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Austin Cary, one of the great unsung heroes of American forestry, was born this date in 1865 in East Machias, Maine. A Yankee through and through, he found professional success in the South, eventually becoming known as the “Father of Southern Forestry.” In 1961, twenty-five years after Cary’s passing, his biographer Roy R. White wrote of him:

In contrast with his more renowned contemporaries, Austin Cary was an obscure logging engineer in the Forest Service. Yet the story of the life and work of this latter-day Johnny Appleseed has reached legendary proportions in the southern pine country. Cary, a New England Yankee, dedicated himself to the awesome task of bringing forestry and conservation to a region reluctant to accept, and ill-equipped to practice, these innovations. His success places him in the forefront of noted American foresters and his character warrants a position peculiarly his own.

What makes Cary an intriguing historical figure was his unorthodox, nonconformist approach to life and work. He hailed from an old, well-to-do family whose wealth made him financially independent. By the time he graduated at the head of his class from Bowdoin College, where he majored in science with emphasis on botany and entomology and received the A.B. degree in 1887 and the M.S. in 1890, he was already known as a “lone wolf” comfortable tramping alone in the woods. Despite his refined upbringing, he was called blunt and tactless, and that was by his friends. The “dour New Englander” struggled in several different jobs before finding his niche, in part because of his personality. He moved from industry forester in New England to college instructor (Yale Forest School, 1904-1905; Harvard, 1905-1909), and then in 1910, to logging engineer in the U.S. Forest Service.

Between 1898 and 1910, Cary kept asking for a job with the Forest Service. Chief Gifford Pinchot refused to hire him, though, perhaps because of his personality, more likely because of philosophical differences. Cary strongly believed that private forestry, and providing economic incentive to private land owners to hold land and reforest it, was the nation’s best hope for conserving America’s forests, whereas Pinchot had staked his agency’s position on the federal government dominating land management. Only after Pinchot’s dismissal in 1910 did Cary get hired by the Forest Service—by Pinchot’s replacement and Cary’s former boss at Yale, Henry Graves, who supported Cary’s position to some extent.

Carl Schenck wrote of Austin Cary, here photographed in Florida in 1932, “[He] was as good with the axe as if he were a Canadian lumberjack.” (FHS Photo Collection)

After graduation in 1890, Cary worked on a freelance basis as a land cruiser and surveyor in northern New England, publishing his research findings on tree growth, cutting methods, entomology, and the life cycles of northern Maine trees. His writings gave him some connections and influence in industry. After he traveled abroad several times, particularly to the Black Forest of Germany, to study forestry practices and returned in 1898, he found work with the Berlin Mills Company in New Hampshire as the first company forester in North America. Thus began a lifelong battle to persuade industrial forestland owners to embrace and undertake long-range planning of cutting, planting, and land use. Opposition to such ideas in the North did not deter him, nor did it in the Pacific Northwest, where the Forest Service sent him in 1910. The timber barons had millions of acres of virgin forests they could cut; they saw no incentive to log conservatively and reforest afterwards.

Cary didn’t fit in there and relations deteriorated. Given the choice of assignments in 1917, Cary choose the South, where the Forest Service had little presence and he could create his own program. “Significantly,” White tells us, “he planned an appeal to southern landowners and operators, large and small. It would be necessary, he knew, to influence a people generally hostile to strangers, notoriously averse to change, and shackled by a near-feudal economy.” The “lone wolf” found a home in the southern woods, which were (and still are) largely privately owned and at the time in need of intervention. Though his title was that of logging engineer, he operated as a roving extension forester.

When he arrived, the South’s First Forest was nearly exhausted. “Into the void of southern forestry he intended to introduce forest practices which would assure a second timber growth on the barren, smoldering land,” wrote White, where fire was widely used. The Forest Service campaigned to eliminate it from southern forests; Cary defied them because he saw the ecological role fire played, and instead encouraged landowners to experiment with what are now called prescribed burns. Somehow this direct, straight-shooting Yankee won over Southern landowners. He was not allied with one large company and they didn’t really think of him as Forest Service; they were charmed by “his disrespect for propriety and authority” and his personality. Their conservatism matched his, and he became a staunch defender of their practices and land rights. This culminated in a bitter denunciation of the New Deal–era federal land acquisition in 1935, captured in an open letter to President Franklin Roosevelt that Forest Service officials initially tried to suppress. In the end, they decided it was less painful to suffer his opposition than to silence him, and allowed the letter to be published in the Journal of Forestry. Thumbing his nose at the ultimate authority was his last significant action before he retired in 1935.

“With a new forest turning the South green once again,” he decided to “‘bang around less…live more quietly'” and retired to Maine. He died on April 28, 1936. The well-managed private forestlands in both New England and the South are just a portion of his impressive legacy.

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You can read more about Austin Cary and his legacy in Roy White’s article “Austin Cary: The Father of Southern Forestry,” where all quotes in this article are from, and by exploring the many resources we have on him listed below:

The Austin Cary Photograph Collection contains images taken by Cary between 1918 and 1924 during his early years of working in the South for the Forest Service. The photographs document forestry and turpentining practices in the pine forests of the southeastern United States. We have a finding aid and online photo gallery.

Interviews with several foresters who discuss the positive influence of Cary reside in the “Development of Forestry in the Southern United States Oral History Interview 

A 1959 oral history interview with Charles A. Cary includes discussion of his family background and his uncle Austin Cary.

Some of Cary’s acidic nature is evident in his correspondence with Carl A. Schenck in this Journal of Forest History article.

We also have two folders’ worth of materials in our U.S. Forest Service History Collection.

His papers are housed at the University of Florida.

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What began as a millionaire’s dream, a genius’s vision, and a forester’s labor is now being captured in a Forest History Society documentary film. This spring the Forest History Society joined forces with Bonesteel Films to produce First in Forestry, a documentary film about Carl Alwin Schenck and the Biltmore Forest School. Principal photography for the interviews and re-creation footage began in earnest last month, and yours truly was there to witness the excitement and action, consult a bit, and try to look like I know what I am doing.

For those not familiar with our story, George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, is where the first large-scale forest management effort was carried out in the United States under the direction of Gifford Pinchot and Carl Schenck. Schenck also established the first school of forestry in North America. Several of the nearly 400 men who graduated from his school went on to become leaders in American forestry in the first half of the 20th century. Much of the land they worked and learned on is now preserved as the Pisgah National Forest. The story of Carl Schenck and his work at the Biltmore is the focus of the film.

cradle overlook

The view from the Blue Ridge Parkway towards where the Biltmore Forest School spent the summer months. George Vanderbilt owned much of what is visible from there. (Jamie Lewis)

Director Paul Bonesteel strongly believes that including re-creation footage will draw in today’s audiences, and we couldn’t agree more. He used this technique with great success in two other films that have aired on PBS, The Mystery of George Masa and The Day Carl Sandburg Died.

Critical to that success is finding the right actors to portray historical figures, in this case, finding forester Carl Schenck (not Finding Forrester).

"Dr. Schenck" keeps a close eye on "his boys" during a break in filming while Paul checks the playback.

“Dr. Schenck” keeps a close eye on “his boys” during a break in filming while director Paul Bonesteel checks the playback. (Courtesy of Bonesteel Films)

Here's an example of pretending I know what I'm doing: showing Paul and "Dr. Schenck" the proper height to hold a Biltmore stick. (Courtesy of Bonesteel Films)

Here’s an example of acting like I know what I’m doing: showing Paul (left) and “Dr. Schenck” (right) the proper height to hold a Biltmore stick. The rumors reported on Entertainment Tonight about my having punched out Paul over creative differences are incorrect. (Courtesy of Bonesteel Films)

Paul gives “Dr. Schenck” direction for his next scene. The rumor reported in the press in 1909 that Dr. Schenck punched out estate manager C.D. Beadle is, sadly, true. (Courtesy of Bonesteel films)

We are fortunate to have the cooperation of the U.S. Forest Service and the Cradle of Forestry National Historic Site in making the filming possible. We’re using locations found throughout the Pisgah National Forest and at the Cradle of Forestry.

No shoot is too difficult for the Bonesteel team to capture. They even set up a camera in a cold mountain stream to get just the right shot. (Courtesy of Bonesteel Films)

No shot is too difficult for the Bonesteel team to capture. They even set up a camera in a cold mountain stream to get just the right angle. No animals or camera crew were hurt in the taking of this photograph. (Courtesy of Bonesteel Films)

As you might imagine, it takes a number of talented people behind the scenes to make the action in front of the camera look good and convincing. The folks at Bonesteel Films are top-notch and really pleasant to work with. Early calls and long days don’t dampen spirits. Not even a relentless rain storm stopped our filming interviews one day. We just moved to a new location. Fortunately, when it was time for shooting re-creation footage in the forest we had good weather.

Part of the crew watching and making sure everything runs smoothly. We needed people for wardrobe and makeup, wrangling horses, and coordinating the two cameras.

We needed people for wardrobe and makeup, wrangling horses, checking the script, and coordinating the two cameras. (Courtesy of Bonesteel Films)

One of the things that excites us about working with Bonesteel Films is Paul’s skill in mixing traditional documentary film-making style (historical photographs and interviews with historians) with re-creation footage that works like a historical photograph brought to life. But without good interviews, the film could suffer. So we brought in one of the best at on-screen interviews, Char Miller. You may know him from such films as The Greatest Good and The Wilderness Idea.

Pinchot biographer Char Miller will be one of the featured interviews. Here Char (right) takes a break from being interviewed to pose with yours truly and Paul. Rumors reported on Entertainment Tonight that I got in a fight with Char and Paul over sartorial differences are not true. (Courtesy of Bonesteel Films)

Not all of the film will be “talking heads” and re-creation footage. This is not just a story of the people, but the story of the place. The Pisgah region and the Southern Appalachians are one of the most beautiful places in the world in my opinion. You can’t ask for a better backdrop for filming. It’s why so many Hollywood films are made there, too.

The area around Asheville, NC, is known as "The Land of the Sky" and with good reason. Here's the view from the Blue Ridge Parkway. (Jamie Lewis)

The area around Asheville is known as “The Land of the Sky” and with good reason. Here’s the view from the Blue Ridge Parkway. (Jamie Lewis)

For a few months now, whenever he gets a chance, Paul has been shooting footage that will capture and convey that beauty. He has plenty of experience doing so because of his film about George Masa and commercial work for the Biltmore Estate.

Paul works both on the micro and macro levels when it comes to capturing nature on film.

Paul works both on the micro and macro levels when it comes to capturing nature on film.  (Courtesy of Bonesteel Films)

One of the things you often hear about with actors and film sets is how groupies sneak on to the set to watch filming. I’m hear to tell you it’s true. We’re going to beef up security for the next round of filming. We can’t allow set crashers who then peddle gossip to the tabloids.

We eventually had security remove this interloper from the set. We think he's the source of the rumors in the press.

We eventually had security remove this interloper from the set. We think he’s the source of the rumors in the press of fisticuffs and tantrums. (Jamie Lewis)

If you’ve read this far, thank you! If you want to be a part of forest history, we’re still fundraising for the film. Please visit our film page to learn how you can contribute, and stay tuned for more news on the film.

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On this date in 1921, the U.S. Forest Service convened the first national conference on fire control at Mather Air Field near Sacramento, California. Virtually all the agency’s leaders and brightest minds came together for the conference, including six district (now regional) foresters and six forest supervisors, numerous Washington office people including Chief William Greeley, and others of various ranks. Leaders in fire research and policy such as S. B. Show, E. I. Kotok, Evan Kelley, and William Osborne attended, as did Aldo Leopold and future chief Lyle Watts. All seven districts were represented.

The two-week long conference, the first national conference held by the U.S. Forest Service on any topic, was organized to address the controversy surrounding the issue of allowing light burning on federal lands. California was chosen as the host site because that district was a leader in the development of fire control theory and practice, and because many of the problems there could be found throughout the country.

A major outcome of the conference was settlement of the debate between those favoring “let burn” and light burning and those like Greeley and Show who believed in aggressively attacking all fires. Policies varied from district to district and even forest to forest. The agency found itself in a quandary because it was letting some light burning occur on lands adjacent to national forests but demanded that fires on federal land be fought. Agency leaders felt that this contradiction undermined its authority and wanted to formulate a national standard. The debate over what to do had been raging for more than a decade and had become important enough to prompt a national conference on the topic. Greeley’s position was clear; in an article a short time before, he had derisively dismissed the use of light burning as “Piute burning.”

Not surprisingly Chief Greeley decided in favor of attack and control. The agency set forest fire control as a priority over other activities, established national forest fire control standards, and provided for cooperation in forest fire control between districts. This new attitude towards fire control is best exemplified by the “10 a.m. policy,” under which the Forest Service decreed that all fires on federal land would be attacked as quickly as possible and fought until extinguished. The Forest Service is still dealing with the fallout of that decision ninety years later because the resulting fuel buildups continue to create problems for fire control personnel and forest managers.

For Greeley, the outcome of the conference gave him the opportunity to shape agency policy as he had long hoped. As the district ranger in Montana during the 1910 fires, he had come away from that disaster convinced of the need for cooperative fire control and the elimination of fire from forests. After the 1921 conference, he unequivocally committed the agency to cooperative forest management and systematic fire control. His next major move was pushing for the Clarke-McNary Act of 1924, which strengthened and expanded the provisions of the Weeks Act, particularly in cooperative fire control. To achieve these goals, Greeley brushed aside dissent and further debate on the topic of light burning, which left those who favored it labeled as heretics for years.

To learn more about the conference and its impact, you may wish to consult Stephen Pyne’s Fire in America, from which much of this information is drawn. We also have oral history interviews with Kotok, Show, and Kelley.

1921 Fire Control Conference

Osborne is standing 2nd from left; Watts is 6th from left; Greeley is in the second row 7th from left; and Leopold is 3rd from left in the front row. (click to enlarge).

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Walter Cook shared with us his notes from a recent trip to Poland to attend a symposium on Heinrich von Salisch. Cook and Doris Wehlau translated the 1902 edition of von Salisch’s book Forest Aesthetics, which is available from the Forest History Society.

Heinrich von Salisch was a forester who lived in Postel, a hamlet north of Breslau, Silesia, in what was then Germany. In his book, Forest Aesthetics, published in 1885, with revisions in 1902 and 1911, von Salisch argued that forestry was about more than economics. Rather, there was room for not only protecting the forest’s attractiveness, but through simple compromises, land managers could enhance the beauty of the forest without forgoing income.

The English-language edition of Forest Aesthetics.

Last year, Prof. Jerzy Wisniewski, the recently retired head of the Department of Forest Protection at Poznan University, began preparations for a symposium on the life of von Salisch, on the occasion of the 90th year of his death. I was invited to the symposium, which was held on June 18-19, 2010, in Goluchow and Postelin; the former is a village in central Poland and is the site of the Polish government’s Forest Culture Center. (Following World War II, the province had become part of Poland.)

The program began with a tour of the Center, which has several components. A museum of forest history and forest-related and inspired art occupies the “castle,” the palace home of the 18th– and 19th-century owners. Another museum exhibits forest ecology, rare plants and animals, and an especially comprehensive collection of forestry equipment, from a sub-soil ripping plow to tree calipers, dibbles, and transits. A large area of the property is an arboretum, designed in the English landscape style. Animal pens house the rare European bison, the Polish horse, fallow deer, and wild boars. After lunch, the forty attendees, mostly German and Polish foresters, gathered in the classroom of the education building. This building, a converted 19th-century barn, also houses administrative offices and modern guest rooms.

The first speaker, Albrecht Milnik, retired forester from the forest center at Eberswalde, Germany, described the forests of Silesia, and von Salisch’s 625 hectares of forest at Postel. Von Salisch managed his forests for income, wildlife, and aesthetic quality by several adaptive silvicultural practices.

Monika Graulich, a retired librarian from Giessen, Germany, described the genealogy of the von Salisch family from 1769 to the present. She introduced Gisela Ludwig-Roese, a descendent of Heinrich’s uncle. Monika has also provided a new edition of Forest Aesthetics in German but in modern script. Monika had met me in Frankfurt before the symposium and drove me on a tour of the area of Hesse where I was stationed in 1952-54.

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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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Through one degree of separation, we can connect professional foresters with Hollywood glamour!  FHS holds the archival records and popular novels of the nexus: Tom Gill, a leader in international and American forestry and prolific author.

Thomas Harvey Gill (1891-1972) served as a forester with the U.S. Forest Service (1915-1925), the Charles Lathrop Pack Forestry Foundation (1926-1960), and the Food and Agriculture Organization. He was also a founder of the International Society of Tropical Foresters.

Tom Gill authored many popular and academic works. His fiction centered on stories of adventure involving cowboys, forest rangers, and frontier characters. His 12 books of fiction included Guardians of the Desert, Death Rides the Mesa, North to Danger, The Gay Bandit of the Border, Firebrand, and No Place for Women.

Reading praise of Gill lends an aura of excitement and intrigue to the work of foresters and ranchers:

Tom Gill lives what he writes and writes what he lives — stories of the deserts, jungles, mountains, and timberlands. Master of Forestry, war flyer, cattleman, trail blazer, and author, he has woven the glamour of his adventures into fiction of stirring action and color.

American Magazine vol. 114, no. 2 (August 1932)

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On this day in 1874, Raphael Zon was born in Simbirsk, Russia.  From Russian radical to New World immigrant, Zon achieved national and international influence as a forest researcher.  Gifford Pinchot even proclaimed, “Mr. Zon is my old and valued friend. . . There is no higher authority in forestry in America.”

In Simbirsk, Zon studied at the classical gymnasium.  At this school, Alexander Kerensky’s father acted as director and Lenin was an older classmate.  Later, Zon pursued studies in medical and natural sciences at the University of Kazan, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in comparative embryology.

In his early life, Zon had a history of political agitation and subsequent imprisonment in his native land.  While a student, Zon engaged in political activity, especially pressing for representative government in Russia, for which he was periodically arrested.  Then briefly assigned to the international zoological station in Naples, he was investigated for helping to form the first trade union at Kazan in 1894.  With the help of future Duma leader Alexis Aladin, Zon escaped his 11-year sentence of confinement.

Inscribed: To Henry Schmitz*, May the School under your leadership grow and prosper. Raphael Zon, January 8, 1926.

Fleeing westward, Zon studied natural sciences, political economy, and philosophy at universities in Belgium and London.  In 1897, Zon arrived in New York City with a mere fifteen cents to his name.  Zon soon left his temporary job at a drugstore for Ithaca, New York, where he enrolled in the nascent New York State College of Forestry at Cornell University.  Studying under Bernhard E. Fernow and Filibert Roth, Zon earned his degree of forest engineer in 1901, becoming a member of the school’s first graduating class.

On July 1, 1901, Zon entered the U. S. Forest Service as a student assistant assigned to forest investigations.  Six years later, he was promoted to Chief of the Office of Silvics (later Forest Investigations).  Zon made a persuasive and persistent case for separating research work from forest administration, achieved in 1915 with the establishment of the Branch of Research.  Zon’s advocacy of research led to his organization of the first Federal Forest Experiment Stations and the Forest Products Laboratory.  In order to advance the war effort, Woodrow Wilson appointed Zon to the National Research Council to study forest problems during World War I.  In 1923, Zon left Washington, D.C., to accept appointment as director of the Lake States Forest Experiment Station at St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1923.  In this position, Zon served with distinction until his retirement in 1944.

Presenting the inaugural Gifford Pinchot Medal to Raphael Zon, George L. Drake lauded Zon’s role in American forestry:

Throughout his official career, Raphael Zon exercised a national influence on the development of forest research not surpassed by any other American forester.

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