As strange as it may seem, it was northern university-trained foresters who led the effort to reforest the South following the devastation of the South’s forests resulting from northern lumbermen and industrialists lumbering efforts in the early 20th century.
The South’s, and apparently the nation’s, first forestry school was the Biltmore Forest School started in 1898 at Asheville, North Carolina, by German-trained Carl A. Schenck. The school provided only one year of practical training and it closed in 1913. Also, in about 1898, more typical four-year forestry schools were established at Minnesota, Cornell, Michigan and Yale universities. The earliest typical forestry schools in the South were at University of Georgia in 1908 and Louisiana State University in 1926.
Although all of the northern schools trained foresters who came into the South, it was Herman Haupt “H.H.” Chapman, a longtime faculty member of the Yale University School of Forestry, who made significant contributions to understanding the practices needed to restore the South’s longleaf pine ecosystem.
Chapman graduated from the University of Minnesota in the early 1900s. He established a research plantation with red, white, jack and Scotch pines at the university’s experimental farm in 1900 — probably the oldest in the nation. According to his colleagues at Yale, Chapman originally trained as a poultry scientist and was so boisterous about it that he became known as “Chicken Chapman.”
Described variously as dynamic, dogmatic, charismatic, impressive and intimidating by students and colleagues, he was known as “Chappy” to his friends. His strong personality had a lasting impact on his students.
Beginning in 1909, Chapman began leading Yale’s summer forestry students into the South. He and students would spend three or four months annually studying southern forestry conditions. An early host was the Thompson Lumber Co. near Trinity, Texas. Henry Hardtner of Urania Lumber Co. invited Chapman and the Yale program to stay and work at Urania. A camp was developed that facilitated the long-term connection between Urania and Yale. Beginning in 1917 and continuing until World War II began in the early 1940s, Chapman led his students to install studies in northern Louisiana and southern Arkansas that evaluated reforestation, thinning, effects of fire and ecology of southern pines.
Chapman pioneered such novel concepts as determining growth possibilities, evaluating the relation of fire to establishment of longleaf pine and recommending periodic controlled burns as a means of suppressing hardwood competition.
He published more than 20 papers between 1909 and the early 1940s dealing with southern pines and their relationship to fire. His work showed that most winter fires do not kill all longleaf pine seedlings; rather, they helped establish stands, suppress pine and hardwood competitors, reduce hazardous fuel accumulations and control brown-spot disease. Chapman recommended use of fire in longleaf pine stands every three years.
Chapman’s recommendation of the use of controlled burning in longleaf pine reforestation ran counter to the prevailing understanding at the time. In the 1920s, the Forest Service had published a technical bulletin that stressed the evils of fire in any form or for any purpose. This led to a lengthy conflict between Chapman and U.S. Forest Service specialists. As early as 1912, Chapman argued that to keep fire entirely out of southern pine lands might result in complete destruction of the forests and he responded with articles and a bulletin that described the importance of burning in the management of longleaf pine.
In 1926, Phil Wakeley and others of the Southern Forest Experiment Station began a large study to evaluate Chapman’s contentions. With one exception, they found that Chapman’s positions were correct. Only his contention that prescribed-fire controlled brown-spot needle disease was not found accurate.
Eventually then, the Forest Service agreed that Chapman’s recommendations for the use of fire in longleaf pine management were appropriate.
Although his work with controlled fire was particularly noteworthy, other studies were also exceptional. One was the description of a natural hybrid of longleaf and loblolly pine. Locals had long recognized this distinctive tree that assumed the worst characteristics of each parent and called it “bastard” pine. Chapman did the critical evaluation of the nature of this cross and in 1922 published a careful botanical description. Since he recognized and described the hybrid, he was allowed to name the species. He named the hybrid Sonderegger pine (Pinus sondereggerii Chapm.) after the Louisiana state forester at the time. V.L. Sonderegger was a graduate of the Biltmore Forestry School and served as State Forester on two separate appointments. He and Chapman disagreed on a number of issues and folklore has it that the naming of the hybrid was not one of honor, but recognition of the local descriptive name of the cross.
In the 1930s, Chapman initiated studies on the effects of thinning on loblolly pine stand development. His studies showed that yield for normal thinning increased stand yields by about 20 percent due to faster rates of diameter growth. These studies emphasized the advantages of applying thinning techniques to stands of timber. His work also led to numerous studies that refined thinning guidelines and improved yields from plantation establishment.
Dr. Chapman’s leadership in studying southern pine forestry not only contributed greatly to the development of modern forestry practices but also resulted in training of numerous foresters, many of which returned to the South in leadership positions. His efforts made a significant impact on the restoration of forests across the South and he became recognized as the “father of controlled burning for silvicultural purposes.”
Chapman and his Yale University students made significant contributions to the management of southern pine forests.
(Dr. Jim Barnett is emeritus scientist for the U.S. Forest Service.)