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History - Franklin B. Hough, First Chief Division of Forestry, 1876-1883

History Home > Leadership Time Line > Hough

A picture of the First Chief Division of Forestry, Franklin B. Hough.

Franklin Benjamin Hough (pronounced as HUFF) was born on July 22, 1822, in Martinsburg, New York. His father, a medical doctor, was the first doctor in Lewis County, along the western edge of the Adirondacks. Franklin received his M.D. in 1848 from Western Reserve College. After several important positions in New York, his life would become famous for his concern about trees and forests.

Hough presented a paper at the August 1873 meeting, held in Portland, Maine, of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). His paper, titled “On the Duty of Governments in the Preservation of Forests” presented the case that the Mediterranean countries had overused their resources–especially trees–and caused untold harm to the environment. He proposed that actions were necessary before the same problems would happen in the U.S. He also proposed the establishment of forestry schools and even outlined seven laws that would protect and regulate the use of U.S. forests. In addition, Hough argued that the AAAS should “take measures for bringing to the notice of our several State Governments, and Congress with respect to the territories, the subject of protection to forests, and their cultivation [use], regulation, and encouragement; and that it appoint a special committee to memorialize these several legislative bodies upon this subject, and to urge its importance.”

The speech was an instant success. The following day, the AAAS appointed a committee of nine prominent men, including Hough, to pursue the matter with the president and Congress. In August of 1876, after nearly three years of lobbying Congress passed an agricultural free seed bill with a rider attached that provided $2,000 for the appointment of a special forestry agent (19 Stat. 143, 167). The position was placed in the Department of Agriculture. Agriculture Commissioner Frederick Watts appointed Hough to that new position on August 30, 1876. He became the first federal expert on forestry with the duty to investigate the forest and lumbering situation in the U.S.

Hough had been gathering data on forestry matters for at least five years. He wrote letters to foreign government requesting information and he traveled some 8,000 miles across the country in the spring and summer of 1877 revising his information and gathering more data. It took five months to make sense of the information and write the book. The result was a massive 650-page volume Report on Forestry 1877. Congress was so impressed with the research that it ordered 25,000 copies to be printed and distributed in 1878. A statistical volume for the same report was printed two years later.

The forestry expert position that Hough held was elevated to division status in 1881. Hough wrote “that the principal bodies of timber land still remaining the property of the government...be withdrawn from sale or grant.” This referred to the transfer of the public domain to farmers and settlers through various homestead acts and through land grants to railroads and canal companies. Despite repeated attempts to do just what Hough had recommended, nothing would happen in Congress, until passage of the Forest Reserve Act of March 3, 1891.

Hough was demoted in 1883 by Secretary of Agriculture Loring from chief of the Division of Forestry to special agent. Then he was replaced by Nathaniel Egleston, a political appointee with little forestry knowledge. Hough stayed in the division, although his despair deepened. He died on June 11, 1885. Hough is regarded as the first leader of the forestry movement in the United States. Gifford Pinchot later referred to Hough as “perhaps the chief pioneer in forestry in the United States.” Many other scientific and university professors praised Hough’s lifetime of dedication and accomplishments.

 

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