Bernhard E. Fernow

Bernhard E. Fernow. Photo Credit: The Forest History Society 

Meet Bernhard Eduard Fernow, an important figure in the creation of the National Forest Service, the US Forest Service, and forestry education in the United States!

Born in Prussia in 1851, Fernow spent several years serving in the Prussian Forest Service before completing his college studies at the Royal Prussian Academy of Forestry in Muenden, Germany. His passion for forestry was evident and in 1876, he immigrated to the United States to attend an American Forestry Association meeting – leaving his entire family behind.

In the United States, Fernow found it difficult to find work in forestry despite being the only college trained forester in the country. Thankfully, in 1878, he was offered a job in Pennsylvania managing 15,000 acres of forest used to obtain charcoal for Cooper Hewitt and Company. It was here that Fernow developed his observations and opinions of appropriate forest management.

In 1883, Fernow became the Executive Secretary of the American Forestry Association, where he was an influential figure in shifting the focus of the organization toward forest preservation and scientific management policies. His focus and hard-work paid off and in 1886, Fernow became the third Chief of the U.S. Division of Forestry, where he served for 12 years, laying the groundwork for the creation of the U.S. Forest Service in 1905. His main goals were to establish a national forestry system and to introduce scientific forest management policies to the United States. He worked with Congressmen to pass the Forest Reserve Act of 1891 and the Forest Management Act of 1897 – both of which are important pieces of legislation in the field of forestry.

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U.S. Forest Service Logo. Photo Credit: Evergreen Magazine

He resigned from the Division of Forestry in 1889 and became the first Dean of the New York State College of Forestry at Cornell University. This was the first four-year forestry education program in the United States and the curriculum Fernow established served as the model for professional forestry programs throughout North America. Unfortunately, however, just a short time after opening, the school closed due to political controversy. This did not discourage Fernow’s spirit, as he then went on to become the first professor of Forestry at Pennsylvania State University in 1907.

Due to his major contributions to the field of Forestry throughout his career, Bernhard Eduard Fernow is frequently considered a pioneer in forestry education in North America.

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