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Once upon a century: a magazine for the ages.

Now in its 100th year, American Forests celebrates its storied lineage as the mouthpiece of the group that kick-started the conservation movement in this country.

Effective with this issue, the magazine you now hold in your hands enters its 100th year of continuous publication. Only a handful of other national periodicals can make that claim, and the editors, staff, and Board of Directors of AMERICAN FORESTS, the parent organization, do so with great pride. In an age that seems to pride itself on how quickly it can make its products obsolete, there is some sentiment that anything 100 years old has got to be an anachronism, a has-been, a throwback. But as the wild winds of change whirl around us, we find ourselves seeking something solid to grasp, a foothold that won't crumble, a reliable source of information, direction, and support to help us understand and adapt to those changes.

AMERICAN FORESTS has filled that role for tree- and forest-minded people for 119 years since its founding in 1875, and this magazine has been its flag-bearer and mouthpiece for 100 of those years. Over nearly 1,000 issues, in a business in which casualties are high, American Forests magazine has endured for a string of years almost unheard of today. To borrow the words of my predecessor, James B. Craig, editor for 26 years, this magazine "provides the longest, uninterrupted chronicle of conservation successes and failures in existence." This article is an attempt to present the highlights of that remarkable and illustrious record.

A few road signs may help as we make the trip across a century of forest conservation: To distinguish the organization from the magazine of the same name, throughout this article we will use the organization's name in capital and small-cap letters -- AMERICAN FORESTS--and the magazine's title (there have been seven of them over the years) in bold-face italics--American Forests. Occasionally, you will see AFA, an acronym for the American Forestry Association, the organization's name until 1992.

In 1875, physician/horticulturist John Aston Warder and a small band of like-minded people meeting in Chicago formed the American Forestry Association, announcing its singular goal as "protection of the existing forests of the country from unnecessary waste." Their concern was driven by widespread destruction of forests by exploitive lumbering done in the name of a young nation hungry for wood, unprecedented fires, and the clearing of land for agriculture. Political indifference to the sorry state of the nation's forests convinced Warder and his companions that citizens would have to take action. AFA's birth marked what forest historian Henry Clepper called "a turning point in history. It inaugurated the conservation movement, one of the truly glorious triumphs of society over intolerable events."

It is fascinating to note that at the time, there were no national forests, no major schools of forestry, and very little policy or practice to oversee the most vital natural resource of all.

It is such issues, plus the concern about an impending "timber famine" and the need to plant trees following harvest, that dominated the content of the early issues of the magazine.


THE MAGAZINE that would become American Forests after a series of early iterations had its beginnings in the then still largely forested state of New Jersey. The New Jersey Forester, its first issue dated January 1, 1895, was the bimonthly organ of the South Jersey Woodsmen's Association, issued under the auspices of the Avalon Summer School of Forestry in Cape May. John Gifford of Mays Landing was editor and founder. Subscription price was $1 a year. Despite its name, the magazine was not terribly provincial. Its first issues contained such articles as "Fires in the Far West," "Pure Water for Philadelphia," and a profile of Bernhard E. Fernow, chief of the Forestry Division of the Department of Agriculture, who would later be a prime mover in the American Forestry Association.

After just three issues, the magazine's name was changed to simply The Forester, and, interestingly, the signup price was reduced to "Fifty cents a year in advance; single copies ten cents (free to all members of the New Jersey Forestry Association)."

In January 1897, Gifford began publishing The Forester on a monthly schedule, and though the subscription rate was bumped up to 75 cents and shortly thereafter to $1, it was being published at a financial loss--the first of many parallels with the times today that you will read in this article. It was the only illustrated, nationally distributed periodical devoted to forestry. An editorial in the January 1898 edition proclaimed that The Forester had become the official organ of the American Forestry Association. To run the magazine, an editorial committee was appointed, chaired by Bernhard Fernow. But at the Association's annual meeting that following December, Gifford Pinchot, chairman of AFA's executive committee, who was about to become the first chief of the Forest Service, reported that the editorial committee had not been able to function well and thus had engaged one Joseph B. Thoburn of Denver as editor. However, Thoburn's name never appeared on the masthead, and he was never further mentioned. A notice in the May 1899 issue reported that a change in the editorship had taken place during the month, but unaccountably, neither the new nor the previous editor was identified.

Finally, in the December 1899 issue, John Keim Stauffer, a member from Reading, Pennsylvania, was listed as editor--as well as assistant corresponding secretary and business manager. He served as editor for about a year. At about that time, The Forester moved its office from the Corcoran Building in Washington, DC, to the Department of Agriculture, where it would be closer to the center of action--the Division of Forestry and Chief Pinchot.


AS THE 1990s broke and AFA contemplated its first quarter-century of existence, the officers were grappling with the problems of limited funds and expanding opportunities--a situation that will ring true to our Board of Directors and staff today. But the numbers crunched back then were a little different from today's, though of no less impact: The treasurer's report for 1899 shows that the tab for printing 12 issues that year was $1,620; editorial salaries were $1,225, about the same as today's (just kidding, Boss, just kidding), and "sundries" came to $324. The normal monthly press run was about 1,500 copies. At the turn of the new century, the January 1900 issue announced that The Forester was on sale at newsstands in many major cities. The print run was beefed up from 3,000 copies to 6,500, and the July 1900 issue was distributed to Brentano's in New York City, Washington, Chicago, and even Paris. But apparently the effort was unsuccessful; it continued through that year but then was dropped.

The next sea change for the hero of this saga occurred in 1902, when the magazine became Forestry and Irrigation--result of a planned but never consummated merger between AFA and the National Irrigation Congress. If that title doesn't stir your juices (or at least water your fields), an editorial attempted to justify it by stating that the objectives of the two groups were in many instances identical, and that one publication covering the whole field could be produced cheaper and at a higher standard than could two independent publications.

That monicker became water under the bridge, so to speak, in 1908, when the cover logo Forestry and Irrigation was first overprinted with and then replaced by the title Conservation, with an added tagline, "Woods and Waters/Soils and Ores."

Historian Henry Clepper calls this "one of the strange episodes in the history of the magazine. The change was not authorized in advance by the Board of Directors. Moreover, they ... were dissatisfied with the change on the ground that a publication without reference to forestry in its name was a mistake." That opinion was to change down the road a piece.

Clepper explains the mystery this way: "Allegedly, it was under Gifford Pinchot's influence--although precisely how it was brought about is not clear--that the Association's magazine was renamed Conservation." After President Theodore Roosevelt named Pinchot chairman of a new National Conservation Commission, Pinchot formed a group called the National Conservation Association.

"Despite avowals to the contrary," Clepper said, "this new entry into the conservation movement threatened to weaken the American Forestry Association and ... the influence of its magazine." Conservation's editorial denied the rivalry and noted that the Association would "continue its educational efforts to inform people about forests, soils, waters, and parks, and to secure effective national and state legislation."

Pinchot, Clepper notes, believed the time was right to promote the conservation of all resources, renewable and nonrenewable, on a front broader than AFA's traditional concentration on forests. But the organization's directors and members were unwilling to follow Pinchot's lead, unwilling to give up their leadership in the vital and unfinished national agenda in forestry--particularly in working for close cooperation between the federal government and the states in fire prevention and control, in the acquisition of national and state forest lands, and in its own relations with state forestry associations. "Reviewing these events," Clepper writes, "one is impressed by the soundness of the directors' decision to stick to their main job. As it turned out, the National Conservation Association never attracted the membership or financial support expected by Pinchot and therefore was never representative of the broad public movement he sought."

The flap blew over in a couple of years, and in 1910 the magazine took the title American Forestry. An editorial explained that the name change didn't imply an abandonment of the group's broad platform of conservation, but meant rather that the movement had grown so much that special effort was needed for forestry. Permit me something of a digression here. Researching this article required poring through many, many old issues. A look at the format and content of one of them--the September 1910 number--provides a microcosmic look at what publishing was like more than 80 years ago.

Yellowed and brittle after all those years in storage racks, the issue measures somewhat smaller than today's trim size of 8 1/4 x 11 inches. Though unsophisticated by today's standards, the format and design are functional, the type is easy to read, and many of the photos and an occasional spot of artwork are surprisingly sharp. Though all the features are listed on the cover, the cover design is not unattractive.

The editorial--after explaining that the injudicious name change to Conservation was "made without due consideration in 1908"--spoke of the new title and promised, "We plan improvement and developments of the magazine which we believe will strengthen its influence and authority, and make it more than ever before acceptable to members of the Association...and to many thousands more whom we hope will become members and readers." I might have written that same statement today.

The three lead features in that issue speak eloquently about the influence of AMERICAN FORESTS in those early days and of its sphere of interest:

"Protection of Forests from Fire" was written by Henry S. Graves, who in that year resigned as dean of the Yale Forest School to take over as Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, and who would later serve two terms as president of AFA.

Today we at AMERICAN FORESTS like to think of ourselves as the founders and prime movers nationally in the burgeoning field of urban forestry. Our Sixth National Urban Forest Conference, held last September in Minneapolis, drew nearly 1,000 enthusiastic attendees and will have wide-ranging ramifications in cities across the nation and world (see the conference report on page 32). But urban forestry isn't as late-blooming a flower as some may have believed. In his article "A Forester Whose Field Is the City" in that same 1910 issue, one C.D. Mell writes, "The time is coming when the work of caring for trees in city parks and streets will call for men with a professional forester's training. Indeed, this time is already at hand."

An indication of the international nature of this organization is contained in a third 1910 feature, "The Reforestation of Denmark" by William Hovgaard. And our interaction with state forestry groups is reflected by a report of the ninth annual meeting of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, a group that is as vital today as it was then.


OVID BUTLER'S long tenure as editor was a time of great notoriety and prestige for this magazine. His editorial direction proved that a forest magazine could be a medium of sound, thought-inspiring education without being technical or plodding. He published popularly written articles on recreation, national and state forests and parks, forest economics, and international subjects. And more importantly, he showed that a magazine need not merely report on, but can help to direct, momentous conservation developments.

Among those developments were the establishment of more national forests, conservation of wildlife, scenic preservation, and watershed protection--primary concepts in the forestry view of Henry S. Graves, whom Henry Clepper called "the best-informed president about forestry issues that the Association had ever had in its nearly 50 years." Powerful editorials rallied public support for legislation furthering those goals.

Butler's desire to make the magazine widely appealing to the general public, thereby to strengthen the public's appreciation for the forest resource, was helped by the 1924 name change to American Forests and Forest Life. In adopting the new name, the directors wanted to avoid portraying the magazine as a technical journal. They even restated its purpose: "To carry the popular story of the forests and their service to the American people in all walks of life." The auditor's report for 1923 reveals that the cost of producing the magazine was $24,932, less than that of any year since 1918. The net return from advertising was $6,866, highest in the magazine's history. During 1924,

AMERICAN FORESTS' membership rose from 10,829 to 14,298.

As the Association grew in size, influence, and strength--particularly in its ability to affect federal legislation involving the forest resource--the magazine grew in its ability to rally national support for conservation causes. Among its landmark early successes were:

* Passage of the Forest Reserve Act, largely as a result of five years of public education by the Association. The act solidified earlier legislation establishing Forest Reserves (today's National Forests) on public lands.

* Waging a successful 10-year fight to establish national forests in the East, culminating in the Weeks Law of 1911. Before its passage, all the national forests had been in the West.

* The Association's Board of Directors called on the federal government to halt entry of foreign-grown plants and supported legislation that prohibited the importation of nursery stock. The efforts were driven by the devastation already being wrought by such pests as the gypsy moth, chestnut blight, and white-pine blister rust.

* AFA had an almost proprietary interest in the Clarke-McNary Act, passed in 1924, which spurred reforestation by providing financial assistance to states in the production of nursery stock and authorized funds for cooperative forest protection with the states.

As part of the Association's celebration of its first half-century, E.T. Allen of the Western Forestry and Conservation Association gave a paper at the semicentennial meeting titled "Forest Fire as a National Menace." Published in American Forests in March 1925 as "50,000 Firebrands," it was so graphic in its depiction of the fire crisis that the Association printed 50,000 copies for distribution nationally.

For all of those 50 years, and all the years since then, wildlife has been another kind of firebrand, a real grabber to the member/readers of this publication. An early example of our work for wildlife was the graphic articles in the late 1920s and early '30s on the overpopulation and consequent die-off of mule deer on Arizona's Kaibab Plateau. American Forests was the first national magazine to call attention to the problem and push for sound wildlife-management techniques to be brought to bear on the cause--deteriorating habitat. If you read American Forests' last issue ("Whitetails Are Changing Our Woodlands," November/December 1993), you know that an overpopulation of whitetail deer is causing changes in the basic makeup and diversity of forests in many parts of the northeastern U.S.

The more things change...

Fascinating Facts

* J. Sterling Morton of Nebraska, originator of Arbor Day, was president of AMERICAN FORESTS from 1893 to 1896.

* AMERICAN FORESTS was the first national citizens group to call for the planting of shelterbelts in the West, particularly the Plains States. Its early meeting programs were largely devoted to the planting of forest and fruit trees on farms and the setting out of windbreaks.

* The milestone American Forest Congress of January 1905, sponsored by AMERICAN FORESTS, was convened by James Wilson, who was not only the current Secretary of Agriculture but had been president of AMERICAN FORESTS for the previous five years. President Theodore Roosevelt gave the keynote address.

Magazine Titles and Editors

THE NEW JERSEY FORESTER 1895 to mid-1897 (bimonthly until January 1897, monthly thereafter) Editor: John Gifford

THE FORESTER July 1897 through 1901 Subscription rate: 75 cents a year, raised to $1 in 1898 Editors: John Gifford John Keim Stauffer (May 1899 - May 1990) Henry James II (June 1900 - April 1901)

FORESTRY AND IRRIGATION 1902 to August 1908 Subscription rate: $2 Editors: Herman Milton Suter (May 1901 - August 1906) Thomas Elmer Will (September 1906 - May 1908) Frank Glover Heaton (June 1908 - January 1909)

CONSERVATION September 1908 through 1909 Editor: Edwin Augustus Start (October 1909 - November 1911)

AMERICAN FORESTRY 1910 through 1923 Editor: Percival Sheldon Ridsdale (late

1911 - late 1922)

AMERICAN FORESTS AND FOREST LIFE 1924 through 1930 Editor: Ovid Butler (1923 - 1944)

AMERICAN FORESTS 1931 through...the next 100 years? Editors: Ovid Butler (until 1944) Earl Kauffman (1944 - 1950) James Barkley Craig (1953 - 1977) Bill Rooney (1977 - present)

Strange Roommates

Early in 1899, Gifford Pinchot, chairman of AMERICAN FORESTS' Executive Committee, announced that the organization would soon share space in the nation's capital with another up-and-coming group, the National Geographic Society. That April, Gilbert H. Grosvenor, then 23, reported for duty as the Society's new assistant secretary and assistant editor of National Geographic magazine. His headquarters consisted of half a small rented room in the old Corcoran Building, across 15th Street from the U.S. Treasury. The other half was occupied by AMERICAN FORESTS.

Grosvenor related then that National Geographic had a circulation of less than 1,000. Pinchot noted that our organization's membership--synonymous with the magazine's circulation--had reached 1,025. The audience for what was then known as The Forester was thus larger than that for National Geo. Our paths would diverge somewhat over the next century.

The Source

Anyone interested in knowing more about the background of this organization and its magazine, or about forest history in general, would do well to look up a copy of Henry Clepper's book, Crusade for Conservation: The Centennial History of The American Forestry Association. Published in 1975 by the then AFA, the book's hard-cover version is now out of print, but is available in some libraries. Its entire contents appeared in the October 1975 issue of this magazine.

Many of the specifics reported in the accompanying article were taken from the Clepper book. Some came from conversations with Henry, who maintained an office in AFA headquarters until the day of his death at age 86 in 1989. He was a delight to visit with--perceptive, articulate even into his 80s, and his perspective spanned seven decades. Among his many other talents were family man, flyfisherman, and boxer.

In addition to being one of the most respected forest historians of this century, Clepper was a prolific writer on other subjects, natural history in particular, and many of his stories appeared in these pages.


The New Jersey Forester

September 1895

Letter From a Woodland Owner.

Editor of the Forester:

SIR:--I am a woodland owner. At one time my land yielded a fair revenue. Now I am land poor. It is a burden to me. Railroads, careless individuals and incendiaries have ruined me. The pine and oak on the upland is even unfit for cordwood. Before my cedar is large enough for hop poles it burns. I rake and scrape in every way to pay my taxes. I cannot insure it nor sell it. Had I invested its value in Atlantic City ten years ago I would be rich. My property would be protected by fire companies and police, and even if it did burn, I could get some insurance. A nation consists of rational mortals bound together to protect themselves and their property--otherwise it is anarchy. It is rank injustice. I pay my taxes promptly and have always been a patriotic citizen. The State owes my property some protection. On Saturday, August 17th, it was necessary for me to go away on business. When I returned the following Monday all the merchantable timber left to me was in ashes. The fire was set by a locomotive and no one lifted a hand to extinguish it. It is time to quit making laws for fun, or laws that may be enforced. It is time for the State, instead of wasting millions on greedy, ungrateful politicians, to spend a few thousand dollars in preventing the half of its area from becoming a desert and its people from being paupers.


August 20, 1895.

Anyone Have Our First Issue?

In the process of researching the fascinating history of our magazine, it was discovered that we do not have a single copy of the first issue--Volume 1, Number 1, dated January 2, 1895--of The New Jersey Forester, which would later become American Forests.

If any readers have or know about the existence of a copy of that issue, we would welcome the information.
COPYRIGHT 1994 American Forests
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:American Forests magazine
Author:Rooney, Bill
Publication:American Forests
Date:Jan 1, 1994
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