Saving the Forests of the South

May 26, 2011

Guest blogger Nancy Faget looks back at the people who saved the South’s forests.

I picked up Faces from the Past: Profiles of Those Who Led Restoration of the South’s Forests because I’m fromLouisiana. Anything written about the South interests me and profiles of people working in the South are always fascinating.  What first struck me about the publication were the photographs. Many of the rugged individuals profiled seemed to have a tall, lean look, as if they spent a lot of time outdoors.  What kept me reading (and giggling) were the personal stories, which were a genuine delight!

Take the story of H.G. (Mac) Meginnis (left), who was recruited by the U.S. Forest Service’s Southern Station to work on the problems of soil erosion and flood control.  With the approval of the Service, for 75 cents Meginnis purchased a small abandoned chicken house and some insecticidal spray to get rid of the chicken lice. The insecticidal spray expenditure then was disallowed on his expense account on the grounds that getting rid of the lice was for the personal benefit of the employee, not for the benefit of the government!

The author, James P. Barnett, provides an “up close and personal” view of these early foresters and pioneers in the South.  He notes historical events, but the most interesting parts are the stories about some very good people. Mind you, most of them were rule breakers and independent spirits, attention-getters who knew that the work of “selling” reforestation was very important.  Consider Charles H. (Charlie) Lewis, Jr. (left) who was considered a master of public relations.  He’s remembered for being able to “recite the returns on investment in reforestation and punctuate it by throwing seedlings into the audience. He had his own version of a striptease where he would remove all items that were not made from a forest product.”

It’s not too soon to reserve a forest cabin for the fall, and I’m looking forward to waking up to the sound of wind rustling the trees.  Future visits to the forests will be more meaningful now that I know of those who preserved the place for me and my family.  You can find more information about Faces of the Past and read it here or track it down at a library.

Raising and Preserving Native Plants

April 6, 2011

It’s been a cool and rainy spring so far, but my yard is starting to green up. I planted a native beautyberry bush (Callicarpa americana) last year and I’m anxious to see whether we’ll see the berries this time around. Since growing things – especially native plants – is on my mind, I naturally turned to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service for both inspiration and instruction.

I’m not quite ready to start my own nursery, but if I were, the Nursery Manual for Native Plants: A Guide for Tribal Nurseries would be a big help. Although this book had its origin in several meetings with tribal members to discuss their needs for native plants, facilities, and training, and it uses plants important to Native Americans as examples, anyone interested in the propagation of native species of plants can find a lot to interest them here.

Take seeds, for instance. Although there are commercial sources for some native plants, it’s obviously possible to head into the woods and gather your own – but would you know what to look for, and at what time of year? You need to know when plants flower (and for many species, that’s not so obvious) and the best timing to gather a given seed crop. Another essay in the book talks about how to get seeds to germinate. To propagate some species, you need to use scarification – disrupting an impermeable seedcoat so water and oxygen can enter dormant seeds. Some seeds need fire (there’s a section on smoking them as a technique), digestive acids in the stomachs of animals, or abrasion by blowing sand or ice. I guess I won‘t be trying this kind of thing at home, but it’s great for budding nursery growers and interesting to read about.

Because the Nursery Manual for Native Plants is filled with the wonderful common names of such species, occasionally you can find bits of “found poetry”, like this one:

Common Dioecious Plants




fourwing saltbush

joint fir




Nursery Manual for Native Plants holds great charm for feeble home gardeners like me, as well as a trove of great information for Native Americans or anyone else with a serious commitment to propagating and harvesting America’s unparalleled herbaceous and woody wealth. You can browse through it here, get your own copy here, or find it in a library.


Pruning Trees

August 6, 2010

Our summer intern guest blogger for this post is Alex Ronchetti, a rising sophomore at American University.

In high school I worked a summer job doing landscaping for houses around town.  Part of that job required me to prune trees so that they didn’t grow onto sidewalks or utility lines.  I picked up how to prune properly from watching others and by practicing, because I thought there was no instruction manual on how to do this.  Imagine my surprise when I was searching through the GPO’s Bookstore and saw a Forest Service guidebook called How to Prune Trees.

This is a short how-to manual developed by the Department of Agriculture and the Forest Service, but it’s chock full of good information.  It describes the three main reasons you should be pruning; safety, health of the tree, and aesthetic value.  It then talks about the proper ways to prune trees also showing diagrams that show where to cut on the branch.  The writing is easy to understand and the diagrams certainly help show examples of what the authors are talking about.  There is also a section on proper cleaning of cutting tools and treating wounds that gave me insights that I hadn’t had before.

 A short and sweet title that provides good information on the proper care of trees, you can purchase it from the GPO here, read it online here, or find it in a library near you here.

Notable Documents: Gardens and Urban Landscapes

August 4, 2010

“Touching” is not a word usually applied to Government publications, but it’s an appropriate one for “Memoryscape,” one of the case studies in Restorative Commons: Creating the Health and Well-Being through Urban Landscapes. This U.S. Forest Service publication, one of Library Journal’s 2009 Notable Government Documents, is an attractively packaged and well-illustrated collection of thought pieces, case studies, and interviews focused on the idea that biophilia – the basic human need for contact with nature – can and must be fostered in urban settings. As Oliver Sacks says in his Foreword, “I would even suggest that a sort of subtype of biophilia may be hortophilia, or a special desire for gardens….In many cases, gardens and nature are more powerful than any medication.” I know that whenever I pass an urban common garden, it always evokes positive feelings in me, even though I’m not a gardener myself. A walk or hike in a park definitely takes me out of myself and my problems, and it seems to work that way for most folks I know.

All the more pressing then, is the need to make nature and gardens available in such places as Rikers Island (a jail), Red Hook (a blighted urban neighborhood in New York City), Fresh Kills Park (a landfill), and Bosnia-Herzegovina (the site of horrific ethnic cleansing in the 1990’s).The essays and interviews in Restorative Commons describe the innovative garden/landscape projects in these places and others, along with the stories of the people who are running the programs and those benefiting from them vocationally and psychologically.

And then there’s “Memoryscape,” about the place in Westfield, Massachusetts known as “100 acres.” Brian Murphy, his brother Harold, and many of their friends used this area – an area of trees, dirt roads, and wildlife – as their “romping grounds.” Brian was killed at the World Trade Center, and Harold used his skills as a real estate developer with an interest in open space conservation to have 30 acres of this urban landscape permanently preserved. He takes his brother’s kids there to show them their dad’s “place” and, aside from a planned trail, it will stay as it is, rusted train trestle and all, so they and future generations can romp there, too. There are informal 9/11 memorials like this in the Boston and LA areas, where the planes took off, in the Greater New York area and adjoining suburbs, and in the DC area, too. (We could see the smoke from the Pentagon from our office windows that day).

 This is an inspiring and hope-filled book. You can get,view, or order your own copy here or find it in a library here.


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