DCNR Good Natured Blog: Bureau Of Forestry Celebrates 125 Years Of Conserving Penn's Woods

This year marks a milestone for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Bureau of Forestry -- as this summer, the bureau celebrates its 125th anniversary.

That is 125 years of conserving Penn’s Woods and serving the citizens of the Commonwealth.

Driven by the will to protect forests for generations yet to come, bureau founders were true visionaries of conservation.

DCNR Bureau of Forestry Origins

The Division of Forestry was created in 1895 to control wildfires and revitalize thousands of acres of cut-over and burned-over land.

[What many people do not realize is the state’s forests were logged over at one point in Pennsylvania’s history to make room for farms and to harvest the timber.  Logs were floated down the Susquehanna River from Williamsport.  One 450-acre storage area on the river could hold nearly 1 million logs.

[By 1900 Pennsylvania had lost more than 60 percent of its forests leaving behind millions of stumps, bare hillsides and a nearly desolate landscape in many areas. At one point, these logged areas were called the Pennsylvania Desert by Joseph Rothrock.]

Its first mission was to gather information about the condition of the state’s forests; establish a forest fire protection system; and buy land for reforestation and watershed protection.

The first purchase of state forest land occurred in the present-day Sproul State Forest near Young Womans Creek in 1898.

The state forest system has since grown to more than 2.2 million acres! The bureau leads efforts for the health and care of all the Commonwealth’s forests -- public and private.

Its current mission is to ensure the long-term health, viability, and productivity of the Commonwealth’s forests and to conserve native wild plants.

Expansion of Work to Conserve Penn’s Woods

The work of DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry has expanded greatly over the past 125 years to include:

-- Advocating and Promoting Forest Conservation

The bureau is the state’s lead forest conservancy agency, providing leadership on issues related to the management of the Commonwealth’s forests, trees, and native plants.

-- Managing the Certified State Forest System

The state forest system of Pennsylvania -- 2.2 million acres in 48 of 67 counties -- comprises 13 percent of the forested area of the Commonwealth.

These forest lands represent one of the largest expanses of wildland in the eastern United States -- making them a truly priceless public asset.

The bureau proudly manages this third-party certified forest with an ecosystem management approach to provide a multitude of uses, values, and resources to Pennsylvania citizens.

-- Protecting Water Quality

The state forest system serves as the headwaters and living filter for municipal drinking water supplies and thousands of miles of high-quality coldwater streams. Sound management of our state forests helps keeps these important waters clean.

The bureau also coordinates tree planting along streams on private land to help improve water quality in Pennsylvania waterways and places like the Chesapeake Bay.

-- Preventing and Suppressing Wildfires

The bureau is responsible for extinguishing forest wildfires on both public and private land. Bureau personnel educate the public about wildfire risk and prevention, and train volunteers and local fire companies in wildfire suppression.

-- Protecting the Forest from Destructive Insects and Disease

The bureau is responsible for monitoring and managing destructive forest insects, such as gypsy moths, and diseases on all Commonwealth lands.

-- Providing Forest Recreation Opportunities

Citizens look to Pennsylvania’s state forest system for a variety of recreational activities, from scenic driving to hiking, camping, hunting, and snowmobiling.

The bureau maintains thousands of miles of trails, roads, and related infrastructure to accommodate state forest visitors.

-- Conserving Native Plants

The bureau manages and conserves Pennsylvania’s rich diversity of native, wild plant communities across public and private ownerships.

-- Conserving Private Forest Land

Approximately 70 percent of the Commonwealth’s forest land is privately owned. Through its outreach programs, the bureau provides leadership and technical assistance in conserving and managing these important forest lands.

-- Promoting Community Forests and Tree Planting

Through its partnerships and programs, the bureau provides leadership and coordination in planting and maintaining trees in cities and towns across the commonwealth.

-- Sustainably Harvesting Timber

Each year, the bureau sustainably harvests approximately 15,000 acres across the state forest system, serving multiple goals, including providing a steady flow of wood products to the economy; creating wildlife habitat; and enhancing forest health and diversity.

-- Managing Natural Gas Activity

The bureau manages natural gas activity on 700,000 acres within the state forest system.

-- Providing Forestry Information and Outreach

The bureau plays an instrumental role in providing credible information about the conditions and status of Pennsylvania’s forest resources to industry, academia, other government agencies, and conservation organizations on topics ranging from woodlot management to wildfire prevention, invasive species control, and urban tree planting.

Forest Conservation Leaders

Of course, all the great work of the last 125 years was made possible through the efforts of a few conservation icons:

-- Dr. Joseph T. Rothrock:  The first to be at the helm of what is now DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry. He was instrumental in its formation, and became known as “The Father of Pennsylvania Forestry.”

-- Mira Lloyd Dock: In 1901, Governor William Stone appointed Lloyd Dock to the Pennsylvania Forestry Reservation Commission. The first woman to serve in that position, Lloyd Dock advocated for state forest expansion and urban forests.

-- Gifford Pinchot: He served as chief of the U.S. Forest Service and later as the Pennsylvania Forestry Commissioner. He would later be elected governor.

Of course, there have been many others along the way, each contributing to the long-term success of the bureau’s work.

From its early founders to its current, dedicated professionals, the bureau stands poised to safeguard Pennsylvania’s forests for generations to come.

[Visit the PA Conservation Heritage website to see documentaries and profiles of these and other conservation leaders in Pennsylvania, including Maurice Goddard.]

125 Years of Accomplishments

Just a few of the notable accomplishments of the bureau over the last 125 years include:

-- The work of the Civilian Conservation Corp

-- Forest pest management

-- Wildfire suppression

-- Third-party certification with the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative for well-managed forests

-- Creation of 80 state forest Wild and Natural Areas

-- Service forester work and private land stewardship guidance and management plans

DCNR’s 25th Anniversary

It also is the 25th anniversary of the DCNR! It was in July 1995 that the Department of Environmental Resources was split into the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Department of Environmental Protection to better serve the citizens of Pennsylvania.

These commemorations are a good time to reflect on the bureau’s accomplishments, but also a time to look ahead.

The challenges that lie before DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry include a daunting list of invasive species, competing forest uses, and a changing climate, just to name a few.

The bureau’s approach to meeting these challenges will honor 125 years of success by modeling the same unwavering commitment to protecting Penn’s Woods.

Work is ramping up on a new strategic plan that will guide the Bureau of Forestry through to its 150th anniversary.

By learning from the past and adapting for the future, DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry will lay the foundation for its vitally important work of conserving Commonwealth forests for years to come.

There’s still time to take a public survey to help guide this work.

Here is to 125 years of conserving Penn’s Woods!

[Visit DCNR’s PA State Forest Districts webpage to learn more about the Bureau.]

(Photo: Pine Creek Gorge, Lycoming County before 1920 from An Environmental History Of The Pine Creek Gorge.)

Resource Links:

PA Lumber Museum, Potter County

PA Forest Heritage & Discovery Center Of PA Forest Fire Museum, Franklin County

Explore PA History: Pennsylvanians And The Environment

PA Conservation Heritage Project

PA Forestry Association

PA Forest Products Association

Foundation For Sustainable Forests

PA Sustainable Forestry Initiative

Penn State Extension: Forest Management

Related Article:

Help The 4th Pennsylvania Geological Survey Celebrate Its 100th Anniversary Dec. 6 [2019]

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-- DCNR Good Natured Pennsylvanians: David Ross, Friends Of State Line Serpentine Barrens

-- Third 20-Person DCNR Wildfire Crew Called to Preposition In Rocky Mountain Wildfire Coordination Area

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-- Support The Foundation For Sustainable Forests On August 10 & 11 In Erie Gives, Crawford Gives Campaigns

-- August 5 Resource Newsletter Now Available From DCNR

-- August 7 Take Five Fridays With Pam, PA Parks & Forests Foundation

[Posted: August 5, 2020]


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