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History - Bernhard E. Fernow, Third Chief Division of Forestry, 1886-1898

History Home > Leadership Time Line > Fernow

A picture of former Forester Fernow

Bernhard Eduard Fernow (pronounced FER NO) was born January 7, 1851, in the province of Posen, Prussia. He was the first professional forester to practice in North America. He was educated at the University of Kronigsberg. He received training and experience at the Prussian Forest Academy at Munden and with the Prussian Forest Academy. Fernow served in the Prussian army during the Franco-Prussian War. He emigrated to the United States in 1876. Two years later he became the manager for the Cooper Hewitt & Company’s 15,000 acres of woodlands in Pennsylvania. The trees were used for the making of charcoal. He served as a leader in the American Forestry Congress and served as its secretary, chair of the editorial committee, and other positions from1883 to 1895. Fernow was appointed by President Grover Cleveland in 1886 as chief of the Division of Forestry in the United States Department of Agriculture.

Fernow reorganized the staff of the Division of Forestry. He was able to start programs of research in silviculture, forest pathology, wood technology, forest products, and tree planting. All of these programs were oriented towards the practical rewards for managing woodlands. He and his staff over the next 12 years produced more than 200 articles, monographs, circulars, and bulletins. He traveled widely, making hundreds of public addresses, speeches, and informal talks to the public, students, and even scientists.

Fernow was perhaps the first to emphasize that management of woodlands and forests was important to the future generations. Sustained yield or conservative use of all natural resources, especially wood, was the key to his understanding of practical forestry. He believed that the federal and state governments should manage their forest lands by example, serving as a guide to how the private sector should or could manage their lands. He resigned from the division in 1898 and was replaced by Gifford Pinchot.

From 1898 to 1903 Fernow served as director of the New York State College of Forestry at Cornell University. This was the first forestry school in North America. In controversies about the proper management of the school lands in the Adirondacks, especially the use of clearcutting, the State Legislature of New York cut the funding for the Forestry School. From 1903 to 1907, Fernow was a consulting forester in the U.S., Cuba, and Mexico. In 1907, he taught briefly at Pennsylvania State College, then he emigrated to Canada and became Dean of the Faculty of Forestry in the University of Toronto, and this position he retained until his retirement in 1919. This was the first forestry school in Canada. He died at Toronto on February 6, 1923.

Fernow started the publication Forestry Quarterly in 1902, serving as the editor until the publication merged with the Proceedings of the Society of American Foresters in 1916. In that merged publication, he served as the editor of the Journal of Forestry. In addition to many technical contributions to scientific periodicals, he was the author of The Economics of Forestry (1902), A Brief History of Forestry (1907), and The Care of Trees in the Lawn, Park, and Street (1910). He served as president of the president of the Society of American Foresters in 1914 and 1916, and was made a fellow of the organization in 1918. Fernow was the first president of the Canadian Society of Forest Engineers in 1908. From 1910 until his death he served on the Canadian Conservation Commission. In this position, as well as his teaching, he led efforts to preserve more parks, increase research on forestry matters, and to promote better methods to fight forest fires in Canada.


US Forest Service
Last modified March 23, 2013

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