Bernhard Fernow (1851-1923)

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Bernhard Fernow was born in the Prussian Province of Posen. In Prussia, Fernow spent a year in the Prussian forest service prior to studying at the University of Königsberg and the Royal Prussian Academy of Forestry at Münden[1]. He emigrated to the United States in 1876 after marrying his wife Olivia Reynolds, who actively helped him in many of his later projects. Fernow worked various jobs up until 1878. During this year, he got the opportunity to manage 15,000 acres of woods in Pennsylvania which was primarily used to obtain charcoal[2]. In 1886, Fernow was named the third Chief of the USDA's Division of Forestry of the United States until 1898[3]. During his time as chief his main policy goals were the establishment of a national forest system and the introduction of scientific forest management. Fernow produced many scientific reports to protect watersheds while working toward the creation of national forests [4]. During the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, Fernow helped create forestry exhibits that generated much needed public support for the establishment of a Prussian inspired national forest system in the United States[5]. As head of the USDA's Forestry Division, Fernow helped create the Forest Reserve Act of 1891 and the Organic Act of 1897. After his time as Chief of the USDA's Division of Forestry came to an end, Fernow became the first dean of the New York State College of Forestry at Cornell. This was the first four-year forestry school in the United States. However, Fernow's time as dean of the school was not particularly fruitful. The program was shut down in 1903 by the New York State government as the program was unpopular due to its clear-cutting and the fires it caused[6][7]. During this same time many wildfires were happening in the area due to the sparks from locomotive stacks landing on log stashes. Louis Marshall, an American constitution and civil-rights lawyer, branded locomotives as an "instrument of arson"[8].Unfortunately, Bernhard Fernow was aware of this and continued to build this controversial railroad system that stretched 6 miles and was primarily used to transport wood[9]. However, In 1907 Bernhard Fernow became the founding dean of the University of Toronto's Faculty of Forestry, this was Canadas first university school devoted to forest fire[10]. To date, Fernow is known to be called the "father of professional forestry in the United States."

Waste Places

Fernow noticed that the bulk of American papers which recommended methods for planting forests did not account for places with poor growing conditions. These places were deemed to be "Waste Places" by Fernow. He describes these waste places as areas that will not grow grass's or any other crops[11]. The locations of these areas were typically places with inadequate soil structure and/or had problems with water. Fernow describes these waste Places as unusable because they are either stony, too wet or too dry. Wet locations do not drain well enough, and dry areas can be too sandy for agricultural use [12]. Furthermore, Fernow believed it was important to learn how to properly "forest" these areas because the interests of agriculture will ultimately confine forests to these places[13]. His vision of forestry was different. In a letter addressed to fellow engineers he talks about poor forest management, and the effects on timber. He also predicted that if "recklessness, wastefulness, and ignorance" continue it would lead to timber "scarcity, high prices, and injurious influences on all industries using wood"[14]. Fernow did indeed believe he had a solution for these waste places. He believed that by encouraging tree growth in these areas, they can, in time, become improved enough and will gain value and be sufficient enough to grow crops [15].

In One of Fernow’s writings, “Planting in Waste Places,” he describes the conditions of how the land needs to be in order to produce the most successful yield [16]. According to Fernow, plots of land that are too arid, for example prairie’s, don't serve much of a purpose and land that is too wet won’t produce any good crops[17]. He then goes on to describe an instrument that was extremely helpful in the planting of millions of young pines every year. This tool is made up of two parts: the shoe, which was made of iron with one rounded and one flat side, tapering towards the end, the shape a half cone, so that when two of these shoes placed together, with the flat sides, it would create a perfect cone. The second part which is located in the center of the shoe has a threaded hole to receive the handle. The handle consists of a five-eighths inch rod, three and one/half feet long, with a squarely set wood shaft [18]. At first glance the tool resembles a carrot dangling by a rope on a piece of wood. It is used by throwing the iron cone into the ground where the plant is to stand. A hole is made by moving the cone back and forth. The plant would then be placed within the hole that was created by using this instrument.

Yield of Wood and When to Cut It

The purpose of this article was to answer questions of how trees grow, ways in which tree growth can be encouraged, the best time to harvest trees, and information that should be considered in context to forest control[19]. Fernow addressed the idea of the best age for cutting the wood involved a mathematical calculation along with knowledge of the forest. Some of this knowledge included knowing when wood had hit its peak and had just started to decline[20]. He also characterized wood in two ways, "log-wood", "billets" and "brush" wood[21]. Fernow also made an observation which was that beech and spruce forests do not exhaust soil nutrients even over thousands of years of occupation[22].

According to Fernow, the weight of charcoal, if properly prepared and housed, is practically a constant factor, since most charcoal is not used fresh, but rather used after weeks when it has absorbed almost all amounts of moisture (up to 10 to 15 per cent)[23]. Because of this Fernow believed that charcoal should be sold by weight, not by the bushel since it had a relatively consistent weight[24]. Fernow believed that a low yield of charcoal was due to the woodcutters. This is because woodcutters had to use a specific type of wood and a specific length of stick to cut in order to produce the highest quality and yield of charcoal[25].


  3. Rines 1920
  4. Twight 1990, 21-25
  5. Twight 1990, 21-25
  6. Colman 1963, 161
  7. Gove 2005, 176-181.
  8. Angus 2002, 17
  10. Hosmer, R.S. 1923. Dr. Fernow's life work. J Forest 21:320-323
  11. Fernow 1883 ,153
  12. Fernow 1883 ,153
  13. Fernow 1883, 153-154
  14. Fernow 1885, 272-281
  15. Fernow 1883 ,153
  16. Fernow 1883 ,153
  17. Fernow 1883 ,153
  18. Fernow 1883 155-156
  19. Fernow, 1882, 19
  20. Fernow, 1882, 22
  21. Fernow, 1882, 20
  22. Fernow, 1882, 25
  23. Bernhard, 1882, 21
  24. Fernow, 1882, 21
  25. Fernow, 1882, 19


  • Angus, Christopher. 2002. The Extraordinary Adirondack journey of Clarence Petty: Wilderness guide, Pilot, and Conservationist. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press.
  • Fernow, Bernhard E. 1883. “Planting in Waste Places.” The American Journal of Forestry, January, 153–55.
  • Fernow, Bernhard E. 1882. “The Yield of Wood and When to Cut It.” Journal of the United States Association of Charcoal Iron Workers 3 (1): 19–26.
  • Fernow, Bernhard E. 1885. "Should our Charcoal in the Future Be Produced From Coppice or Timber Forest?" Journal of the United States Association of Charcoal Iron Workers 6: 272-281
  • Gove, B. 2005. Logging railroads of the Adirondacks. Syracuse University Press. pp. 176-181.
  • Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Fernow, Bernhard Eduard". Encyclopedia Americana.
  • Twight, B.W. 1990. Bernhard Fernow and Prussian forestry in America. Journal of Forestry 88(2):21-25
  • Lincoln, Charles Z., ed. (1910) Messages from the Governors', vol. X, Albany, p. 555, cited in Colman, Gould P. (1963) Education & Agriculture, A History of the NYS College of Agriculture at Cornell University, Cornell University Press, p.161.