Before the Crossett Experimental Forest existed, two engineers-turned-lumbermen began rehabilitating the cutover ‘pineywoods.’
“In 1925, Leslie Pomeroy and Eugene Connor bought the Ozark Badger Lumber Company,” says U.S. Forest Service scientist Don Bragg. “The company was small and nearly defunct, and Pomeroy and Connor turned it into a profitable, long-term example of uneven-aged silviculture.”
Bragg recently wrote about the two men in an article published in the international journal Forestry.
“The achievements of Pomeroy and Connor at Ozark Badger are remarkable,” continued Bragg. “They faced daunting circumstances.”
In the 1920s, very little old-growth southern pine remained. The heyday of unfettered timber harvests was near an end.
In Arkansas, the number of mills had fallen from more than 2,000 in 1909 to 635 in 1925, while the volume of lumber dropped by more than 20 percent. The decline would continue for another decade.
Nevertheless, Pomeroy and Connor raised money from friends and family to buy Ozark Badger.
“They had recently returned from a world-wide tour of the timber industry,” says Bragg. “It was a self-funded trip – they used their knowledge of kiln drying to help support their travels.” The two men were engineers who met while working at the Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, WI.
At the time, most timber companies owned huge tracts of forests. The Ozark Badger had very little land of their own, but it was surrounded by privately owned woodlands not entirely denuded of timber. In these small, largely farmer-owned parcels, Pomeroy and Connor saw an opportunity that others missed.
However, no one was sure how to sustainably manage southern pine forests. Experts suggested clearcutting and replanting. Pomeroy and Connor found that approach inadequate for their circumstances in the late 1920s.
The pair settled on uneven-aged silviculture. Uneven-aged silviculture involves harvesting a portion of the overstory. It improves conditions for remaining trees and frees resources for new seedlings.
Pomeroy and Connor removed mature trees and smaller trees that were diseased or crowded. The approach can be summarized as an expert-driven selection management system.
“Success came rapidly,” observed Bragg. “Pomeroy and Connor called their approach pine tree banking, and knew how to reach farmers.” The system allowed farmers to make money growing trees, and by the late 1930s, about 6,000 landowners were participating.
It was a remarkable gamble as uneven-aged silviculture was relatively unknown in North America. Uneven-aged silviculture in southern pines was counterintuitive in the 1920s.
The U.S. Forest Service soon noticed the Ozark Badger’s successful use of the technique and the economic opportunities it provided.
In 1932, the Forest Service embraced the story of Ozark Badger as a case study on the potential of good forestry practices. Russ Reynolds helped develop the case study by working with Pomeroy and Connor to quantify some of their silvicultural work.
By 1933, Reynolds would become the first director of the Crossett Experimental Forest, located a few miles north of the Ozark Badger.
At Crossett, Reynolds and other Forest Service researchers continued studying uneven-aged silviculture. Their well-documented studies soon became the standard for uneven-aged silviculture in southern pines.
Currently, uneven-aged silviculture is not widely used. Uneven-aged methods do not work in every forest type, and even-aged silviculture typically yields more wood.
However, uneven-aged methods still have a place in the forester’s tool box. They can provide high quality timber and create stands that look like a natural forest instead of a plantation.
Today, the Crossett Experimental Forest offers academics, foresters, and students a rare opportunity to see uneven-aged management in southern pines. However, as Bragg noted, “Pomeroy and Connor were the operational pioneers of this system in Arkansas and deserve to be recognized as such.”
For more information, email Don Bragg at email@example.com.