Remembering Bill Boyer, Mr. Longleaf

Bill Boyer with longleaf pine seedling. Photo by Kris Connor, U.S. Forest Service.

Dr. William D. (Bill) Boyer, known to many as “Mr. Longleaf,” died on April 13th after a long illness. Boyer’s early research on and advocacy for the Escambia Experimental Forest, his enthusiasm and commitment to long-term studies on establishing longleaf pine, and his leadership in promoting the use of prescribed fire to promote longleaf pine management, are only a few of his contributions to the restoration of the great longleaf pine ecosystems that once covered almost 90 million acres in the coastal plains of the southeastern U.S.

Bill began his career with the U.S. Forest Service in 1955 as a wildlife biologist on the Escambia Experimental Forest near Brewton, Alabama. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Syracuse University and his Ph.D. from Duke University in Forest Ecology in 1970. After the unit relocated to Auburn, AL, he remained actively engaged at the Escambia Experimental Forest, in the heart of what remained of longleaf pine country. As his and others’ research efforts on the Escambia progressed, Bill quickly saw that restoring longleaf pine was about more than just saving a tree that once dominated the coastal plain landscape; it was about restoring an entire fire forest ecosystem and the hundreds of unique plants and animals that inhabit it.

Bill soon became a staunch believer in the necessity of frequent fire to manage the longleaf pine ecosystem. During the 1980s, he became an advocate for the use of growing season burns at a time that the use of fire was still rejected by many and those who did burn did so only in the dormant season. In the mid-1960s, Bill began a long-term study on longleaf pine cone crop estimation that still continues to provide important information to forest landowners across the Southeast.

Throughout his career, Bill advocated natural regeneration and the use of fire in management strategies for longleaf. He authored or co-authored over 120 research articles, most of them linking fire with longleaf pine management. Bill’s research and commitment to long-term studies laid the foundation for current successful efforts to restore longleaf pine ecosystems.

Bill Boyer retired from the Forest Service in 1998 but continued research as an Emeritus Scientist, working on numerous longleaf pine studies as a volunteer. He was awarded a National Honor Award by the Secretary of Agriculture for his research accomplishments, and was elected a Fellow of the Society of American Foresters and to the Alabama Foresters Hall of Fame. He also was awarded the Beadle Fellowship for senior scientists at the Tall Timbers Research Station from 1999 to 2003.

Bill’s efforts, along with others, lie at the heart of current efforts to restore longleaf pine forests to the coastal plains. He not only made a difference on the land and for an entire ecosystem, but also in the lives of the many people he taught, worked with, and inspired. Family members note that he was a gentle, kind, and patient man who devoted his life to his family and the longleaf pine forests of the Southeast that he loved. He will be dearly missed.

Adapted from Association for Fire Ecology biographies, the Tall Timbers E-News, and other sources.

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Grow Your Own Ramps

Video series gives detailed instructions for forest farming

Jim Chamberlain replanting ramps for study on sustainability of harvesting. Photo by Zoe Hoyle.

In the Appalachian Mountains, spring really starts with ramps and ramp festivals.

Also known as wild leeks, ramps (Allium tricoccum) have been described as having a flavor that falls somewhere between that of garlic, onions, and scallions. While the taste is sweet, the pungent smell of ramps—and of those who’ve eaten them—has been known to clear a room.

Native to the hardwood forests of eastern North America, ramps emerge in moist, shady areas of Appalachian forests in late March when the plant sends up a circle of smooth broad leaves that die back when the overhead trees are fully leafed out. People collect both the leaves and spicy bulb of the plant as a spring tonic, a tradition the early settlers may have learned from Native Americans.

Gatherings with cooking and music naturally formed around the spring digging of ramps. Over the last 50 years, these gatherings evolved into festivals held to raise operating funds for rural fire departments, rescue squads, churches, and other community organizations. U.S. Forest Service scientist Jim Chamberlain started studying ramps and ramp festivals over 15 years ago. Over the years, he’s seen the demand for ramps skyrocket.

“Over the last couple of decades interest in these edible forest products spread to local farmers markets and to big city restaurants where world famous chefs want to cook with them,” says Chamberlain, research forest products technologist with the Southern Research Station (SRS). “Now, big food retail corporations are demanding these spring onions.” 

With demand for the wild ramps increasing, harvesting may be affecting native populations.

Traditional ramp harvesters dig small clumps of ramps out of larger patches, leaving behind enough plants to form new patches, but new harvesters may be unaware of the practice. If harvesting levels keep rising, fewer plants will be left behind and populations may decline.

Forest farming of ramps offers an alternative to wild harvesting. “It’s important to think about the conservation and sustainable management of these plants,” says Chamberlain. “Forest farming can reduce the pressure on native populations while providing forest landowners with an alternative stream of income in the spring.”

Last year, Chamberlain partnered with Virginia Tech and Cornell University to produce a six-part video series about forest farming of ramps. The Ramps Forest Farming Video Series is provided to the public on a YouTube channel that was created as part of an eXtension project with support from SRS, the USDA National Agroforestry Center, and NIFA.

Over the course of the six-part series, Chamberlain provides detailed field-based information on:

  • Ramp plants in the context of the forest;
  • Sunlight and soil conditions needed for growing ramps;
  • The stages of the ramp’s reproduction and life cycles;
  • Instructions on how to build a raised bed for ramps in the forest;
  • Identification and handling of double and triple ramp bulbs; and
  • Siting and other considerations for putting in raised beds in the forest.

Working with Cornell and Virginia Tech cooperators, Chamberlain developed additional forest farming series on growing shiitaki mushrooms, goldenseal, and ginseng, with more in development.

For more information, email Jim Chamberlain at

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Posted in Ethics & Values, Forest Inventory & Analysis, Forest Landowners, Forest Products, Non-Timber Forest Products, Upland Hardwoods

U.S. Forest Service Co-sponsors Magazine’s 8th Anniversary Conference

by Teresa Jackson, SRS Science Delivery Group

Minority Landowner Magazine publisher Victor Harris (left), Southern Research Station assistant director Jennifer Plyler (center), Winston County Self-Help Cooperative team leader Frank Taylor (right). Photo by Teresa Jackson, U.S. Forest Service.

More than 220 farmers, ranchers, forest landowners, and natural resource professionals from across the United States attended “Family Farms Strengthen the Local Economy,” the Minority Landowner Magazine’s annual conference held this year in Greenville, South Carolina.

“Through the feature articles in Minority Landowner and through our annual conference, we introduce farmers and forest landowners to the science that can positively and negatively impact their land management operation,” said Victor Harris, publisher and editor of the Minority Landowner Magazine and conference host. “This year Dr. James Vose from the Forest Service Southern Research Station gave an excellent presentation and answered many questions regarding climate change. It was very well presented and very well received, resulting in a productive dialogue.”

“The partnership we share with Southern Research Station continues to be instrumental in the success of our conference, and in equipping farmers and forest landowners with tools and knowledge to make their operations productive,” said Harris. “We could not produce such a high caliber conference without them, and we’re proud to have the Southern Research Station as a strong sponsor and supporter.”

Harris, a registered forester and former Forest Service employee, has published the Minority Landowner Magazine since 2006, providing limited resource farmers, ranchers, and landowners with resources needed to be productive and profitable, and to maintain land ownership.

Over a three-day conference, participants heard from speakers and presenters from USDA and state agencies, the Center for Heirs Property Preservation, Farm Credit, and their peers. They spoke one on one with exhibitors and rotated through four concurrent breakout sessions on Financial Planning, Farmers Markets & Community Supported Agriculture, My Land Plan, and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) programs.

This year’s conference encompassed a group of participants who had not only a strong desire to learn and glean all the information they could from workshop presenters, conference speakers, exhibitors, and panelists, but also an unselfish willingness to share their stories, successes, and challenges with others. From banquet speaker Frank Taylor, team leader of the Winston County Self-Help Cooperative based in Louisville, Mississippi, to luncheon speaker Hezekiah Gibson, founder and president of United Farmers USA based in Manning, South Carolina, everyone was eager to impart knowledge to help others improve their operations and become better land managers.

SRS assistant director Jennifer Plyler, project leader of the SRS Center for Integrated Forest Science Jim Vose, public affairs specialist Teresa Jackson, and cooperative forestry management analyst Cheryl Bailey from the Washington Office, represented the Forest Service.

Plyler gave a general overview of the Forest Service and SRS as she spoke on the importance of keeping land forested and in the family, invasive species, non-timber forest products, water resources, and forest inventory and monitoring. Jackson staffed the SRS booth and provided participants with information on Forest Service products and services.

Vose presented information on climate change and climate variability, touching on vulnerabilities to forests, changes in the earth’s climate system, and the establishment of the Regional Climate Hubs. As a Washington Office representative, Bailey participated on a panel of natural resources professionals, and provided information on the “Know your farmer know your food” program, ecosystem services and markets, the Renewable Energy Project, and the National Agroforestry Center.

The Minority Landowner Magazine is the largest distributed magazine of its kind, with more than 5,000 subscribers. In addition to the Forest Service, the conference was co-sponsored by USDA Southern Agriculture Research & Education, Risk Management Agency, Farm Service Agency, Rural Development, and NRCS, all of which were well represented.

For more information, email Teresa Jackson at

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Posted in Economics & Policy, Ethics & Values, Forest Operations, Forest Products