A 50-year forestry anniversary complements CSU’s 115-year forestry legacy we celebrate this sesquicentennial year.
by Karina Puikkonen
There’s something you need to know about forests.
Year after year, saplings reach toward sunlit sky with protection from the mature canopy trees above. When they are strong enough to stand and large enough to shield, they become part of the canopy too and begin adding to the collective strength of the forest. The cycle renews.
Forests persist and adapt. It’s a beautiful natural cycle and a fitting metaphor for the people who have built Colorado State University’s forestry legacy. Forestry students, alumni, faculty, and staff, honor 20th century roots while being stewards of progress.
Fall 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Society of American Foresters (SAF) Alpha Chapter. The Alpha title designates a milestone for both the university and a professional society that advances the sustainable management of forest resources. CSU Alpha was the first SAF student chapter in the nation.
The Alpha seed rooted in the good ground of CSU’s enduring forestry program. Luminaries of this legacy stand among student saplings rising to join them as pillars in this specialized field. While following the well-trodden path their forbearers laid, students in the Alpha chapter also recognize they must blaze their own way in a rapidly changing climate.
By Al Parker
It might seem out of place, and it certainly lives under the radar of tourists and locals alike, but Grayling’s W.J. Beal Tree Plantation might be the oldest documented experimental tree plantation in North America.
Situated inside the city’s industrial park and surrounded by the daily bustle of commerce, this placid, historic green space, on many days, is seen only by delivery truck drivers and workers who rumble along Industrial Park Road, unaware of the significance of the towering pine trees they pass.
“This site might be the only one in the country where reforestation has been so well documented and preserved over more than 100 years,” wrote Frank Telewski, a Michigan State University professor of plant biology, at the site’s dedication in 1997.
Once 80 acres, the site is now only about 5 acres, but it’s filled with towering pine trees that stand as testament to the foresight of William James Beal, a bearded, burly, and bold visionary who taught botany and horticulture at the Michigan Agricultural College (MAC), now Michigan State University, from 1871 to 1910. A pioneer of what came to be called “The New Botany,” Beal extolled independent learning through observation.
“In the 1800s we did not know how to grow and plant trees,” said Susan Thiel, a now-retired Department of Natural Resources Forest Manager who managed the Beal Tree Plantation. “Professor Beal did vast experimentation across several different sites to learn how to collect seed, plant and germinate it, and grow trees of different varieties. This site helped develop the science of growing and regenerating trees and reforesting sites as we know it today.”
Beal’s Grayling Agricultural Experiment Station offered unique promise: Its 80 acres came courtesy of the Michigan Central Railroad Company, which had donated the “wild land” to MAC — land that had been cut and exposed to fire, which left a scattering of random jack pines and oak root sprouts. The Grayling location became the “base substation,” wrote Beal “because the area’s climate and conditions would represent the average — neither the best nor the poorest of the sterile land.”
Moving quickly, Beal supervised the cleaning and preparation of the ground. A barbed wire-and-board fence was built to keep cattle and animals away, while a 5-foot strip of ground was plowed along both sides of the fence to deter fires from entering the property.
By May of 1888, Beal had directed the planting of 2,145 seedlings, which came from W.W. Johnson of Antrim County. The seeds were planted in 14 rows, each row precisely four feet apart. Along the north side and south sides, 20 acres each were designated for agricultural experiments.
Beal would not have long to watch his seedling and saplings grow; in 1891, Beal was relieved of his work at the plantation and was replaced the following year by Dr. O. Palmer.
In 1997, an inventory was taken; it showed that of the 41 species started as seedlings or seeds in 1888 and 1889, no hardwoods survived. But original stems from seven of nine conifers endured, mostly red pine and white pine. They stand there still today, silently and majestically greeting visitors to the Beal Tree Plantation.
The plantation is open to the public, free to enter, and features a handicap-accessible path for visitors to explore. There are a few weathered signs that offer information, a couple of benches along the needle-strewn path, and limited parking. Find a map at www.michigan.org/property/wj-beal-tree-plantation.
By Matthew Wills
The dense, resin-saturated, rot-resistant timber of the longleaf pine helped build up U.S. cities. But most of the native stands have already been logged.
If you’ve ever been to Brooklyn Bridge Park, you may have seen the sturdy, wooden-beamed benches facing the harbor. The wood for the benches was salvaged from the old National Cold Storage Warehouse complex, which was demolished for the construction of the park. It timber comes from the longleaf pine, Pinus palustris, some of which was cut in the decades before 1900. The trees themselves might have been up to five centuries old when they were felled.
The Brooklyn Bridge itself had caissons—essentially enormous, upside down boxes—made of longleaf pine. The foundations of the bridge’s two towers were excavated by men working inside these caissons on the bottom of the East River. Once the excavation was done—at terrible human cost, due to caisson’s disease, AKA decompression sickness—the caissons were filled in to form the frames of the foundations of the bridge.
Even dead, the dense, resin-saturated, rot-resistant timber of longleaf pine survives a very long time. Many cities in the U.S. have nineteenth-century buildings that were built with the “good bones” of longleaf pine. They’re harvested to this day, but not in the volume they once were. There’s a simple reason for that: There just aren’t that many of them anymore.
Geographers Garrett C. Smith, Mark W. Patterson, and Harold R. Trendell track the demise of the longleaf ecosystem. When Europeans arrived in the southeast, the pines covered the coast plain from what is now the Virginia/North Carolina border into Florida and along the Gulf Coast. Estimates of the total size of this pine savannah range from 60 to 147 million acres. There are far fewer of the trees now, and only a tiny proportion of the remnant is old growth. An example: in 1607, there was an estimated one million acres of longleaf pine in Virginia alone; in 2005, there were some 200 individual trees.
By Sonja Dümpelmann
Many cities, in recent years, have initiated tree planting campaigns to offset carbon dioxide emissions and improve urban microclimates. In 2007, New York City launched MillionTrees NYC, a program designed to plant 1 million new trees along streets, in parks and on private and public properties by 2017. They hit their goal two years ahead of time.
These programs are popular for a reason: Not only do trees improve the city’s appearance, but they also mitigate the urban heat island effect – the tendency for dense cities to be hotter than surrounding areas. Studies have shown that trees reduce pollutants in the air, and even the mere sight of trees and the availability of green spaces in cities can decrease stress.
But as I show in my new book, “Seeing Trees: A History of Street Trees in New York City and Berlin,” trees weren’t always a part of the urban landscape. It took a systematic, coordinated effort to get the first ones planted.
By Robert Beanblossom
Nestled in a mountainous valley known as the Pink Beds is the Cradle of Forestry in America, a national historic site. This spot in the heart of the Pisgah National Forest is aptly named for it is the birthplace of scientific forestry in the United States.
This story begins in early 1888. That year a wealthy young man, George Washington Vanderbilt, traveled to the nearby town of Asheville along with his mother, who sought relief from malarial-like symptoms. Dr. S. Westray Battle, a retired U.S. Navy surgeon and a highly respected pulmonary specialist with a practice there, subsequently provided Mrs. Vanderbilt’s medical treatment while she and her son stayed at the posh Battery Park Hotel.
The clean air, scenic mountains and natural beauty of the area quickly captivated Vanderbilt, a widely-traveled, well-read individual, who considered himself a poet at heart.
Consequently, he fell in love with this land and immediately decided to build a luxurious mansion, later named Biltmore, and to purchase property. By 1895 he could claim ownership to more than 125,000 acres of forest land; but much of it had been heavily damaged by fire, grazing and poor logging practices. There were, however, virgin stands of high quality trees especially in the coves and on North and east facing slopes of his holdings.
Vanderbilt employed the foremost architect of the day, Richard Morris Hunt, to design his 255-room mansion but also hired an equally famous landscape architect, Fred-rick Law Olmsted, to design the grounds of the estate. Olmsted, known for designing New York’s Central Park, the U.S. Capitol grounds and other notable venues, suggested to Vanderbilt that a forester be hired to manage his newly-acquired holdings. There was one problem. Only two foresters were practicing in America at the time. One was a German forester, Bernard Fernow, who happened to be already working with the Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. The other was a 27-year-old Pennsylvanian, Gifford Pinchot.
Pinchot, who came from a wealthy family himself, had graduated from Yale and had studied forestry, on the advice of his father, in France for 13 months. Anxious to get started in his chosen profession, he accepted Vande-rbilt’s offer of employment and came to the Biltmore Estate in early February, 1892. His plans for forest management included selection cutting for sustained yield. Stands not adequately stocked with trees were planted with hardwoods and pine.
Later, in writing of his experience, he stated, “… Thus, Biltmore became the beginning of practical forestry in America. It was the first piece of woodland to be put under a regular system of forest management whose object was to pay the owner while improving the forest.”
…Vanderbilt’s widow, Edith, sold the 87,500-acre Pink Beds tract to the U.S. Forest Service in 1914; it ultimately became part of the Pisgah National Forest. While all of those lands played a role in the origin of forestry, The Cradle of Forestry in America has special significance. Congress carved out and designated 6,500 acres as a national historic site in 1968. Here four firsts can be identified: the first trained American forester; the first managed forest; the first school of forestry in America and the first national forest created under the Weeks Act of 1911.
So that’s where your long-lost Bitterlich Averaging Instrument went.
It, or one just like it, is now in the repository of the National Museum of Forest Service History on Catlin Street (in Missoula, Montana).
In the small office at the Northern Region’s field service facility at 14th Street and Catlin are boxes and boxes of carefully archived papers, photos, and reports. The physical items – a portable radio developed in the late 1920s, an early computer, axes and Pulaskis, scaling sticks and a thousand other artifacts – take up the rest of the office and three rooms in an old streetcar barn across the way, which is now called the Forest Service Motor Pool and Equipment Inspection Facility.
Lisa Tate was hired as the National Forest Service Museum’s first executive director this summer and is in awe at the depth and breadth of the collection.
Gifford Pinchot, the first U.S. forest chief and founder of the Yale Forest School, doesn’t get enough credit, says historian Char Miller. In the early 20th century, Miller says, Pinchot helped shape our modern understanding of conservation, environmental education, and the very notion of “public lands.”