors that have some connection to forestry in any capacity should hold on to their materials and make sure to speak with us before throwing anything away! We get this question a lot, and so we recently published Family Histories: Preserving Your Personal and Family Documents, available in English and French, free to anyone who comes to the Provincial Archives.

In this case, we look for records that provide evidence of a life related to forests or forestry. We are interested in material created by industry workers, active or retired professionals in the area, students, families of workers, and those dedicated to forest preservation and utilization. We look for correspondence, diaries, photographs, albums, home movies, minutes and agendas of professional or business meetings, maps, plans, and of course writings on how the forests and environment have affected the lives of Albertans, and how we have influenced our environment.

Not Tom Anderson. Rather, it's a woodcutter at Bowden, Alberta, early 1900s (PAA Photo H592).

DB: From the point of view of a box of photos or letters, what is the difference between being kept at a private home in a basement or an attic, and being housed in the archives?

TA: I would say the difference is the length of time that the different places can preserve the records. Boxed in a cool, dark closet, protected from vast changes in temperature or humidity, paper and photos can last a long time at home. We have conservators on staff if people have questions about how to preserve materials at home. Many of us do not preserve our special records in optimal conditions, though, and there is always the possibility of a fire or flood in the home. There is no guarantee that a disaster will not happen at an archives; but depending on the repository, there are safeguards in place to ensure the safest possible environment for the records, and for the longest possible time. The Provincial Archives of Alberta for example stores all its records on site in special archival enclosures, in secured climate-controlled vaults, free of temperature or humidity changes.

DB: What should people keep in mind, when considering donating their material to the archives?

TA: Potential donors should consider that the records that become part of an archives is the legacy that we leave for future generations.

Archives strive to ensure accountability, protect the rights of the people, and document all aspects of the lives of citizens. We want the holdings to be used and accessed; records at the PAA are, for the most part, open and available and free for use by anyone. The Provincial Archives is very lucky to have a number of exciting forestry-related collections of records. People must always keep in mind that we are dependant on donors. If societies, associations, businesses, or individuals do not donate their records, we cannot build on the good work of those who have donated and preserved the records of the past.

DB: How have PAA holdings been used by various researchers?

TA: Students, academics, amateur historians, genealogists, artists and writers utilize our holdings. I know that environment and forest records were used in the creation of recent exhibits, and in research for park-related studies, books and presentations, including The Alberta Forest Service 1930-2005 and Laying Down the Lines: A History of Land Surveying in Alberta.

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On this date in 1911, Parks Canada—the world’s first national parks service—was established. The federal government of Canada created the new unit to oversee and administer the country’s forest reserves and a nascent assemblage of western national parks. Today, Parks Canada manages 42 National Parks (including seven National Park Reserves), four National Marine Conservation Areas, one National Landmark, and 167 National Historic Sites. Despite several name changes over the course of the last century, this government agency would, as Canadian historian Claire Campbell writes, “convince Canadians that in their national parks resided the true wealth of a kingdom.”

Canadas Forests book coverIn recognition of the centennial, the Network in Canadian History and Environment (NiCHE) sponsored the publication of a new edited collection called A Century of Parks Canada, 1911-2011, which explores episodes of Canada’s national parks history from coast to coast to coast. In a recent episode of the Canadian Environmental History Podcast, editor of A Century of Parks Canada, Claire Campbell, and two of the contributing authors, George Colpitts and Gwynn Langemann, were interviewed. In 1986, FHS co-published Lost Initiatives: Canada’s Forest Industries, Forest Policy and Forest Conservation with Greenwood Press. Co-author Peter Gillis provided a broader context for the agency’s founding in another FHS publication, Origins of the National Forests (1991). Finally, the FHS Issues Series offers an overview of Canada’s Forests by Ken Drushka.

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Last week I traveled to Alliston, Ontario, to meet with the Forest History Society of Ontario and to address the Ontario Forestry Association at their 62nd annual meeting. I went in part to present the FHS Fellow Award to both Dr. Ken Armson and Dr. Yvan Hardy. The Fellow Award is the Society’s highest honor, reserved for those who have made outstanding and persistent contributions to forest history or to Forest History Society programs.

Steve Anderson with Yvan Hardy (l) and Ken Armson (r) with their Fellow Award plaques.

Dr. Armson was recognized for his 50 years in teaching, research, policy and administration in forestry. As a professor of forestry at the University of Toronto for 26 years, he taught and conducted research in forest soils and silviculture. Last year it was his energy that helped establish the Forest History Society of Ontario. Dr. Hardy was recognized for his historic research to combat the spruce budworm, his work as Dean of the Faculty of Forestry and Geodesy at Laval University, and his administrative roles in the federal government including service as Assistant Deputy Minister of the Canadian Forest Service, Natural Resources Canada. As well, he served 15 years on the Forest History Society Board of Directors, including 8 years as co-Vice-Chairman. During the meeting, FHS Board member James Farrell received the Ontario Forestry Association Award for his outstanding contributions to the field of forestry education in Canada and the world, and FHS Board member Mark Kuhlberg spoke about the forest history of Ontario and its impact on communities.

My banquet talk was about “Forest Culture and Storytelling: Inspired by the Forest.” It highlighted the uncertainty in the term “forest culture,” indicating that it has only been during the last 20 years that the term has shown up in the literature in the broad way it is being used today. I also touched on art and literature inspired by the forest and reviewed how a collection of 400 novels in the FHS’ Carl A. Weyerhaeuser Library traces public opinion about forests and forestry during the last century, and how art and literature played a particularly poignant role in the establishment of forestry in America. I ended with a reading of the poem Chaudiere by Douglas Malloch, the “Poet of the Woods.”

Chaudiere Falls, around 1900. Courtesy of Ottawa Riverrunners website.

The newly formed Forest History Society of Ontario also had their first annual meeting in conjunction with the OFA meeting. The FHSO is the fourth provincial forestry organization to be established. I shared the news about FHS’s new two-year effort in collaboration with the Network in Canadian History & Environment (NiCHE) and the Canadian Forest Service to spearhead the preservation of Canada’s forest history. Efforts include surveying repositories in Canada to determine their willingness and readiness to accept new collections in forest history; seeking out valuable records and collections that need to be preserved; and then trying to facilitate those records to reach an official repository. David Brownstein, sessional faculty at the University of British Columbia, has been contracted in a part-time position to help with the effort. If you know of documents or collections in need of preservation, please contact David or FHS Archivist Eben Lehman. The project will be conducted in cooperation with the provincial forest history associations as well as forestry associations and others who share that goal.

If you want to learn more or support the provincial forest history organizations in Canada, they can be found at:

In addition to our Issue Series book, Canada’s Forests, we have several articles about Canadian forest history available from Forest History Today in PDF format:

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January 31st is more than just Super Bowl Saturday here in the U.S.  It’s also the anniversary of the founding of International Paper.*  On this day in 1898, fourteen paper companies came together and incorporated as International Paper (IP).  Capitalized at almost $40 million dollars, IP included seventeen pulp and paper mills operating 101 paper machines with close to 1,500 tons of daily output capacity.  The new company supplied 60 percent of all American newsprint in the world’s largest market for printing paper.  Company executives hoped the large-scale merger would bring some stability to a volatile market that had seen the huge rise in production output far outstrip demand in the last decade of the nineteenth century.  Several issues and factors, however, contributed to IP’s market share plummeting from that initial 60 percent in 1898 to 26 percent by 1913.

The latter year saw the passage of the Underwood Act, which abolished tariffs on Canadian newsprint imports and made newsprint the first major commodity to enter the U.S. virtually duty free.  Abolishing the tariff fundamentally changed the industry and initially caught IP unprepared for the rapid changes.  With an infinitely larger supply of spruce trees for turning into newsprint pulp, Canadian producers began turning out newsprint for much less than IP and other American companies.  IP responded by shifting its newsprint production to Canada.  During the 1920s, IP went on a building and buying spree in Quebec and the Maritime Provinces, including completing a mill at Three Rivers, Quebec, in 1922 and one in Gatineau, Quebec, in 1927.

Mill of the Canadian International Paper Company at Three Rivers, Quebec, 1930.

Canadian International Paper Company mill at Three Rivers, Quebec, 1930.

The mills at Gatineau, Dalhousie, and Three Rivers (seen above) were operated by Canadian International Paper (CIP), a wholly owned subsidiary formed in 1925.  Again, factors and trends worked against IP and made it difficult for IP to realize an adequate rate of return on its $60 million investment in Canadian newsprint.  All this occurred just before the onset of the Great Depression, when IP’s foray into Canada nearly wiped out the company.  Long story short, the company survived because of its production of kraft paper and other consumer goods and still thrives today.  In fact, today it is a Fortune 500 company.  But IP’s survival and revival is a story for another day.

What does this have to do with the Super Bowl?  Frankly, nothing.  I just wanted to get your attention by mentioning it and then rhetorically ask, Arizona?  Really?

But the emphasis on the Canadian side of IP’s story is no accident.  It’s an excuse to draw your attention to some holdings in our archives relating to Canadian International Paper.  For your listening enjoyment, archivist extraordinaire Eben has pared down audio files we have of programs done for radio broadcast in 1948.  The programs were sponsored by CIP and, not coincidentally, are about CIP operations.  The first clip highlights the newsprint creation process at the Gatineau, Quebec, paper mill and the second clip provides a profile of the same plant and its importance as a CIP mill town.  Both clips are about four minutes long.  So, phone the neighbors and wake the kids!  Gather them around the computer speakers and listen to these exciting stories of yesteryear!

Excerpt from “The Story of Newsprint” – a 1948 CIP-sponsored radio program (4min 09sec): 

Excerpt from “Plywood & Banquet” – another 1948 CIP-sponsored radio program (3min 54sec): 


* This entry borrows heavily and shamelessly from Thomas Heinrich’s fine article, “The Case of International Paper, 1898-1941,” Business History Review Vol. 75, No. 3 (Autumn 2001): 467-505.  For an overview of the history of International Paper, see “A Short History of International Paper: Generations of Pride,” Forest History Today, 1998.  For more on the history of newsprint and the history of Canada’s forest industries, check out these two FHS publications:  the Issues Series book Newsprint: Canadian Supply and American Demand by Thomas Roach, and Lost Initiatives: Canada’s Forest Industries, Forest Policy and Forest Conservation by R. Peter Gillis and Thomas Roach and co-published with Greenwood Press.

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