Header Art - Maryland's Conservation History

Dedication of the Fred W. Besley Demonstration Forest


Steven W. Koehn
Director/State Forester
Maryland Forest Service
April 20, 2012

Maryland’s First State Forester:
A Man of Influence

Welcome and Thank You for Coming

As Maryland’s 10th State Forester, I’d like to welcome you all to today’s celebration of the life and time’s of our first State Forester, as well as recognize the generosity of the Besley & Rodgers family corporation for working with the state to allow the Department to acquire the lands which will now serve as a Demonstration Forest and living legacy to Frederick Wilson Besley.

I can’t think of a more fitting way to honor Fred Besley. A Demonstration Forest, by it very nature, is a place to practice the best forestry of the day and then use it as an outdoor classroom to teach both practitioners and landowners alike the benefits of a responsibility managed forest.

Called to be a Disciple of Forest Stewardship

Having just received 1,917 acres as a gift from the Garrett brothers, with the stipulation that it be scientifically managed by the State as a working forest, the Maryland General Assembly created the State Board of Forestry and the Governor, in need of a forester to run it, asked Gifford Pinchot if he knew of anyone who was up for the challenge. As fate would have it, Gifford did, a young man of upstanding character, well educated being a recent Yale graduate and exceeding hardworking given his current work assignment of planting trees on the high and dry prairies of Nebraska in the best tradition of J. Sterling Morton, the founder of Arbor Day. As so, Fred Besley got the call and the opportunity of a lifetime to build, first a vision and then an agency, from the ground up, to restore, manage and protect Maryland’s tree and forest resources for the benefit of the citizens of Maryland.

Major Milestones of the Journey

1906 – Creation of the Garrett State Forest and the beginning of Maryland’s Public Land System

The creation of the public system of lands with the gift by John and Robert Garrett of 1,917 acres in Garrett County to the State. These lands are now part of Potomac-Garrett State Forest. A State Forest (SF) is managed for multiple purposes, including water quality protection, wildlife enhancement, timber, scenic or natural beauty and low-intensity recreation. The Maryland Forest Service now manages most of the state’s designated forests (211,000), including Potomac-Garrett, Savage River, Chesapeake & Pocomoke River, and Green Ridge State Forests.
 

1906 – Creation of the State Board of Forestry

It was also at this time that the Maryland General Assembly created the State Board of Forestry, which marked the beginning of the State owning land in order to protect it.
 

1906 – First Forest Wardens Commissioned

The first Maryland Forest Wardens were commissioned to enforce all forest laws, to protect the State forest reserves, and to make an annual report on forest conditions in their immediate neighborhood. Forest Warden’s duties included immediate response to any forest fire he saw or that was reported to him and employment of the means necessary to extinguish said fire. By 1935, 650 Wardens had been commissioned.
 

1908 – Formation of the Association of Eastern Foresters (predecessor to NAASF)

The Association of Eastern Foresters officially formed in January, including the State Foresters and instructors of forestry schools from the states of Delaware, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and all of New England. The association’s constitution was ratified on January 12, 1911 in Washington, DC
 

1912 – First Parkland

State appropriations were used to buy Patapsco Valley State Park ($50,000) and Fort Frederick ($8,500) in 1912.
 

1914 – Maryland’s Roadside Tree Law Passed by the General Assembly

The Roadside Tree Law called for the planting of trees along roadsides and gave the department the authority to plant, care and protect trees in the public right of way. The law provides for the protection of trees in public road rights-of-way and authorizes that Forest Wardens provide oversight and enforcement.
 

1914 – Creation of the State Forest Tree Nursery

Nursery operations at the State Forest Tree Nursery originated in College Park, where trees were produced for roadside planting. The first State Forest Tree Nursery was located along Paint Branch and Rt. 1 at College Park, Maryland. Sunnyside Tree Nursery opened around 1928-1929, also at College Park. The State also managed a tree Nursery at the Beltsville Experimental Tree Nursery. The Nursery later expanded operations to grow seedlings for conservation purposes including wildlife habitat, watershed and soil protection, roadside beautification, and forest products.
 

1915 – First Fire Lookout Tower

The fire lookout tower was erected in Garrett County near Bittinger. By 1935, a network of thirty-two lookout towers had been established across the state to aid in the detection of forest fires. The Fire Tower located in Powellville, Maryland is the tallest free standing fire tower east of the Mississippi River as determined by the National Fire Tower Association.
 

1916 – First Forest Survey of Maryland Published

Traveling in a rented horse-drawn buggy, Frederick W. Besley, Maryland’s first State Forester, conducted and published the first comprehensive survey of a state’s forests in the Nation for the years 1907-1914. At that time, Maryland was less than 20% forested. Today Maryland is 39% forested.
 

1919 - Cooperative Assistance to Private Forest Landowners

After much national debate, it was decided that state forestry agencies, rather than the federal government, should have the legal responsibility for cooperative assistance and regulatory programs for private lands.
 

1920 – Formation of the (National) Association of State Foresters

On November 20, 1920, forestry officials from 13 states (Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, North Carolina, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Virginia) met in Atlantic City, NJ, to work out a program of support for a nationwide Association that could represent the interests of the States in forestry matters. Gifford Pinchot, Chief of the Pennsylvania Department of Forestry, recognized the need, and invited all State Foresters and several representatives of the US Forest Service to meet with him in the State Senate Chamber at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on December 8 and 9, 1920. It was at that meeting, the Association of State Foresters, predecessor to NASF, was formed.
 

1925 – First “Noted Tree List” Compiled (predecessor to today’s Big Tree Champion List)

Fred Besley compiled the first “noted tree” list by conducting the first Big Tree Contest in 1925 where over 450 trees were nominated. Besley developed the methodology for what eventually became the Big Tree Champion program which was adopted nationally by the American Forestry Association in 1940. To evaluate the relative size of a tree, the girth in inches and the height and crown spread in feet are added together to arrive at a number of points for each tree. This number is then used for comparison of tree sizes in each species. This system of measuring gives the trunk, the most important part of the tree, much better weight by giving the girth in inches. The formula is: Total Points = Circumference (inches) + Height (feet) + 25% of the average Crown Spread (feet).
 

1926 – State Forester Besley was Elected President of the National Association of State Foresters at its annual meeting that was held that year in Maryland.
 

1941 –Maryland’s State Tree and Tree Species

The Wye Oak (named after the nearby hamlet of Wye Mills in Talbot County) was officially designated Maryland's state tree in 1941 and white oak (Quercus alba) was established as the state tree species the same year. Fred Besley first measured the Wye Oak in 1909 and it was included in the “Big Tree Hall of Fame" in American Forests magazine in 1919. The Wye Oak stood as the national champion White oak until June 5, 2002.

A Steady Hand Through Times of Change

Maryland State Board of Forestry: 1906-1923
Maryland State Department of Forestry (under the Regents of the University of Maryland): 1923-1941
Maryland Board of Natural Resources, 1941-1943
Maryland Board of Natural Resources, Forest Conservancy Districts Program, 1943-69
Maryland Department of Forests and Parks: 1941-1969

A Man of Influence

There can be little doubt that, as one of the first three state foresters in the nation, the example of what Fred Besley did in Maryland extends far beyond its borders and was imitated by many other states.

This influence continued even after his retirement in 1942 when he taught at West Virginia University (substituting for his son Lowell Besley who was off to war) and helped write West Virginia's first state forestry legislation.

His Big Tree Champions Program, which he helped establish, was imitated by many states and his tree measurement system was adopted nationally in 1956.

As active member of NASF over many decades, and as its president in 1926, he had an opportunity to make Maryland's accomplishments well known throughout the US and contributed to our national reputation for good forest management practices.

As a very active member of the graduating class of 1904 at the Yale Forestry School he had the opportunity over many decades to influence his classmates who were in positions of responsibility at both the state and national level. His frequent writings in the "Yale Forest News" bear witness to this.

Many key leaders in forestry of the day were his friends. As member of the Executive Council of the Society of American Foresters, President of the Alumni Association of the Yale Forestry School and in other professional roles he had influence over fellow foresters at both the state and federal levels.

As your sitting State Forester and Past President of both the Northeast Area Association of State Foresters and the National Association of State Foresters, I can certainly testify to the stellar image that Maryland forestry has at the national level, initiated by Fred Besley and continued by those who followed him.

State Forester Lineage

Frederick W. Besley 1906 - 1942
Joseph F. Kaylor 1942 - 1947
Henry C. Buckingham 1947 – 1968
Adna R. “Pete” Bond 1968 – 1977
Donald E. MacLauchlan 1978 – 1979
Tunis Lyon 1979 – 1983
James B. Roberts 1983 – 1991
John W. Riley 1991 – 1995
James E. Mallow 1995 – 2001
Steven W. Koehn 2001 - Present