Planting southern pines: Wakeley envisioned economic potential

The period from 1900 to 1920 marked the “golden” era of lumbering in Louisiana; an era when the state’s old-growth forests were harvested with a “cut-out and get-out” attitude.

Large and small sawmills harvested these forests with no thought of reforestation. Many of these companies abandoned their cutover lands and ownership of them reverted to the state when taxes were not paid.

The lumbermen were cutting stands of trees that were up to 250 years old and they had no concept that new stands were economically feasible.

However, a few people began to see the economic potential of reforesting the cut-over land. Henry E. Hardtner of the Urania Lumber Co. led this effort. As early as 1905, he began advocating that another crop of trees could be grown in about 50 years. On his land, he demonstrated the potential of naturally regenerating forests. In 1920, William H. Sullivan of the Great Southern Lumber Co. at Bogalusa visited Hardtner and became convinced Hardtner was right: another forest could be grown.

Sullivan then began an impressive program to develop artificial regeneration technology. The Great Southern Lumber Co. had up to 300,000 acres of cut-over forests. Due to aggressive harvesting methods, much of this land had no source of natural regeneration. So, he began an effort to reforest the company’s land by growing and planting pine seedlings.

These lumbermen then began demonstrating methods that could reforest the millions of acres of cut-over forest land across the South. In 1924, a third essential person, Philip C. Wakeley, would join the triumvirate that would provide the technology to restore the South’s devastated forests.

Wakeley was a native of New York and graduated in 1924 from Cornell University with a master’s degree in forestry. He was hired by the U.S. Forest Service, Southern Forest Experiment Station that had been established in 1921 with its headquarters in New Orleans. At the time the Southern Station provided scientific support for forestry organizations across the southern coastal plain from the Carolinas to East Texas.

When Wakeley arrived in New Orleans, he was immediately assigned to Bogalusa to work on developing reforestation technology in cooperation with the Great Southern Lumber Co. At the time, there were fewer than 20 professionally trained foresters in the South and about one-third of these worked for the newly created Southern Forest Experiment Station. The budget was small and there was no technical support staff. In fact, even small items like paper clips were limited. Wakeley noted the response to his January 1926 request for some paper clips, “12 were sent in an envelope, with a note urging me to use them carefully, as they were the allotment for the Bogalusa Work Center.”