A Proposed Arboreal Bureau

Arbor Day founder and longtime History Nebraska member J. Sterling Morton proposed the creation of an “arboreal bureau” to be managed by us in 1886.

Arbor Day Parade in Nebraska City, 1917.

An arboreal bureau managed by History Nebraska? J. Sterling Morton, the father of Arbor Day in Nebraska, and a longtime member of what was then called the Historical Society, recommended the establishment of such a bureau in 1886. Morton recognized early on the devastating effects of deforestation on climate and the environment.

In a January 5, 1886 letter from Morton to Historical Society secretary George E. Howard, Morton recommended the creation of an “arboreal bureau” within the Society that would compile a history of “all the orchards and all the tree plantations of Nebraska, from the earliest to the latest planting.” Published in the Historical Society series Transactions and Reports in 1887, the letter said the compilation of such information “will materially aid in solving the question of climatic changes being brought about by arboriculture. And more than that, this arboreal bureau will act as a signal station does upon a stormy coast, and warn the race in Nebraska and elsewhere from danger to its very existence which shall come from non-attention to forestry—too much activity in cutting down and too little in planting out trees.”

Although Morton’s arboreal bureau was not established, his other efforts to encourage the planting of trees in Nebraska bore much fruit. Arbor Day, once celebrated on April 22, Morton’s birthday, is now observed on the fourth Friday in April.

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History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
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