Bernhard Fernow

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Bernhard E. Fernow
Bernard Fernow.jpg
Bernhard Fernow
Born (1851-01-07)January 7, 1851
Inowrocław, Province of Posen, Kingdom of Prussia
Died February 6, 1923(1923-02-06) (aged 72)
Residence Ithaca, New York; Toronto
Citizenship Prussian
United States
Nationality German
Fields Forestry
Institutions U.S. Division of Forestry (USDA), Cornell University, University of Toronto
Alma mater University of Königsberg; Prussian Forest Academy at Münden[1]

Bernhard Eduard Fernow (January 7, 1851 – February 6, 1923) was the third chief of the USDA's Division of Forestry of the United States from 1886 – 1898, preceding Gifford Pinchot in that position, and laying much of the groundwork for the establishment of the United States Forest Service in 1905.[2][3] Pinchot was the first Chief Forester of the USFS.[4] Fernow's philosophy toward forest management may be traced to Cotta's preface to Anweisung zum Waldbau (Instruction in Silviculture)[5] or Linnaeus' ideas on the "economy of nature." He has been called the "father of professional forestry in the United States."[6]


Fernow was born in Hohensalza (Inowrocław) in the Prussian Province of Posen. He spent time with his uncle, who managed the estate of his extended family. After finishing his secondary studies, he spent a year in the Prussian forest service. He then studied at the University of Königsberg and the Royal Prussian Academy of Forestry at Münden, his studies being interrupted for military service in the Franco-Prussian War. Before graduating from college, he met Olivia Reynolds, an American woman accompanying her brother during his studies in Germany. They got engaged, and he followed her to the United States, where they were married in 1879 and later had five children.[3][6] Olivia actively helped him in the many aspects of his work.[7]

He emigrated to the United States in 1876,[8] leaving an upset family in Germany who had been expecting him to manage the family estate. He found little market in the United States for his skills as a professional forester, and worked various odd jobs until 1878 when he got a job in Pennsylvania managing the 15,000 acres of woods which were used to obtain charcoal for the foundry of Cooper-Hewitt and Co. Fernow's observation and works like Report on the Forests of North America (Charles S. Sargent, 1884) showed him the need for proper forest management in the U.S., and he lectured on the subject. Through his job and trade connections, he got to know Abram S. Hewitt, who was influential in President Grover Cleveland's decision to give Fernow a job at the USDA.[6]

Fernow became chief of the USDA's Division of Forestry in 1886.[8] His main policy goals were the establishment of a national forest system and introduction of scientific forest management. He produced many scientific reports while working toward the creation of national forests to protect watersheds. Displays that Fernow prepared for the forestry exhibit at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair played a prominent role in generating public support for establishing a Prussian-style national forest service and system for educating professional foresters in the United States.[9]

In 1898 Fernow left the Division of Forestry to become the first dean of the New York State College of Forestry at Cornell, the first four-year forestry school in the United States. The program's life was short, being closed in 1903 following a veto of state appropriations by New York governor Benjamin Barker Odell, Jr. in response to a conflict over the direction and management of the School's experimental forest in Franklin County, New York. In his veto message Governor Odell said: "The operations of the College of Forestry have been subjected to grave criticism, as they have practically denuded the forest lands of the State without compensating benefits. I deem it wise therefore to withhold approval of this item until a more scientific and more reasonable method is pursued in the forestry of the lands now under the control of Cornell University."[10]

As the School's director, Fernow played a central role in this controversy. He had organized a plan to demonstrate how the northern hardwood forests of the area, which had previously been logged of their large spruce and white pine timber by former owners, the Santa Clara Lumber Company, could be replanted with higher-value conifers, especially white pine.[citation needed] The plan drew criticism from adjacent landowners who successfully lobbied the State to oppose it because it involved clearcutting a total of 30,000 acres (120 km2) of forestland at the rate several thousand acres per year to prepare for planting conifers.[11][12] Smoke from the burning of brush and logging slash, along with Fernow's arrogant disposition toward landowners from nearby Upper Saranac Lake further alienated the public.[13]

The years 1899, 1903, and 1908 were terrible years for forest fires in the Adirondacks. Many, tens of thousands of acres were consumed by forest fires. Most fires were started by sparks flying from coal-burning locomotive stacks and landing on logging slash. Louis Marshall, with a summer residence at Knollwood Club on Saranac Lake, branded locomotives as "instruments of arson."[14] The worst sin of the lumbermen was the fire menace that they left behind, and which caused incalculable destruction.[15] Nevertheless, Fernow had a 6-mile (9.7 km) long railroad spur built from Axton to Tupper Lake in order to deliver logs to the Brooklyn Cooperage Company facility. The management plan had the backing of Cornell's president Schurman, and was found to be technically sound, if imperfectly carried out, by Fernow's contemporaries who practiced forestry in Europe and America.[16][17] Still, the controversy resulted in Fernow's most notable professional failure, and has been seen in retrospect as evidence of his weakness at operating in the public arena to gain public and political support for forest management.[18] A plaque honoring Fernow is placed at 44°15′11″N 74°20′35″W / 44.253°N 74.343°W / 44.253; -74.343 within a 68 acre (27.5 ha) remnant of the plantings from the failed experimental forest in what is now the Adirondack Park. A self-guided nature trail can be followed through the forest that includes specimens of Eastern White Pine and Norway Spruce planted as a part of Fernow's demonstration.

In 1899, Fernow had been recruited as a member of New York's E.H. Harriman expedition to Alaska along with fellow Cornellian Louis Agassiz Fuertes. The expedition set sail from Seattle on May 31, 1899 aboard the refitted steamer, the George W. Elder. "His research on the expedition was hampered by the fact that the coastal itinerary never gave him a look at the inland forests. His overview thus limited, he concluded that Alaska would never be a great source of timber: the wood was inferior and the conditions of lumbering too difficult. Some say that history has proven him wrong, but his opinion did have an effect: for a time, it discouraged commercial interests from prospecting for timber in the Alaskan forests."[19]

Soon after the demise of the New York State College of Forestry at Cornell,in 1903, Samuel W. Pennypacker, governor of Pennsylvania, established the Pennsylvania State Forest Academy (ranger school) at Penn State Mont Alto.[20] Joseph Rothrock, an explorer, botanist and medical doctor founded the academy to train men for service in the state forests. It was one of three forestry schools in the nation in 1903, after Yale and Biltmore, respectively. The goal of the academy, in the early 1900s was to crusade for a change from the barren hills caused by forest fires and charcoal production. Historic charcoal kiln photo:[21] Four million acres (16,000 km²) of Pennsylvania's forest land had been made a wasteland, with the state leading the nation in logging in 1870 and fourth in 1900. There was great concern whether the denuded forests could ever regenerate a new forest. George Wirt, the academy's first administrator, patterned the curriculum after curricula in Germany, a leader in reforestation, just as Dean Bernhard Fernow of Cornell had tried to implement German forestry methods on the Axton tract[22] near Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks .[20] Rightly so: in 1907, Bernhard E. Fernow became the first professor of forestry in a four-year baccalaureate degree program at Penn State, in State College, after having been the nation's first consulting forester since leaving Cornell and Ithaca in 1903. His office was in New York City. After teaching the 1907 spring semester at Penn State, Dr. Fernow left to become the first head of the Faculty of Forestry at the University of Toronto. He gave as a reason for leaving Penn State his argument with Dr. Rothrock that Penn State Mont Alto[20] should not have departed from its role as a "ranger school" to pursue higher aspirations.[23]

All first year students at Mont Alto were required to bring a horse with them to the academy until the late 1920s. The horses were used to fight forest fires in the Michaux State Forest, named for André Michaux whose son François André Michaux laid the foundation for American forestry with his monumental work, The North American Sylva { akin to John James Audubon"The Birds of America"}[24][25] starting in 1811.

In 1907, he became the founding Dean of the University of Toronto's Faculty of Forestry, Canada's first university school devoted to forest science. He served as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Forestry, which he had started at Cornell in 1902, until his death in 1923.[26] He became a member of the Commission of Conservation of Canada on its organization in 1910.[8]

His reputation and legacy may have suffered because of the success and self-promotional efforts of Gifford Pinchot and others who did not share Fernow's Prussian-style vision for professional forestry in America;[18][27] nonetheless, he is considered among the leading pioneers in forestry education in America. The curriculum he set up at Cornell served as the model for professional forestry programs in North America that followed.[28][29]



  • The White Pine (1899)
  • Report upon Forestry Investigations of the United States Department of Agriculture 1877-98 (1899)
  • Economics of Forestry (1902)
  • History of Forestry (1907)
  • The Care of Trees (1911)

In addition, he issued many other official reports and bulletins as part of his work for the USDA.

Further reading[edit]

  • Rodgers, Andrew D. 1951. Bernhard Eduard Fernow: A Story of North American Forestry. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Senate of the University of Toronto. 1923. Dr. B.E. Fernow -- An appreciation of his Services J Forest 21:311-315.
  2. ^ Williams, G.W. 2007. The Forest Service: Fighting for Public Lands. Greenwood Press. Westport, Connecticut. 459 p.
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^ Pinchot, G.B., 1998. Breaking New Ground. Island Press. Washington. 552 p. Reprint. Originally published: New York : Harcourt, Brace, and Co., 1947. ISBN 1-55963-669-6.
  5. ^ Forestry Quarterly. Vol. 1, No. 1, October 1902. pp 3-5.
  6. ^ a b c d Terry West (1999). "Fernow, Bernhard Eduard". American National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b c Wikisource-logo.svg Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Fernow, Bernhard Eduard". Encyclopedia Americana. 
  9. ^ Twight, B.W. 1990. Bernhard Fernow and Prussian forestry in America. J For 88(2):21-25
  10. ^ Charles Z. Lincoln, ed. (1910) Messages from the Governors, vol. X, Albany, p. 555, cited in Colman, Gould P. (1963) Education & Agriculture, A History of the NYS College of Agriculture at Cornell University, Cornell University Press, p.161.
  11. ^ Lassoie, J, R. Oglesby, and P. Smallidge. 1998. Roots of American forestry education: Trials and tribulations at Cornell University. Forest History today (1998):21-25.
  12. ^ R.T. Ogelsby and H.B. Brumsted. ca. 1998. Natural Resources News
  13. ^ Gove, B. 2005. Logging railroads of the Adirondacks. Syracuse University Press. pp. 176-181.
  14. ^ Angus,Christopher. The extraordinary Adirondack journey of Clarence Petty: wilderness guide, pilot, and conservationist, p. 17, Syracuse University Press 2002 ISBN 0-8156-0741-5
  15. ^ Thomas,Howard. Black River in the North Country, p.89, Prospect Books,1963
  16. ^ New York Times, June 18, 1903
  17. ^ Anonymous. 1905. An expert opinion on the Cornell college forest experiment. J For 3(1):32-38.
  18. ^ a b Maunder, E.R. 1960. Oral history interview with Ralph S. Hosmer. Forest History Society. Durham NC.
  19. ^
  20. ^ a b c
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^ Hosmer, R.S. 1923. Dr. Fernow's life work. J Forest 21:320-323.
  27. ^ Lewis, J.G. 2000. Raphael Zon and forestry's first school of hard knocks. J For 98(11):13-17
  28. ^ Bristow, A. 1937. Cornell: An appreciation. J For 35(7):649-653
  29. ^ Miller, C. and J.G. Lewis. 1999. A contested past: Forestry education in the United States, 1898-1998. J For 97(9):38-43
  30. ^ "Mount Fernow, Washington". Retrieved 2009-06-06. 
  31. ^ "Washington Place Names Database". Tacoma Public Library. Retrieved 7 February 2012. 

External links[edit]