State honors Maryland's first forester

Fred W. Besley promoted conservation, tree planting

(Courtesy Maryland Department…)
February 22, 2012|Tim Wheeler

Maryland's first state forester earned some modern-day recognition Wednesday, when the Board of Public Works voted to name 1,000 acres of woods in Dorchester County for Fred W. Besley.

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.

The five wooded tracts in Dorchester named the Fred W. Besley Demonstration Forest were once owned and worked by Besley.  The state bought them in 2010, using open-space funds raised from property transfer taxes.

For more on Fred Besley and Maryland's forests, go here, and to see some of the many photographs taken by him and others during his tenure, go here.

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