Many Voices - - A Common Vision


Arthur V. Smyth

For over a century, national meetings of forestry leaders, conservationists, and policy makers have been convened at critical periods in our forest history. From the first in 1882 to the last in 1975, these meetings have been called The American Forest Congress. The first was sponsored by the American Forestry Congress, which also held meetings in Canada. All of the subsequent Forest Congresses were organized and convened by the American Forestry Association. These meetings attracted government and industry leaders, as well as forest managers and scientists. Two of the six that have been held were attended by the President of the United States. As we consider a Seventh American Forest Congress, it may be well to examine the history of previous meetings. What influence did they have on the forest policies of the nation or on forest practices on public and private lands? What were the economic, environmental, and social conditions in the country that prompted the need for such meetings?

Each of the Congresses will be examined in more detail, but in summary they were:

American Forestry Congress - - Cincinnati, Ohio - - April 1882
American Forest Congress - - Washington, D.C. - - January 1905
American Forest Congress - - Washington, D.C. - - October 1946
The Fourth American Forest Congress - - Washington, D.C. - - October 1953
The Fifth American Forest Congress - - Washington, D.C. - - - October 1963
The Sixth American Forest Congress - -Washington, D.C. - - - October 1975

1882 American Forestry Congress

In 1882, there was only one professionally trained forester in the United States-the German immigrant Bernhard Fernow. The public policy of the United States was to dispose of the public domain just as fast as possible to settlers, ranchers, the railroads, and to industry.

Forests were being cleared for farms and towns at a prodigious rate. But voices were being raised about forest devastation and timber famine. John Warder, a medical doctor by training, had become intensely interested in scientific forestry and in 1875, along with a group of associates, which included botanists and horticulturists, formed the American Forestry Association. Then in 1876, the American Association for the Advancement of Science memorialized federal and state government calling for the protection of forest resources. Franklin Hough, another M.D., was sent to Europe by Dr. George Loring, United States Commissioner of Agriculture, to study European forestry practices. Hough published his Report on Forestry in 1882. Sterling Morton of Nebraska had founded Arbor Day, and annual celebrations were held in many states.

It was in this social climate that the first forest congress was held. It was organized by a few local politicians and a newspaper man in Cincinnati, but they quickly enlisted the aid of Dr. Warder. Judge Warren Higley met the visiting German forester Richard von Steuben and had become interested in how the Germans managed their forests. Higley was the opening speaker and von Steuben, who could not attend, prepared a paper that was read at the meeting.

There were technical sessions labeled Section A through Section D, each chaired by prominent leaders in the forestry movement. Subjects of some of the papers were Conservation and Practical Forestry; Beneficial and Injurious Influences of Forestry; and Forestry Education. Fernow, the only professionally trained forester in the room and only six years removed from Germany, spoke on Historical Sketches of the Development of the Forest Policy in Germany. Oberforster von Steuben explained what forestry meant and pointed out the need for it in the United States. Speaking of American forests he said, "You can either exploit them or you can manage them." von Steuben was a descendant of George Washington's Prussian drill master at Valley Forge who helped train the Continental Army. The local press called his paper the highlight of the proceedings.

To most of the citizens of Cincinnati, who wound up paying for the Congress, the real show was the ceremonial tree planting in their Eden Park. Before a huge throng on Arbor Day, General Durbin Ward welcomed to the Queen City of the West the Knights of our Garden of Eden, our Eden Park. School children marched, banners flew, and there were huge signs saying "Welcome Foresters." Trees were planted for our Presidents-catalpa for Harrison, southern oak for Washington, red oak for Lincoln, and, of course, hickory for Jackson. Other plantings were held throughout the week at other parks in the city. As far as hoopla is concerned, the very first forest congress was the most spectacular of all.

And what did it accomplish? Fernow was disappointed that few if any timber owners were in attendance, but he thought it very valuable to have met the responsible leaders who had succeeded in providing a promising and healthy start for this new "seedling".... It also helped consolidate the forestry movement in the United States. Later in the same year the Forestry Congress met in Montreal and did the same for the Canadian forestry organizations. New York set aside a forest preserve in the Adirondacks and established a forest commission. Fernow, who had supported New York's action, was dismayed when a few years later New York passed an amendment to the state constitution that in substance denied the practice of any forestry on these lands. This controversy continues to this day. As to the Congress' influence on forest policies, there was none. The Secretary of Interior at the time, Carl Schurz, tried hard to reform the land laws but he was looked upon by most western congressmen as a stubborn Prussian who did not understand this nation's needs. It was still the policy to transfer public lands into private ownership. The Congress of the United States saw no need for any changes.

1905 American Forest Congress

By 1905, 23 years after the first Congress, the climate had changed radically. The nation was shocked at the wide-scale land frauds. Federal investigations resulted in convictions and prison sentences for many public officials. A United States Senator from Oregon was convicted and sentenced to jail. He died a broken man before he had to serve his sentence. S.A.D. Puter's book, Looters of the Public Domain, written in the Multnomah County jail in Portland, Oregon, became a best seller. The profession of forestry came of age with many of the top colleges in the country offering courses in forestry. In 1900, the Society of American Foresters was founded by Gifford Pinchot. Millions of acres of western lands had been withdrawn from entry and declared forest reserves, and there was a federal forestry agency established in the Department of Agriculture. Gifford Pinchot, the scion of a wealthy, patrician family, was not only a professional forester but he was a superb politician and communicator. Most important of all he became a close friend and confidant of the President of the United States, and together they fought for the conservation of the nation's forest resources through wise use.

The American Forest Congress was held under the auspices of the American Forestry Association from January 2-6 in Washington, D. C. It was most certainly the most important meeting devoted to forestry and forestry issues ever held up to that time. It may still rank as the most important ever held. Invitations went out to almost 400 of the leading timber, railroad, grazing, and mining executives and foresters from across the country, as well as members of Congress. The average attendance at the eight sessions was 1,000. President Roosevelt was the Honorary President of the Congress and gave the keynote address. Secretary of Agriculture James Wilson was the President of the Congress. A reception was held for the delegates at the White House where they were greeted by the President. The goals of the Congress were to establish a broader understanding of the forest in its relation to the great industries depending upon it, to advance the conservative use of forest resources for both the present and future needs of these industries, and to stimulate and unite all efforts to perpetuate the forest as a permanent resource of the nation.

The President got the attention of some of the lumbermen present when in his opening remarks he said, "The individual whose idea of developing the country is to cut every stick of timber off it and then leave a barren desert for the homemaker who comes in after him...that man is a curse and not a blessing to the country. The prop of the country must be the businessman who intends so to run his business that it will be profitable for his children after him." At another point in his speech he said, "I ask with all the intensity that I am capable that the men of the West will remember the sharp distinction I have just drawn between the man who skins the land and the man who develops the country. I am going to work with, and only with, the man who develops the country. I am against the land skinner every time."

One speaker referred to an earlier speech of Gifford Pinchot. In that speech Pinchot had said, "I am not a preserver of trees. I am a cutter down of trees. It is the essence of forestry to have trees harvested when they are ripe, and followed by successive crops.

Yet it by no means follows that the face of the land should be denuded, so that the character of the watersheds shall be altered, with the resulting injury to streams and to agricultural lands depending upon them." Many speakers praised Pinchot as our Government Forester.

The organizing committee for the Congress had invited Frederick Weyerhaeuser of St. Paul, Minnesota, but his son F. E. Weyerhaeuser attended for him. Speaking for his father, Weyerheaeuser said, "Practical forestry ought to be of more interest and importance to lumbermen than to any other class of men. Forests will reproduce themselves if given a fair chance but there are three great obstacles which must be reckoned with in the profitable reproduction of timber: time, fire, and taxes." Almost all the industry representatives at the meeting echoed this same theme. The Congress was most notably a meeting of users of the forests.

The week-long session ended with the approval of 18 resolutions. Among them was a plea to all state authorities for the enactment and enforcement of laws for the protection of forests from fire and for reducing the burden of taxation on lands held for forest reproduction. They called for the repeal of the Timber and Stone Act and the reform of the Lieu Land selection process. Also called for was the unification of all forest work of the government including the administration of the forest reserves into a single agency. Another resolution called for the establishment of Eastern forest reserves.

Within months, the United States Forest Service with Gifford Pinchot as Chief had been established. The Lieu Land laws and Timber and Stone Act were repealed and many western states were passing fire laws. A few years later, the Weeks bill passed and Eastern lands were placed in reserves. Some of these actions were probably done deals with or with- out the actions of the Forest Congress but there was no doubt that this remarkable gathering lent added impetus to these policy decisions.

1946 American Forest Congress

In 1946, the nation was coming out of a catastrophic worldwide conflict that had made unprecedented demands on the world's resources. Ahead lay the rebuilding of a devastated Europe and Asia. In America, 11 million young men and women were returning to civilian life eager to find housing and start families. This was the year that marked the death of Gifford Pinchot. His loss was mentioned by many of the speakers. Pinchot had despaired of seeing any forestry practiced on private lands and had for years called for federal regulation of forest practices on private lands. Even in the middle of the war, Congress had time for forestry issues. In 1941, a joint congressional committee came out with what became the Omnibus Forestry Bill which provided for increased federal cooperation with the states on fire control if the states passed legislation providing for fire protection. It also required the states to pass regulations on minimum forest practices. They were to be supervised and approved by the Secretary of Agriculture. If the regulations were deemed inadequate, federal funds to the states would be withdrawn. Hearings were held throughout the country, but the bill never passed. Partly in response to these threats for federal regulation, the industry established the Tree Farm program for private forestland owners. Lyle Watts, then Chief of the Forest Service, called the program nothing but a publicity ploy to forestall government regulation. One significant piece of forestry legislation that was passed in this period was the provisions for capital gains tax treatment for timber. This was passed in 1944 over President FDR's veto.

The American Forestry Association convened the third American Forest Congress in Washington in October of 1946. The goals of the Congress were to:

  1. Dramatize to the American people the condition of their forest resources after four years of war.
  2. Bring together representatives of government, industry, agriculture, labor, and the public for joint consideration of the forest situation.
  3. Enlist the aid support of all citizens interested in the preservation and use of forests in formulating a national program of forestry.

There were over 400 delegates who met in the headquarters of the United States Chamber of Commerce.

The Congress had been preceded by an AFA-sponsored study called Forest Resource Appraisal. This two-year study directed by John B. Woods examined the forest situation state by state. The Appraisal was then examined by a 19-man committee appointed by the directors of AFA who met at Higgins Lake, Michigan. The Higgins Lake proposals based on the Appraisal were to be the basis for the discussions at the Forest Congress. Samuel Dana, then Dean at the University of Michigan's forestry school and AFA director, was the moderator at the Higgins Lake meetings and presented the findings at the Forest Congress.

Clinton Anderson, Secretary of Agriculture, gave the opening address. The Secretary emphasized that our forest problems cannot be overcome unless effective, forceful action on a national scale is undertaken to make and keep private forests productive. He went on to say, "I want to emphasize the importance of the principles of sustained yield in handling national forest timber. Increasing pressure is being brought to bear upon the Forest Service to overcut. Except for a limited and brief excursion beyond sustained yield in this housing emergency, I shall support adherence to sustained yield principles."

With that the battle was joined. The Higgins Lake proposals were grouped around four main headings: Protection of the Forest Resources, Timber Management and Utilization, Forest Management for Multiple Use, and Promotion of Southern Forestry. On the face of it, nothing very controversial, but critics of the Higgins Lake proposals and the Appraisal on which it was based found some sinister implications in the details. Chief Forester Watts complained that the Appraisal report was studded with allegations and innuendoes about the management of the public forests. According to Watts, the report failed to put into perspective the public land versus the private land aspects of our forest situation. Watts said, "Let me be frank. I do not believe that most conservationists and those among us who give first concern to the interests of the whole people of America are going to find certain of the proposals and arguments acceptable. I for one vigorously reject some of them." For the first time there were labor representatives at the Congress-Anthony Wayne Smith of the CIO and Ellery Foster of the IWA. They too weighed in against many of the proposals as did Howard Zahniser of The Wilderness Society.

The debate was continued on a coast to coast NBC radio hookup (this was before TV) featuring a debate between Corydon Wagner of St. Paul and Tacoma Lumber Company and Lyle Watts. The debate was carried on 95 stations. Because of the divisive nature of the Congress, nothing much came of it other than to highlight the differences on how to promote forestry on private lands. Everyone agreed public education was needed, but the Congress hit the rocks on the question of federal regulation.

1953 The Fourth American Forest Congress

The 1950s were growing times. Housing starts were soaring, Forest Service timber sales were setting new highs almost every year, and industrial forestry was beginning to gain some respect. For the first time, an industry forester was elected President of the Society of American Foresters. Forestry schools were pouring out graduates, and many of them headed south to work on the expanding industrial forests of the pulp and paper industry. A Republican administration had taken over the White House and Congress for the first time in 20 years. Just as Theodore Roosevelt had Gifford Pinchot, a forester, as a close confidant, Dwight Eisenhower had Sherman Adams, a forester, as his Chief of Staff. The Secretary of Agriculture was a Mormon farmer; the Secretary of the Interior was a former Oregon governor. The new Chief of the Forest Service, Richard McArdle, was the first Chief in many years who did not have federal regulation on his agenda.

The Fourth American Forest Congress was called to order in the Statler Hotel in Washington on October 29, 1953, seven years after the third Congress. There were 400 delegates, and the meetings were open to the public. The Congress was funded by 37 individual and corporate donors. The purpose of the Congress was to review the progress made in the last seven years and to take advantage of the experience gained from the past seven years by the much wider groups now interested in forest conservation. The organizers also noted the change in federal administration at the beginning of 1953 made this year an exceptionally propitious time for evaluating the progress to date and especially for drawing up a new program. This Congress was unique in that it had on the program the President of the United States, his Chief of Staff, the Secretary of Agriculture, and the Secretary of the Interior. Also, this was the first Congress that had women on the program-one a representative of The Garden Club of America and one from the General Federation of Women's Clubs. In fact, this was the first time that any women had even been invited as delegates.

As in 1946, a Higgins Lake Committee drafted a Proposed Program for American Forestry with three important goals: to meet the essentials of forest protection from fire, insects, and disease; to improve the national timber crop in volume and quality to a degree sufficient to wipe out all deficits and build up a reserve by utilizing more fully the productive capacity of our public and private lands; and to obtain the maximum of economic and social services from our forests by realistic application of the principle of multiple use in their management. Beginning with President Eisenhower's speech and continuing throughout the meeting, the theme was cooperation. Chief McArdle promised that if he could get enough money for roads, the National Forests would get their cut up to sustained yield levels.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Detlev W. Bronk, President of the National Academy of Science, whose assigned title was Forestry in the World Resource Picture. He stressed the role of science in conservation...that we could protect and develop natural resources by the discovery of new knowledge rather than new lands. He also said, "If we are to use science as a means of creating a more satisfying life and enduring civilization, we must learn to live as partners rather than as conquerors of life and nature." Labor was again represented, and Anthony Wayne Smith lived up to the name of his ancestor Mad Anthony Wayne when he vented his anger at industry. He charged that it was liquidating the stands in the Northwest...putting an end to big-log forestry and substituting matchstick forestry which will mean low wages, ghost towns, and human misery in the timber country. He was the only speaker who called for returning to Pinchot's program for direct federal regulation.

Sherman Adams was the banquet speaker at the Congress and he had this to say about policy: "Let us look critically at the role of the federal government. To appraise our strength is to know our weaknesses, the things we haven't got. We have as yet no recognized public land-use policy. We have no well-defined water policy. We have no very clear and generally accepted national forest policy. Here, stop a moment, and consider if in these particular fields there is not enough work for men and women of conservation to do for the next generation." The Fourth American Forest Congress did not result in any immediate policy changes. It did, for a while at least, dispel much of the distrust in the relationship between private and public forestry.

1963 The Fifth American Forest Congress

The 1960s saw the beginnings of the environmental movement that culminated in the 1970s with Earth Day and a flood of legislation. In 1962, Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring was published. The eloquence of this little known scientist stirred the nation. Forests were being looked at for more than wood by an increasingly urbanized society. Congress authorized The Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission. The landmark wilderness bill became law when The Wilderness Act was signed in 1964. Forest Research got a big boost when the McIntire-Stennis Act was passed in 1962. There were wild and scenic river bills and road and trail bills. All of these new demands on the forest were given little notice by the previous meetings so it seemed timely to call another Forest Congress.

Like the two preceding Congresses, the Fifth had a committee which prepared what was called A Conservation Platform for American Forestry. Instead of Higgins Lake, however, the committee met in Atlanta. The committee consisted of 41 members representing leaders in every phase of conservation. Background material for the committee had been prepared the previous year by Charles Randall who reviewed the present status of American forestry. The committee noted the increasing demands on the forest by an expanding population and a growing economy, and therefore, the goal of national policy must continue to be the maximum sustained contribution from forestlands to the American economy and to the health and spiritual well-being of all citizens.

The elder statesman Samuel Trask Dana was the keynote speaker, and he recognized the growing demands on the forest for both tangible and intangible values. As for multiple use he said, "Virtually universal recognition of this fact is now accompanied by the rather general and reassuring belief that the practice of multiple use and sustained yield will automatically provide ample supplies both of wood and other desired products." Unfortunately, effective application of these practices is not easy. Dana went on to say, "There are bound to be special situations where the private and public interest do not coincide...when this is the case does government do nothing, does it acquire key areas, or does it offer private owners subsidies of the kind and amount necessary to safeguard the values at stake?"

A luncheon was held during the Congress which was billed as an AFA Salute to the Department of the Interior. At the head table were all the assistant secretaries and directors who were honored by introductions. Secretary of the Interior Stuart Udall gave the address. He referred to President Kennedy's recent conservation trip throughout the West and Midwest and his speech wherein he called for a third wave of the conservation movement to tackle the unsolved problems of the 1960s. Udall decried the obsolete, conflicting land laws his department had to follow in managing the mineral, water, grazing, and timber resources on public lands. He called for the Forest Congress' help in pushing for a review of public land laws and policy. The Secretary concluded by saying, "Through this Fifth American Forest Congress the knowledge of qualified people will be brought to bear and the will of the general public will further come to light. It is for us who have positions of executive or legislative responsibility to heed and take notice. To the fulfillment of these obligations let us all commit our imagination, skills, and talent."

The Fifth American Forest Congress was the first to devote any attention to products of the forest other than timber. The Conservation Program for American Forestry, which was billed as the final product, was submitted to AFA's membership and was approved by an overwhelming majority. Shortly after the Congress, HR 8070 was approved and the Public Land Law Review Commission was established.

1975 Sixth American Forest Congress

The 1970s were turning the forestry world upside down. Forestry was under attack in the courtrooms and in the press. A flood of environmental legislation came out of Congress, and Earth Day in 1970 was a national event. It was the Greening of America and the mix of environmentalism, counter-culture, alternative lifestyles, and the questioning of the establishment by much of the country's youth ran head-on into what had been accepted forest management practices.

The Sixth American Forest Congress was not entirely a response to these new challenges. It was called to mark the 100th anniversary of the American Forestry Association. Like the first Congress in 1882, the sixth was marked by a ceremonial tree planting. Trees were planted in Farragut Square in downtown Washington opposite the old headquarters of AFA at 919 17th Street. The program and issues to be addressed by the Forest Congress were developed by the conservation committees. The first, significantly enough, was Environmental Requirements followed by Energy Relationships. Also included in this Congress was World Forestry. The other subjects included the traditional topics of protection, management, research, and education. The fact that Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon was the keynoter probably accounted for the fact that the Proceedings were published by the Committee on Agriculture and Forestry of the United States Senate as a committee print.

All the committee reports were sent to a three-member drafting committee of which I was a member. My memory is dim as to how we did our work but I do remember it was long and arduous. Dr. R. Keith Arnold, then the Associate Dean of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, in his "Summary of the Congress" had this to say, "The accelerating momentum of change belies our ability to even describe the world as we know it today. We must invent something beyond periodic policy assessments. In the past, they have been sufficient. In the present, they are clearly inadequate and in the future, they will be worthless. Policy formulation is a continuing, complex, and comprehensive task which has been accomplished on an ad hoc basis up to now. At the close of this Sixth American Forest Congress, it is obvious to me and I believe to you, that we need something new." As the events of the 1980s and 1990s unfolded, it became apparent that as yet we have not discovered the something new.


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