Named state forester in 1906, Besley had been handpicked for the job by Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service. Maryland was the third state to create a forestry program at a time when the state's forests had been seriously depleted by settlement, farming and industry.
He spent 36 years promoting public and private conservation, inventorying the state's forests, fighting fires and organizing reforestation efforts. He established a tree nursery in 1914 - the accompanying photo shows him collecting seeds from pine cones in the 1920s - and he pioneered the Big Tree Champion program, which has grown into a nationwide contest to identify the largest trees of every species.
Perhaps most significantly, he helped build the state's publicly owned forest system from barely 2,000 acres in 1906 to more than 100,000 acres by 1942. Today it's a little more than 138,000 acres.