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Fort Valley Experimental Forest

Scientist in Charge: 

General Description

Photo of director's residence and office at Fort Valley Station, July 1911.
Director's residence and office at Fort Valley Station, July 1911.
The first Forest Service research facility established in the Nation, the Fort Valley Experimental Forest (formerly the Coconino Experiment Station) opened in August 1908. The site was established after two lumbermen, the Riordan brothers, from Flagstaff, Arizona, asked Gifford Pinchot (the first Chief of the Forest Service) to determine why the area's ponderosa pine forest was not regenerating after logging.

Fort Valley became a major field and laboratory site for forest management investigations. Because it was the initial Forest Service research facility, the list of scientists who visited or worked there reads like a "Who's Who" of early forest researchers: Emanuel Fritz, T.S. Woolsey, Jr., Enoch W. Nelson, Edward C. Crafts, Hermann Krauch, Bert Lexen, Charles Cooperrider, Clarence F. Korstian, and E.M. Hornibrook, among many others.

Fort Valley's first responsibility was mensurational studies. Researchers studied natural and artificial regeneration, stand improvement, sample plots, and climate — everything that might influence a tree throughout its life.

Background Information and History

Timber reconnaissance party in camp (1910).
Timber reconnaissance party in camp (1910).
In December 1907, Forest Service Chief Gifford Pinchot requested that Raphael Zon, Chief of the Division of Silvics, develop plans for permanent experiment stations devoted to scientific research on the national forests. The next year Zon traveled to Arizona after Frank C.W. Pooler, the Forest Supervisor of the Coconino National Forest, suggested his forest as an ideal site for the first research location. Gustaf A. Pearson, Raphael Zon, and Willard Drake explored land on the Coconino, eventually selecting the area of Fort Valley, an isolated area near Flagstaff, as the most suitable site.

Early research examined ponderosa pine forest management practices, as well as the effects of weather on seed regeneration. Pearson and Region 3 silviculturalist T.S. Woolsey, Jr. established permanent sample plots over all the various forest types in the southwest in 1912. They measured, photographed, and inventoried the plots every five years until Pearson's retirement in 1944. NAU forestry professors and students have been remeasuring the plots for the past eight years, providing a ninety-year record of change.

A weather study initiated in 1916 followed biologist C. Hart Merriam study in 1889 when he suggested the lifezones theory based on his work on the San Francisco Peaks. Fort Valley scientists placed weather recording instruments and nurseries at various altitudes. They planted exotic species to see if they would survive and take weather readings weekly.

By 1927, Fort Valley's scope of operations had grown to include Range studies. Charles K. Cooperrider was the head of this Division. Scientists studied domestic and wildlife grazing damage to tree reproduction and also studied range grasses. Permanent Range Study Plots were established around Region 3 and are still being monitored.

Civilian Conservation Corps workers helped expand the site's building, facilities, and permanent structures during the 1930s. During World War II, Fort Valley staff gave radio interviews promoting the importance of forest research on national resources in wartime.

During the 1950s, budget cuts and agency reorganization led to the decline in use of the Fort Valley site. The facilities were used intermittently over the subsequent years by outside groups, but more recent work by the USFS and Northern Arizona University have seen the site gain new importance. The Fort Valley campus is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Ecological Information

Rainfall in Fort Valley is roughly 22 inches per year, with snowfall roughly 80 inches. Colder temperatures occur in January, with the coldest recorded at -37°F on January 12, 1963. The warmest temperature recorded was 98°F on July 5, 1985. The wettest date was August 24, 2006, receiving 4.0 inches of precipitation.

Research – Historical and Present

Researchers past and present at Fort Valley have studied natural and artificial regeneration, stand improvement, sample plots, climate—everything that might influence a tree throughout its life.

In 1910, Forest Service engineer Harold S. Betts led a research test of ponderosa pine's ability to produce resin. The initial response warranted more research the following year over a larger area. Results indicated that ponderosa pines produce resin at about 4/5 the quantity of southeastern trees even though factors such as length of season are the same. Resin quality is similar, and the main problem to developing turpentine operations in northern Arizona was the lack of skilled laborers at that time. The potential existed for a market, but the idea was never pursued.

In 1912, Pearson and the silviculturalist for the Southwest Region of the Forest Service, T.S. Woolsey, Jr. established permanent sample plots over all the various forest types in the southwest. They measured, photographed, and inventoried the plots every five years until Pearson's retirement in 1944. Northern Arizona University forestry professors and students have been remeasuring the plots for the past eight years, providing a ninety-year record of change.

A weather study initiated in 1916 followed biologist C. Hart Merriam’s study in 1889, when he suggested the lifezones theory based on his work on the San Francisco Peaks. Fort Valley scientists placed weather recording instruments and nurseries at various altitudes. They planted exotic species to see if they would survive and took weather readings weekly.

By 1927, Fort Valley's scope of operations had grown to include range studies. Charles K. Cooperrider headed this Division. Scientists studied domestic and wildlife grazing damage to tree reproduction, as well as studies on range grasses. Researchers established permanent range study plots around the Southwest Region, which are still monitored today.

Long-term Monitoring and Data

Fort Valley Experimental Forest 30-minute meteorological data from 2003 is available in a number of different ways:

Research Opportunities

The Experimental Forest & Range (EFR) Network encourages re-use of the data collected by its members. We also recognize the importance to our participating scientists of receiving proper credit for the contribution their data make to other projects. It is also important to both our scientists and to Forest Service Research & Development (R&D) that we understand who is using the EFR Network data. The scientists use this information in their performance reviews; Forest Service R&D uses it to guide decisions on allocation of resources (e.g., to web-based access to data, re-packaging of data products for particular audiences, etc.) and for its performance review with Congress. Therefore, most EFR Network research data are covered by a data use agreement. If you are familiar with the Long Term Ecological Research network, you will notice that this agreement has been modeled on their agreement.