Bernhard Fernow bigraphy, stories - American forester

Bernhard Fernow : biography

January 7, 1851 - February 6, 1923

Bernhard Eduard Graf von 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.Williams, G.W. 2007. . Greenwood Press. Westport, Connecticut. 459 p. Pinchot was the first Chief Forester of the USFS.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. Fernow's philosophy toward forest management may be traced to Cotta's preface to Anweisung zum Waldbau (Instruction in Silviculture)Forestry Quarterly. Vol. 1, No. 1, October 1902. pp 3-5. or Linnaeus' ideas on the "economy of nature." He has been called the "father of professional forestry in the United States."


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. Olivia actively helped him in the many aspects of his work.

He emigrated to the United States in 1876, 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.

Fernow became chief of the USDA's Division of Forestry in 1886. 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.Twight, B.W. 1990. Bernhard Fernow and Prussian forestry in America. J For 88(2):21-25

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."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.

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