Forestry practices have existed on the North American continent since the introduction of human populations. Clearing land for farming, controlled burning to remove unwanted species and encourage the growth of desirable ones, as well as creating a space for ideal hunting conditions are all examples of how indigenous populations used fire as a way to promote the health of their cultures and the species they depend upon. These controlled burns were later outlawed. Today, forestry operates differently under government regulation than it did when it was a cultural practice, but there is a push after years of devastating wildfires to reconnect with the land in a way that hasn’t been a widespread practice in too long.
Modern American forestry practices finds its roots with two very famous names: Theodore Roosevelt and George Washington Vanderbilt II, who may perhaps now be known best for his mansion, the Biltmore, in Asheville, NC. The Biltmore website proudly proclaims that it was on that estate where sustainable forestry sprouted (forgive all the puns, it’s too fun) under the direction of the first American landscape architect, Frederick L. Olmsted (known for the design of Central Park in NYC among other projects) and Olmsted’s recommendation of forester Gifford Pinchot. Pinchot was trained in Europe, as was his successor at Biltmore, Carl Albert Schenck. Schenck would go on to found the Biltmore Forest School to educate the first American trained foresters. President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 would declare the Biltmore Forest School as the “cradle of forestry in America” through an Act of Congress.
Theodore Roosevelt and other members of the Boone and Crockett Club had noticed the need for intervention in the extraction of resources treated as inexhaustible between the years of 1875-1887. When elected President, Roosevelt would consolidate other forestry agencies into the United States Forest Service, of which Pinchot became the 1st Director and also hired one of Schenck’s first of two founding students, Overton Price, to be his deputy. All of these men worked jointly to continue conservation efforts throughout America, with their own conservation societies continuing the work today.
When noticing the destruction of the land and the unsustainable practices of settler culture, Roosevelt noted:
“We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields and obstructing navigation.”
Roosevelt’s observations should be considerd with indigenious wisdom which recognizes that a deeper connection with the land than just a source of making ourselves “great”. Tim Vredenburg is a member of the Coquille Indian Tribe, as well as their head forester and helps guide a tribal run logging company. Vredenburg makes a meaningful note about his work in a different article about the combination of modern science and native forestry by saying:
“Any time I talk to one of our foresters, I try to stress the idea of balance,” … “We don’t own the forest; it’s a part of our organic being, which we share with all the other creatures and creations. Anything we take, we honor with prayers. We make sure those forest spirits—the spirits of the tree or the salmon, as it might be—tell their relatives that we’re good people, so they’ll continue to be there for us.”
Forestry has a complicated history enmeshed with power dynamics between poor settlers, native populations, and those who weilded power with money and laws over others. It is hard to write an article on the foundations of forestry without acknowledging that these important early steps toward sustainability were selected by people who could afford the luxury of the recreation of nature vs. the need to live off the land for survival. The United States has a diverse, complex, beautiful array of natural landscapes each with their own biodiverse needs. There are always lessons to be learned from the past. Perhaps one lesson, in this case, is to learn from American practices put in place long before European settlers and European forestry.
Angel, H. (2019, September 27). Biltmore: The Birthplace of American Forestry. Biltmore. https://www.biltmore.com/blog/biltmore-the-birthplace-of-american-forestry/
Beveridge, C. E. (n.d.). Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. – National Association for Olmsted Parks. Retrieved March 29, 2021, from https://www.olmsted.org/the-olmsted-legacy/frederick-law-olmsted-sr
Gifford Pinchot (1865-1946). (n.d.). Forest History Society. Retrieved March 29, 2021, from https://foresthistory.org/research-explore/us-forest-service-history/people/chiefs/gifford-pinchot-1865-1946/
History of SAF. (n.d.). Retrieved March 29, 2021, from https://www.eforester.org/Main/About/History/Main/About/History.aspx?hkey=f112ee86-0f07-4cca-b342-b9d4bca0f535
Medora, M. A. P. B. 7, & Us, N. 58645 P.-4466 C. (n.d.). Theodore Roosevelt and Conservation—Theodore Roosevelt National Park (U.S. National Park Service). Retrieved March 29, 2021, from https://www.nps.gov/thro/learn/historyculture/theodore-roosevelt-and-conservation.htm
Roos, D. (2020, September 18). How Native Americans Used Fire to Protect and Cultivate Land. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/news/native-american-wildfires
Sheldon, William G. “History of the Boone and Crockett Club Pg 64-80”. Scholar Works, University of
Montana. Boone and Crockett Club. Retrieved 29 March 2021.
U.S. Forestry Begin. (n.d.). Retrieved March 29, 2021, from https://www.appalachianwood.org/forestry/beginning.htm
Wells, G. (2016, February 21). Native American Forestry Combines Traditional Wisdom with Modern Science. The Solutions Journal. https://thesolutionsjournal.com/2016/02/22/native-american-forestry-combines-traditional-wisdom-with-modern-science/