Fred W. Besley: Forestry Pioneer
Maryland’s First State Forester 1906-1942
Part 3 of a 3-part series
Address by Francis “Champ” Zumbrun for the Maryland Forests Association Conference
Fred W. Besley - A National Record for Service 1906-1942
"The Longest Continuous Service of a State Forester"
On February 16, 1942, Fred Besley retired with 36
years of State Service. Besley holds the national record for the longest
continuous service of a State Forester (1906-1942). When he first accepted the
job as Maryland State Forester, he had concerns about the politics of Maryland,
if he would have freedom from “political control.” Besley wrote, "After serving
as a State Forester for 36 years under seven administrations of Governors both
democrats and republicans, my fears seemed unfounded or a striving for political
independence of the department which paid off.”
Fred W. Besley served under
Edwin Warfield, Democrat, 1904-1908
Austin L. Crothers, Democrat, 1908-1912
Phillips Lee Goldsborough, Republican, 1912-1916
Emerson C. Harrington, Democrat, 1916-1920
Albert C. Ritchie, Democrat, 1920-1935
Harry W. Nice, Republican, 1935-1939
Herbert R. O'Conor, Democrat, 1939-1947
At the time of his retirement, a new era of forestry
was beginning called The “Sustained Yield” Period. The Custodial Period was ending
with Besley’s departure. State forests and state parks had grown to 100,000
acres at the time of Besley’s retirement. Times were changing. The last CCC Camp
in Maryland permanently closed several months after Besley’s retirement. The
United States was now fully engaged in World War II after the recent bombing of
Besley's Retirement Years
Besley wasn’t really retired. He was just kidding! In
1943, Besley soon temporarily replaced his son Lowell, called to serve his
country in World War II, as a forestry professor at the University of West
Virginia. During this time, Besley introduced new forestry legislation for West
Virginia. Actually Besley was never far from being an educator. Throughout his
career, as required by the 1906 Conservation Act, Besley taught academic
forestry-related courses at the University of Maryland. He also provided
non-academic forestry training to woodland owners throughout the state.
Besley refused to own land while he served in the
position as State Forester. He didn’t think it was ethical; however, after he
retired, he wanted to practice what he preached so in 1942, he started to buy
land for $10 to $15 per acre. This was land he was unable to persuade the State
to buy, much of it swamp and cutover. The Besley/Rodgers Corporation today
manages this land, consisting of about 6,800 acres; it is the largest private
non-industrial forest landowner in Maryland. Using scientific forest management
techniques he promoted for so long as a State Forester, Besley turned the land
nobody wanted into profitable timberland.
"The reason Father bought these lands was to utilize areas not
good for anything else and practice forestry. He thought it was important to
practice what he preached." - Helen Besley Overington
Department of Natural Resources continues to carry forward the legacy of early
foresters like Fred Besley. These land management professionals have a proven track
record, well documented, for restoring lands back to excellent health, lands
that were in poor condition before becoming public lands. With the overall
healthy appearance of the forest on public lands today, it is hard to imagine
that most of the land was once cutover and abandoned.
shows us that foresters are skilled at restoring “devastated landscapes". Fred
Besley, and the State Foresters that followed after him lead Maryland on the
Forestry Conservation path.
had a long-range vision for Maryland’s forests, (foresters are trained to think
in terms of 100 years or more), and he pursued his vision with drive and vigor.
State Foresters, like Besley, have given us a long, rich tradition of
conservation and forest management.
as in Besley’s time, forest management on public lands emphasizes the importance
of clean streams and waterways. Woody vegetation is retained along riparian
areas and foresters have already exceeded the Governor’s initiatives to plant 600 miles
of riparian areas within the Chesapeake Bay watershed in Maryland.
MD DNR Forest Service provides staff support for Maryland Stream ReLeaf a
statewide initiative supporting riparian forest buffers. Stream ReLeaf
coordinates the efforts of a wide variety of state, local, federal, and
nonprofit agencies and groups, all of whom play a part in expanding or
maintaining streamside and shoreline forests.
of the existence of public lands in Maryland, forest fragmentation is better
controlled in a State where the population is quickly growing. Because there are
public lands, more than 10% of Maryland’s land is protected from development.
harvesting occurs on some of these sites, creating early successional habitats
so beneficial for a wide-variety of wildlife that occur inside the larger
landscape of maturing forests. Wildlife is thriving on public lands.
It is no longer uncommon to see deer, wild turkey, black bear, and beaver;
animals that were nearly extinct from the Maryland landscape 100 years ago.
same time, forests continue to provide wood products for a society whose demand
for forest products keep growing. The more diverse the landscape is (timber
types and age classes), the healthier the ecosystem.
timber values, public lands are also managed for old growth values. In fact, more than 50% of
the State Forests are managed for old growth objectives.
The Maryland Conservation Law of 1906
The Maryland Conservation Law of 1906 is one of the
important forestry conservation laws enacted during the past century. In 1905,
outdoor recreation did not exist on state public lands, simply because there
were no state public lands in Maryland. Today, in a little less than one hundred
years, the Department of Natural Resources now manages a little less than
500,000 acres. In 2002, more than 11 million people visited Maryland’s state
parks and state forests to enjoy all aspects of outdoor recreation. Today, we have state parks that didn’t exist 100 years
ago. All in all there are 47 State Parks, 4 State
Forests, 2 Marinas, and several Natural Resource Management Areas.
The Garrett brothers would be amazed how their
gift of land in 1906 produced so many wonderful benefits for the citizens of
Maryland and generations of people to come. Their gift helped make it possible
for Maryland to have large tracts of forested public lands, as well as produced
a legacy of great Maryland conservation leaders to manage them, starting with
Fred W. Besley.
What would Maryland look like today if the Garrett
Brothers had not made their initial donation of land to the State of Maryland?
We can also ask, "What will Maryland’s forested landscape look like 100 years from
That’s up to us! Perhaps we can look back to our rich
history for answers to solve our present challenges. We can ask, "How would Fred W. Besley have
handled this issue?" There’s much work before us. Let’s get to work!
individuals have served as Maryland State Forester over the last century.
- Fred. W.
- Joseph F. Kaylor 1942-1947
- Henry C. Buckingham 1947-1968
- Adna “Pete” Bond 1968-1977
- Donald E. MacLauchlan 1978-1979
- Tunis Lyon 1979-1983
- James B. Roberts 1983-1991
- John W. Riley 1991-1995
- James E. Mallow 1995-2001
- Steve W. Koehn 2001-
Address by Francis “Champ”
Zumbrun for the Maryland Forests Association Conference Centennial Kick-off,
November 5, 2005. Francis
"Champ" Zumbrun is the forest manager at Green Ridge State Forest. He has
worked as a professional forester for DNR since 1978. He serves on the Forestry
and Parks Centennial Committee. He is currently looking for an alidade to place
in the Town Hill lookout fire tower at Green Ridge State Forest.
The author would especially like to thank Ross Kimmel, Robb
Bailey, Offutt Johnson, Helen Besley Overington, Kirk Rodgers, Mary Rotz, Don
and Peggy Weller, and Rob Schoeberlein of the Maryland State Archives for
graciously providing historical documents, photographs and source materials that greatly helped in the
preparation of this article.
Photographs (top to
Fred W. Besley
A stream running through a forest
A river running through a forested area