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July 1 marks the anniversary of the U.S. Forest Service’s establishment of the National Forest System in 1907—the day the “federal forest reserves” were renamed “national forests.” Historian Char Miller wants to share his birthday wishes for them.

Not every anniversary deserves commemoration. Ordinarily, the 110th birthday of anything would not merit much attention, but there is little about our time that is ordinary, particularly not for those deeply concerned about the protection and maintenance of some of America’s most beloved landscapes—the 193 million acres that constitute our system of national forests, a system that was born in March 1907.

So, head to the kitchen, bake a (big) cake and dot it with 110 birthday candles; light’em up; and just before you extinguish the blaze, make a wish.

Add 100 more candles to this cake, baked for the tenth anniversary of the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act in 1970. From left to right: Bill Bacon, Dick Droege, Burnie Payne, Ed Schulty, Chief Cliff, Red Nelson, Art Greeley, John McGuire, John Sandor (Assistant to Chief), and H. R. Josephson. (Forest History Society Photo Collection, FHS7035)

Mine is simple: that these public lands will remain public. That their management will become ever-more collaborative, inclusive, and resilient, and that that these alterations in management might insure that these treasured terrains will be around to greet their 220th.

Ok, that’s a lot of wishing (but then there are a lot of candles to blow out). Admittedly, too, there is little about these intertwined aspirations that is straightforward. This befits the occasion, though, for the establishment of America’s national forests was a complex and contested process—every bit as complicated as the contemporary debate over their presence and purpose. The traditional political history of their birth draws on the ideas of a three-generation set of academics, critics, scientists, and educators who, beginning in the mid-19th century, recognized that an industrializing United States was so rapidly exploiting its bountiful resources—whether timber, mineral, grass, or water—that the nation’s future was in doubt.

George Perkins Marsh’s Man and Nature (1864) is the iconic expression of this insight (and associated anxieties) and it served as the foundational text for much to the subsequent debate about how to regulate the land (and the people) to sustain the United States over time.(1) Twenty years later, George Bird Grinnell picked up Marsh’s mantle, arguing that setting aside what he dubbed “forest reservations” would help regenerate cutover lands and rebuild the economies that depended on these woodland-based resources.(2) In 1905, Gifford Pinchot, the Forest Service’s founding chief, reaffirmed the concept of sustainability embedded in Marsh’s and Grinnell’s vision when he announced the new agency’s mission: “the greatest good of the greatest number in the long run.”(3)

Rangers gather around to look at The Use Book. The book, designed to fit in a shirt pocket, included the text of Secretary Wilson’s letter and the quote “the greatest good of the greatest number in the long run.”

To make the case for durable management over time required moving heaven and earth, otherwise known as Congress. Its members had to embrace the notion that a portion of the federal public domain should remain in government ownership—a radical notion for many who believed that the best use of those acres was to get rid of them. Politicos also needed to accept that the best cabinet secretariat in which to locate these lands was not Interior, where they had been situated since the American Revolution, but Agriculture. Adding to the complexity of this drawn-out process was the need for a new social type—the forest ranger—and the development of laws and expertise that would enable these stalwart individuals to more effectively and conservatively manage our resources. There is much more to this story, of course, but many of the relevant legislative initiatives, executive actions, and judicial decrees tell the same tale: The institutionalization of the Marsh’s principles was a top-down affair.

Yet without bottom-up pressure from countless communities located in and around what would become first known as forest reserves, and after 1907, national forests, there would have been no political will to enact these important changes. The small Ashland (Oregon) Forest Reserve, like the sprawling San Gabriel Timberland Reserve framing Los Angeles to its north and South Dakota’s Black Hills Forest Reserve, and any number of others straddling the Rockies, came into being because of staunch local support that drew on an intersecting array of on-the-ground interests. Their vocal engagement caught the ear of representatives, senators, and presidents, shifting the political dynamic.

However democratic, this groundswell of opinion dovetailed with the oft-violent dispossession of native peoples from their ancestral lands. Justification for the wholesale appropriation of tens of millions of acres, as revealed in the path-breaking work of historians Mark David Spence, Karl Jacoby, and Theodore Catton, depended on the Doctrine of Discovery (a European conceit that exploration and conquest produced sovereignty) and Manifest Destiny (an American version of the same disruptive claim). For Native Americans, Jacoby writes, conservation “was inextricably bound up with conquest—with a larger conflict over land and resources that predated conservation’s rise.” The United States forcibly removed some people so that others might flourish. The establishment of the national forests, then, codified this brutal process of settler colonialism.(4)

That the indigenous nations were written out of the narrative of the public lands is captured in a small booklet—The Use of the National Forest Reserves—the Forest Service published on July 1, 1905. It speaks glowingly of how settlers and homesteaders can utilize these new forests. It details the permitting process that will allow prospectors, miners, grazers, and loggers to exploit the relevant resources they require. It identifies the mechanism by which counties will receive ten percent of the tax receipts these forests would generate to underwrite local school and other community needs. It extolls the conservation ethic that undergirds the Forest Service’s objectives:

The vital importance of forest reserves to the great industries of the Western states will be largely increased in the near future by the continued steady advancement in settlement and development. The permanence of the resources of the reserves is therefore indispensable to continued prosperity, and the policy of this Department [of Agriculture] for their protection and use will invariably be guided by this fact, always bearing in mind that the conservative use of these resources in no way conflicts with their permanence.(5)

That said, not everyone would enjoy the bounty of that projected future. Evidence for this is manifest in the fact that there is nary a word about those who had managed these landscapes for millennia, those whose stewardship practices the Use Book now criminalized. A penalizing, Beth Rose Middleton observes, that has had “ongoing consequence for indigenous identity, culture, and survival.”(6)

This erasure and the resulting inequalities of access and power was reified two years later when the forest reserves were officially renamed national forests. To mark the occasion, on June 14, 1907, the agency issued a newly retitled Use Book to reflect this shift in nomenclature. Still, like its predecessor, The Use of the National Forests makes a case for democratic participation in these forests’ management that could have significant implications for reengaging with Native American stewardship models. “There are many great interests on the National Forests which sometimes conflict a little,” the 1907 Use Book affirms. “They must all be made to fit into one another so that the machine runs smoothly as a whole,” a desired harmony that often made it “necessary for one man to give way a little here, another a little bit there.” Acknowledging that “National Forests are new in the United States, and the management of the vast resources is a very difficult task,” the text admits that “[m]istakes are bound to be made at first, and have been made. It is the users themselves who can be of chief assistance in doing away with bad methods.”(7)

Menominee Indians prepare for a river drive in Wisconsin, 1909. The federal government’s relationship with the Menominee over lumbering and forestry dates to 1871. It has evolved from one of conflict to one of collaboration. (FHS Photo Collection: Native Americans, Folder #2)

Among those who have been pushing back against some of these “bad methods” are Native American tribes, who Theodore Catton in his recent book American Indians and National Forests (2016) characterizes as the “most marginalized minority group in the United States.”(8) He tracks their determined efforts beginning in the mid-20th century to reclaim access to ancestral territory, secure long-ignored treaty rights to riparian and terrestrial resources, and, in some cases, demand the opportunity to co-manage forests and grasslands under the Forest Service’s purview. Among its other positive responses to this growing pressure, Catton explores a small set of cooperative projects in the field and, within the Washington office, two noteworthy initiatives: in 2006 the agency established The Office of Tribal Relations and soon thereafter incorporated “Native knowledge in the new planning rule.”(9)

These are baby steps, to be sure, as Catton’s tentative conclusions suggest. But they are worth lighting a candle (if not 110)—in cautious celebration of and as steadfast encouragement for much greater, collaborative-driven change in the years ahead.

Char Miller is the W.M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis at Pomona College, a Fellow of the Forest History Society, and author of America’s Great National Forests, Wildernesses, and Grasslands (2016), Not So Golden State: Sustainability vs. the California Dream (2016), and editor of Gifford Pinchot: Selected Writings (2017).

NOTES

(1) George Perkins Marsh, Man and Nature; Or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action (New York: Charles Scribner, 1864).

(2) George Bird Grinnell, “Spare the Trees,” quoted in John Rieger, “Pathbreaking Conservationist: George Bird Grinnell (1849-1938),” Forest History Today, Spring/Fall 2005: 19.

(3) James Wilson to Gifford Pinchot, July 1, 1905, reprinted in Char Miller, ed. Gifford Pinchot: Selected Writings (University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2017), 39–42; Pinchot drafted the letter—which was really a job description—that Wilson, as Secretary of Agriculture, signed and sent back to his subordinate.

(4) Mark David Spence, Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); Karl Jacoby, Crimes Against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), quote: 151; Theodore Catton, American Indians and National Forests (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2016), 15–22; Beth Rose Middleton, Trust in the Land: New Directions in Tribal Conservation (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2011), 36–41. Ian Tyrell, in Crisis of a Wasteful Nation: Empire and Conservation in Theodore Roosevelt’s America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), links the domestic application of conservation to its role in framing American imperialism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

(5) The Use of the National Forest Reserves: Regulations and Instructions (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1905), 10–11.

(6) Middleton, Trust in the Land, 37.

(7) The Use of the National Forests (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1907), 25.

(8) Catton, American Indians and National Forests, 302.

(9) Ibid., 303–04; Middleton, Trust in the Land, offers a much more robust critique of the Forest Service’s interactions with the tribes and a fuller assessment of the tribes’ own application of Traditional Ecological Knowledge on their lands; her review of Catton’s book appeared in Environmental History 22(3): 534–36.

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The silence, once I recognized it, struck me as odd, but then it made sense. I’ve been in louder empty churches, an apt analogy because I was here to pay my respects to the late, great man. I stood alone in the natural cathedral. The giant trees reminded me of the Corinthian columns that supported the roof of my childhood church—too big to wrap my arms around and requiring that I tilt my head all the way back to see the decorative capital of flowers and leaves. The top of the coastal redwoods and giant sequoias have their own version. I moved about the trail of marked trees silently so as not to disturb the named sentinels that guard the grove. It seemed silly because I was alone but it made all the sense in the world because of the reverence I feel for those honored here: Olmsted, Sargent, Vanderbilt, Pinchot, Fernow, and sixteen other founding fathers of the American forestry movement. They are the men that I have shared my life with, for a quarter of a century now, having spent countless hours studying, questioning, challenging, and arguing with and about them. But I had come to pay tribute to the man for whom the redwood grove is named and who had selected the trees that bore their names: Carl Alwin Schenck.

How is it that a redwood grove in northern California is named for a German forester who had barely stepped foot in these woods until he came here on July 4, 1951, for the dedication ceremony in his honor? He would have told you the answer is “love.” The love Schenck’s former students felt for him, and he them. Schenck’s saying that “Forestry is a good thing but love is better” is inscribed on the commemorative marker. Actually it tells us that “the alumni, his friends and admirers . . . have caused these trees to be designated in his honor as a mark of their affection for him and their devotion to his leadership and his teaching.” In mid-20th century America “affection” was an acceptable term for men to use when saying they loved one another. The word really harkened back to their youth, when they trailed through the forest behind Schenck like so many flannelled fledglings. But the inclusion of Schenck’s quotation tells you it was more than affection. “Affection” stands for many other things: “admiration,” “respect,” “friendship.” But most of all “love.”

“Have caused these trees” is an interesting choice of language. They—the alumni, “his boys” as he called them—had been his cause while he was their teacher. He taught them forestry, for sure, but taught them to be men, to drink beer around the campfire, and to drink deeply from the well of life. To know the great philosophers and the Bible. To know their oaks from their maples. To know that good forestry meant good roads. They in turn had made him their cause, to bring him back to the United States following World War II, to show him that they had become the men he expected them to be and had done the great things he prepared them to do. The last tree named is in their honor: “All Schenck’s Old Boys of The Biltmore School.”

BFS marker

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The Carl Alwin Schenck Grove is in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in northern California. It’s named for Dr. Carl Alwin Schenck (1868–1955), the chief forester of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, and founder of the Biltmore Forest School, the first school of forestry in North America (1898–1913). The grove was dedicated on July 4, 1951, by Schenck in a ceremony attended by his former students, friends, and local dignitaries.

Schenck operated the school from 1898 to 1909 on the estate before he was dismissed by the owner, George Vanderbilt. Schenck then spent the next four years traveling with his students throughout the United States and Europe examining working fields and lumber operations before shuttering the school and returning to his native Germany by 1914. One of the many honors bestowed upon Schenck for his pioneering work in American forestry was having a grove named for him through a program operated by the Save-the-Redwoods League and the California State Park Commission.

The event was just one of several stops on a grand tour of the United States in 1951. The tour, sponsored by the American Forestry Association (now American Forests) and the school alumni, is captured in a limited edition book Trees for the Great: Honoring Carl Alwin Schenck. The book includes a phonograph recording recreating the redwood grove ceremony, complete with songs performed at the event and Dr. Schenck giving his speech in which he lists those he wished to honor with named trees. (You can listen to the mp3 version of it here.) It also includes reprints of articles from Newsweek magazine and The New Yorker Magazine.

The grove has two trail loops with numbered markers bearing the names of founders of the American forestry movement as selected by Schenck and one dedicated to his former students. Markers are still visible for (in sequential order) Frederick Law Olmsted Sr., Charles Sprague Sargent, George W. Vanderbilt, Gifford Pinchot, Sir Dietrich Brandis, Carl Schurz, John Sterling Morton, John Aston Warder, Nathaniel Egleston, Bernhard Fernow, Joseph T. Rothrock, Filibert Roth, Samuel B. Green, Dr. Homer D. House, and Dr. Clifford Durant Howe. (House and Howe taught at the Biltmore School.) Five markers are missing. It is hard to determine what names they bore because of some discrepancies between the names recorded at the time Schenck announced them in 1951 and the standing markers. The Save the Redwoods League is in the process of digitizing all their files relating to their many memorial groves.

The grove is located off the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, approximately 8 miles north of Orick, California, off U.S. Highway 101. To reach the grove, park on the road at the Brown Creek Trail trailhead. Begin the 1.3-mile walk by going 0.2 miles east on the groomed dirt path to the trail junction. Turn left (north), staying on Brown Creek Trail and heading away from South Fork Trail. The footbridge to Schenck Grove is about 1.1 miles north of the junction. At the other side of the bridge sits the marker unveiled at the dedication. Allow at least three hours total to hike there and back and for exploring the grove.

Map is from the "Trail Map of Redwood National and State Parks" (Redwood Hikes Press, 2013)

“CAS” indicates the location of the Schenck Grove. “FLO” is the Frederick Law Olmsted Grove. The map is from the “Trail Map of Redwood National and State Parks” (Redwood Hikes Press, 2013)

Just on the other side of the bridge in Schenck Grove on the left you'll find the marker and where the ceremony took place in 1951.

Just on the other side of the bridge in Schenck Grove on the left you’ll find the marker and where the ceremony took place in 1951.

rock_shining

The marker was dramatically lit by the sun when I arrived, as if Dr. Schenck wanted to make sure I didn’t miss it. Click the photo so you can read the inscription.

tree markers

Though the path is easy to walk, markers are subject to the whims of nature such as plant growth or fallen trees. The marker for the “Old Boys of The Biltmore School” is in the foreground.

SchenckGrove_1

Dr. Schenck at the marker after its unveiling. The tablet appears to be made of wood. The one there today is made of metal (see above).

SchenckGrove_2

Dr. Schenck delivering his speech as some former students and dignitaries listen.

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On this date in 1887, author, forester, ecologist, and conservationist Aldo Leopold was born in Burlington, Iowa. The founder of the science of wildlife management and a major influence on the wilderness movement, wildlife preservation, and environmental ethics, he is perhaps best known for his book, A Sand County Almanac (1949). In honor of his birthday, we’ve asked filmmaker Steve Dunsky to share his thoughts about the subject of his latest documentary film.

As one of the filmmakers of Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and A Land Ethic for Our Time, I was asked for my reflections on the occasion of Aldo Leopold’s birthday. January 11, 2012, marks the 125th anniversary of his birth. When he died suddenly in 1948, he was only 61 years old. He has been dead now for more years than he was alive.

A film about a person who died more than six decades ago runs the risk of being irrelevant. Particularly if that person is a conservationist and scientist; our planet, and our understanding of it, have changed so dramatically in the past half century. But Leopold’s ideas are so enduring, so far ahead of his time, that we find his story resonates with audiences across the United States, and in the seventeen other countries where the film has screened to date.

Green Fire posterGreen Fire has clearly struck a chord. More than 1,000 people turned up to the world premiere last February. Since then, screenings, both large and small, have been held in libraries, schools, nature centers, and independent theaters. We have seen audiences of 600 on college campuses, despite a distribution and marketing effort that is purely a grass roots effort and by word-of-mouth.

Making Leopold’s story relevant today was a major focus of our film team. My wife Ann and I, along with our Forest Service colleague Dave Steinke, directed and produced the film. With our partners the Aldo Leopold Foundation and the Center for Humans and Nature, we set out to tell both the story of Leopold’s life and his contemporary legacy.

Leopold biographer Curt Meine, the film’s narrator/guide, weaves together Leopold’s biography with the stories of people who are living Leopold’s land ethic today—from ranchers in New Mexico to environmental educators in Chicago. As the voice of Leopold, narrator Peter Coyote brings Leopold’s wonderful language to life.

In the film, NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco says that Leopold’s land ethic (she calls it an “Earth ethic”) is more relevant today than it has ever been. As I write this, I am attending the Waimea Ocean Film Festival in Hawaii, where Green Fire has screened four times. It is so easy to make the connection to oceans because the land ethic is a universal concept.

Leopold’s legacy also includes the cutting-edge conservation disciplines of today: protecting biodiversity, restoring damaged ecosystems, growing healthy local food. Leopold’s concept of land health speaks directly to current notions of healthy ecosystems and their connection to healthy communities. Everyone gets it.

Aldo Leopold and "Flip" on the Apache National Forest in Arizona, 1911. (FHS4408)

One of the questions we often hear following our screenings is: What did you learn about Leopold during the making of this film?
(more…)

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On September 10, 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt established the Tongass National Forest in southeastern Alaska. This month, the Forest History Society is publishing a history of the region, Tongass Timber: A History of Logging and Timber Utilization in Southeast Alaska, by James Mackovjak (you may remember Jim from his cross-country bike trip documented on this blog). Tongass Timber, now available in our online store, traces the history of the decades-long attempts by commercial interests and the U.S. Forest Service to develop the region’s forests, examining their motivations and resulting impacts. This historical background reveals the forces that influence present choices about forest management in Southeast Alaska.

The Tongass National Forest originated with the Alexander Archipelago Forest Reserve, which Roosevelt established in 1902 under the old forest reserve system. The Alexander’s creation was controversial because Alaskans feared that the forest would no longer be available for development, a general misconception about the purpose of the forest reserves. Forester Gifford Pinchot sought to assure the territorial governor, John Brady, that the opposite was the case, declaring at the time: “[T]he permanent success of the industries of Alaska can best be secured through the establishment of forest reserves.” It was the first of many controversies over economic policy and the Tongass.

Five years later, the Tongass National Forest was created on the recommendation of forest supervisor W. A. Langille and F. E. Olmsted, the forest inspector sent out from Washington, D.C. As Jim Mackovjak notes, Olmsted’s was “the first detailed examination of Southeast Alaska’s forests by a professionally trained forester.” The announcement of Tongass’s establishment in Forestry and Irrigation, the predecessor to the American Forests magazine, is here. If you want a history of the agency in Alaska, check out Lawrence Rakestraw’s A History of the United States Forest Service in Alaska. It is, however, nearly thirty years old.

Langille is regarded by many as the father of forestry in Alaska. A skilled outdoorsman and mountaineer who deeply impressed Pinchot when they met in 1896 in Oregon, Pinchot hired him first as a forest expert and eventually as forest supervisor of the Alexander. Langille projected what a colleague termed an “abrupt, outspoken and occasionally mildly terrifying manner.” You can learn more about this fascinating man from this article.

But that’s not all! For you, our dedicated blog readers, we have an exclusive excerpt from Tongass Timber, which gives the history of the establishment of the Tongass, including the origins of its name and how Alaska went from being designated as District 8 to becoming Region 10 on the National Forest System map. You’ll also find maps showing how the Tongass grew from 2 million to 16 million acres.

We’d like to thank the following for making Tongass Timber possible through their generous funding: the Kendall Foundation, Mike Blackwell, the SB Foundation, the Alaska Historical Society, the Alaska Humanities Forum, and the Lynn W. Day Endowment for Forest History Publications.

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Happy birthday to Dr. John Aston Warder, founder of the American Forestry Association, and influential figure in the development of American horticulture and forestry.

John Aston WarderOn this date in 1812, John Aston Warder was born near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The eldest son of Quakers Jeremiah and Ann Aston Warder, he developed a love of nature early in life, spending great amounts of time in the Pennsylvania woods near the family’s suburban home.

Warder attended Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, graduating in 1836 and establishing his medical practice in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Warder would practice medicine in Cincinnati for almost 20 years, while at the same time maintaining active interest in his pursuits related to the natural world.  He became involved with the Cincinnati Horticultural Society, the Cincinnati Society of Natural History, the Ohio Horticultural Society, the Ohio State Board of Agriculture, the Western Academy of Natural Sciences, and various other organizations.  Warder also helped draw public attention to gardening and landscape design, advocating for the beautification of parks and cemeteries.

Increasingly drawn to these outside pursuits, Warder gave up his medical practice in 1855 and moved to a rural home in North Bend, Ohio on land overlooking the Ohio River that was once part of the farm of President Benjamin Harrison.  There he practiced planting and gardening, and began a flurry of horticultural writings which were published over the next ten years.

During the 1860s Warder’s primary interest began to shift from horticulture to forestry.  His work in this area led to his 1873 appointment as United States Commissioner to the International Exhibition (World’s Fair) in Vienna, where he wrote the the official report on forests and forestry.  This report described the forestry exhibits of each country, presented detailed forest data, and made a great mass of European forestry knowledge available to Americans.

Warder was also one of the first people to propose planting protective belts of trees on the western plains of the U.S. to provide shelter from wind and protect the soil from erosion.  In his 1858 work Hedges and Evergreens, Warder wrote:

The barrenness of the great Western plains of our continent is said to depend more upon their aridity, and the constant evaporation caused by the winds that sweep over their surface, than upon any deficiency in the soil. It has been suggested, that the first step toward the settlement of such a country would be, to plant belts of trees of the hardiest drought-enduring kinds. . .

Warder would further develop these theories and continue to publish materials on the need for shelterbelts during the subsequent decades.

In 1875, Warder issued a call for persons interested in forest planting and conservation to meet in Chicago.  Those responding to this call met at the Grand Pacific Hotel on September 10, 1875, and there formed the American Forestry Association, with Warder selected as the group’s first president.  The organization was further established at the second meeting in Philadelphia on September 15, 1876, where Warder was reelected as president.  The formation of AFA proved to be a monumental moment in the history of forestry and conservation in this country, as it occurred prior to the existence of state and national forests, before forestry education programs in the U.S., and before the implementation of national forest policy.  AFA was able to facilitate the advance of American forest management and conservation into the 20th century.  Warder would remain as president until 1882, the year he helped merge AFA with the American Forestry Congress, further expanding the reach of the organization, which today is known as American Forests.

In  1883, Warder was chosen as Honorary President of the Ohio State Forestry Association.  That  same year he was also appointed agent of the Department of Agriculture to report on the Forestry of the Northwestern States.  While still actively contributing to the advancement of American forestry, Warder was unfortunately slowed by an illness during this time period.  Warder died on July 14, 1883 and was buried in Cincinnati’s Spring Grove Cemetery, a cemetery he himself had helped to design and landscape.

For more information relating to John Aston Warder, see the following collections from the FHS Archives:

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On this date in 1822, Franklin B. Hough was born on the western edge of the Adirondack Mountains in Lewis County, New York.  Hough would become the first forestry agent of the U.S. government, the first chief of the Division of Forestry, and one of the most influential figures in early American forestry.  Gifford Pinchot himself would refer to Hough as “perhaps the chief pioneer in forestry in the United States.”

Franklin B. Hough

Portrait of Franklin B. Hough by Rudy Wendelin (from FHS Archives)

Franklin Hough began his professional career as a practicing physician, but retired from medicine in 1852 in order to pursue his research and writing interests.  Hough wrote several histories of the Adirondack region and also oversaw the New York State census in 1855 and 1865.  While compiling census data for the latter, Hough was alarmed by the declining trend in available timber in the state.  This discovery led to the cause of forest preservation becoming his life’s work.

In the 1870s, when his calls for allowing active forest management in the proposed Adirondack forest preserve went unheeded, he turned his focus to the federal government.  In 1873 Hough presented a greatly influential paper, “On the Duty of Governments in the Preservation of Forests,” to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  Hough’s paper revealed the depletion of America’s eastern forests and declared the need for forest preservation and forestry education.  The paper was especially notable because it called on governments to aid in forest preservation efforts, a radical departure from American free market ideals.  Hough recommended that laws be passed to protect forest growth, and urged the scientists in attendance to bring to the attention of Congress and their state governments “the subject of protection to the forests, and their cultivation, regulation, and encouragement.”  The following day a committee was appointed, with Hough as chair, to petition Congress about the critical national need for forest preservation.

The actions of this committee, as well as Hough’s own work, would lead Congress on August 15, 1876, to create the office of Special Agent in the Department of Agriculture to assess the state of the forests and lumber in the U.S.  Commissioner of Agriculture Frederick Watts appointed Hough to this position on August 30th.

Over the next year, Hough traveled the country and began preparing his detailed report on the nation’s forests. (more…)

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