Use of the Forest

Public use of Saginaw Forest is encouraged. Rules for the public's use include (but are not limited to):

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Filibert Roth memorial stone

Just to the west of the caretaker's cabin, shaded by the branches of the pine trees standing above it, there is an upright stone with a plaque fastened to its face. Some walkers through the forest might have stopped and pondered the significance of the upright stone with the plaque before continuing on their meander through the forest. A search online doesn't pull up many useful hits about who the man was. (Although a google search does bring up many of Prof. Roth's old publications on forestry and wood.)

Looking at the plaque closer, one sees this inscription:


The "Forestry School" is what the Univeristy of Michigan's current School of Natural Resources and Environment started as, and Filibert Roth was the first head of the school, when it was founded in 1902. The story of Filibert Roth is a little harder to uncover, unless you happen to have JSTOR access, because in 1926 Baxter Dow wrote an obituary of the man in Science magazine (volume 63, issue 1631, pages 348-349). Although I cannot reproduce the whole of the article here - due to copyright concerns - I will summarize some salient points about the man's life (along with references with from other people):

Filibert Roth was born in W├╝rttemberg, Germany on April 20, 1858, and moved to the United States in 1871 to Wisconsin (where a lot of German immigrants were settling at the time). He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1890, and got a job with the Division of Forestry (now known as the USFS) as a timber expert in 1892, only eight years after the division's formation, and was a major influence on the formation of national forest policies. As one example, Dow provides the following insight:
It was generally assumed [at the time] that at the source of every creek there was enough pine to last for all time; [Roth and his colleague Fernow] were heralded as "denudiatics." But many of their early predictions have now become demonstrated realities that their teachings are known and accepted to-day as general truths by all. (Dow 1926, 348)
In 1895, Roth published "Timber", a forestry bulletin #10 from the USDA, which would go on to have a major impact on the dissemination of scientific knowledge of American wood species. He wrote the first publication of the woods of Wisconsin in 1898 ("On the Foresty Conditions of Wisconsin").

Roth and Fernow taught at Cornell from 1898 to 1901. (Fernow went on to become the Dean and Director of Cornell University's College of Forestry.) On November 15, 1901, Roth was picked by Gifford Pinchot to be the administrator of the national forest reserves, chief of Division R, and Roth served in this position until 1902. According to Steen (2004) in his book The US Forest Service, Roth struggled in his position under the direct-management style of Pinchot:
In his view, Roth struggled vainly against "land office routine, political stupidity, and wrong-headed points of view." (page 61)
Roth then returned to the University of Michigan to become the head of the nascent Department of Forestry in February 6, 1903; the first university forestry program in the Midwest.

Dow's remembrance of Professor Roth continues with discussions of the man's character as a teacher, lecturer, and department head. His mention of Roth as "Daddy", in addition to Roth's down-to-earth and friendly teaching style indicates the level of affection the man had for and by his students.

Looking on the SNRE history webpage, one discovers that Roth was the head of the Department of Forestry from 1903-1923, overseeing several academic and department social firsts:
  • 1904: First master's of forestry
  • 1906: First campfire celebration in Saginaw Forest
  • 1908: First teaching of landscape design at the University of Michigan
  • 1915: Acquisition of Eberwhite Woods
One year following the death of Roth, his Department of Forestry became the School of Forestry, and a few years after that, the University of Michigan opened Camp Filibert Roth in the Upper Peninsula. The camp eventually closed in 1988, and sold in 1996. I don't know if the stone (or only the plaque) was brought down from the Upper Peninsula, but that is as conceivable as the possibility that it always was here in Saginaw Forest, close to the place where Roth went to university and taught for 20 years.

UPDATE (2012-05-22): The University of Michigan is making historical profiles of all professors in the University's history, including Filibert Roth.

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