William Willard Ashe and the Acquisition of National Forests in the Eastern United States

My cousin, Robert E. Messick Jr., recently wrote an impressive paper on William Willard Ashe (1872–1932), a North Carolina botanist. Messick’s research on this subject is impressive. Needing an outlet to publish his work, I proudly offered to host his content on my website. What follows in Messick’s introduction to his paper and link to download the complete work.

Intro: William Willard Ashe and the Acquisition of National Forests in the Eastern United States

By Robert E. Messick Jr., May 2012

Contact: [email protected], Rob Messick, 1998 Thermal City Road, Union Mills, NC 28167, (828) 288-7299

“This paper is a fine piece of work and will do much to highlight the importance of Ashe in the history of southern forestry.”
Lawrence S. Earley, author of Looking for Longleaf: The Fall and Rise of an American Forest

The following article highlights the career of William Willard Ashe in the North Carolina Geological Survey and the early US Forest Service. Research on this conservationist began in 1996 in the context of extensive field work to rediscover areas of uncut or minimally culled forests in Pisgah National Forest. First drafts of the article were made in 2008, and versions were submitted to five relevant scholarly journals with the help of editors and three individuals with academic credentials. None of these publications deemed the work that went into the following article worthy of print.

W. W. Ashe wore many hats in the course of his career, and he does not fit the mold of Germanic agro-forestry that remains the dominant paradigm in forest history and most forestry practices in the southern United States. The history highlighted in this article is anchored in the National Archive II, the National Agricultural Library, the Southern Historical Collection at Wilson Library (University of North Carolina), the UNC Herbarium, libraries in the triangle area and beyond, and numerous other sources. It brings up serious gaps in our understanding of the contributions of some individuals who worked in the early US Forest Service, and connects the land acquisitions history of the agency to contemporary field work.

A Tale of Two Charts

Long-term trend in volume of timber harvested from the national forests (1905-2000)
Long-term trend in volume of timber harvested from the national forests (1905-2000).

Words pale in comparison to these two charts. Much of the research for this article is substantiated by these charts and the era’s they depict. The first shows the actual amount of wood cut by the US Forest Service on the national forests from 1905 to 2000. The custodial era is easily seen, and the dip in timber production related to the early part of the Great Depression is quite obvious. The veritable explosion of logging activity after WWII is the dominant feature, reaching a peak in the mid-1980s.

The second chart was generated by typing the words “American forestry” into the Google Books Ngram Viewer website (see chart). This website searches thousands, if not millions, of books for key words or phrases and places the findings in time. The chunky rise of the idea of an American silviculture corresponds with much of Ashe’s career, peaking about 1930 when the L-20 Regulation was adopted by the USFS. The great falls of this idea occurred soon after, particularly in the 1950s, with the lowest point in recent times occurring in the 1980s.

Download

Messick’s work can be downloaded in the Adobe PDF format.

Comments and Questions

Please direct all comments and questions regarding this work to: [email protected], Rob Messick, 1998 Thermal City Road, Union Mills, NC 28167, (828) 288-7299.