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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