Arboreal Bureau

J. Sterling Morton, the father of Arbor Day in Nebraska, and a longtime member of the Nebraska State Historical Society, early recognized 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 Historical 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 denudation of all the hillsides, plains, valleys, and mountains in the Eastern and Middle states is making a history of the decline of agriculture, the increase of drouths, and the annual destruction by floods in spring time along rivers whose banks have been shorn from source to mouth of timber growth. And while deforesting is keeping a diary of destruction there and making hard history with the ax and the saw, cannot we, here in Nebraska, reforesting the plains from the Missouri river to the Rocky mountains, keep legitimately, a record of our tree increase, tree growth, and tremendous prosperity in agriculture because of arboriculture?

“If the State Historical Society will only establish within itself an arboreal bureau and appoint a competent person or persons to gather, for preservation therein, the history of all the orchards and all the tree plantations of Nebraska, from the earliest to the latest planting, it will do a most practical and philosophical thing. And thus-after some years-a datum will be conserved which 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. . . . The Historical Society of Nebraska can with great propriety, it seems to me, take this matter intelligently in hand and preserve, in the manner suggested, very valuable facts-facts which involve human life and happiness-for the use of succeeding generations.

“Men like Gov. Furnas and Dr. George L. Miller, who have practically planted forests, who have, with keen relish, zealously studied trees and their adaptability and growth in Nebraska, can, by taking hold of the biography of all the planted trees in the state, lift into view valuable facts and render humanity a vast service.”

(April 2008)

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