“The forests and timber growing therein, shall be considered as government property, and under the special care of the minister of the interior, who may from time to time convert the products thereof into money for the benefit of government.”
Thus, through King Kamehameha III’s Act No. 2, Chapter III, Article I, Chapter VI, Section VII of April 27, 1846, ‘forestry’ began in Hawaiʻi.
Around 1870, Henry Perrin Baldwin of Maui, “had systematically planted blocks of forests on his lands on the lower slopes of Mount Haleakalā” with several hundred thousand koa, eucalyptus, ironwood, silk oak, cedar and Java plum trees. (anderson)
On the continent, on November 30, 1900, seven foresters formed the Society of American Foresters (Mr Gifford Pinchot, Mr Overton Price, Mr William Hall, Mr Ralph Hosmer, Mr Thomas Sherrard, Mr ET Allen and Mr Henry Graves.) Today, it’s the largest professional organization for foresters in the world.
On May 13, 1903, the Territory of Hawaiʻi, with the backing of the Hawaiʻi Sugar Planters’ Association, established the Board of Commissioners of Agriculture and Forestry. (HDOA)
The next year, Ralph Sheldon Hosmer (one of the Society founders) became the first Superintendent of Forestry in the Islands.
Hosmer, son and grandson of Unitarian ministers, was born on March 4, 1874 in Deerfield Massachusetts. (The Hosmer family first came from Kent, England to Boston in 1635, then settled in Concord in 1637.) His mother’s side of the family (Julia West (Sheldon) Hosmer (of the Williams family)) went to Deerfield in the Connecticut Valley about 1650. (Maunder)
After completing his preparatory education, two years of which were at the Boston Latin School, he entered Harvard University from which he was graduated in 1894.
His first government position was with the US Department of Agriculture Division of Soils from May 1896, to November 1898. In the latter year, he became interested in Forestry and transferred his activities to the Division of Forestry.
His early work in the field was spent principally in the Adirondacks and the White Mountains. After several years, Hosmer took a leave of absence to attend the newly established Yale School of Forestry, obtaining his Master of Forestry Degree in 1902. He was a member of the first class to be graduated from this School.
Shortly after, Hosmer left for Hawaiʻi to fill the Superintendent position.
On December 30, 1913 that Ralph Hosmer of Newton Massachusetts was married to Jessie Nash Irwin; their three children were born on the continent: David Irwin, Jane Sheldon (Mrs. Robert Hall Llewellyn), and Emily Francis (Mrs. Marc Daniels)
From 1908 to 1914 he was chairman of the Territorial Conservation Committee of Hawaiʻi, and from 1907 to 1914, vice-president of the Board of Regents of the College of Hawaiʻi. (Harvard)
A lasting legacy of Hosmer is the result of his implementation of the Forest Reserve System, created by the Territorial Government of Hawai’i through Act 44 on April 25, 1903.
With Hawai‘i’s increase in population, expanding ranching industry, and extensive agricultural production of sugarcane and later pineapple, early territorial foresters recognized the need to protect mauka (upland) forests to provide the necessary water requirements for the lowland agriculture demands and surrounding communities. (DOFAW)
After more than a century of massive forest loss and destruction, the Territory of Hawai‘i acknowledged that preservation of the forest was vital to the future economic prosperity of the Islands.
Urged by sugarcane growers and government foresters concerned about the vanishing woodlands, the forest reserve system became the basis for the largest public-private partnership in the history of the Islands. (Last Stand)
Hosmer considered “nine-tenths of the forest proposition of Hawaiʻi forest protection problem,” arguing, “What is needed is simply to leave the forest alone, keeping man and animals out.”
While forest reserves were important watersheds, their boundaries were drawn “so as not to interfere with revenue-producing lands,” and such lands were not generally thought to be useful for agriculture. (hawaii-edu)
Hosmer’s second priority was to explore the opportunities for planting trees on eroding hillsides where the native forest did not regenerate and to experiment with trees of value for lumber, fuel, posts, bridge timbers and other uses. Except for the endemics koa and ʻōhiʻa, none of the native tree species were considered valuable for commercial purposes.
Hosmer believed that the forest reserves were useful for two primary purposes: water production for the Territory’s agricultural industries, and timber production to meet the growing demand for wood products. The forest reserve system, he said, should not lead to “the locking up from economic use of a certain forest area.”
Even in critical watersheds the harvesting of old trees “is a positive advantage, in that it gives the young trees a chance to grow, while at the same time producing a profit from the forests. (LRB)
A main concern was finding an alternative to importing redwood and Douglas-fir from California for construction timbers. In 1904 the government nursery was asked to grow timber tree species instead of its usual ornamental, flowering trees (pines, cypress, cedar and Douglas fir.) (Anderson)
“The diminishing supply of wood and timber on the American mainland, the consequent rise in price of all wood products, the local need for wood suitable for fence posts, railroad ties, bridge timbers and the like, not to speak of general construction timber and the necessity for a cheap fuel supply–that already in some districts is a serious problem – all point to the wisdom of tree planting.” (Hosmer; LRB)
Hosmer held the Superintendent position until 1914, when he became Professor of Forestry and head of the Department of Forestry at New York State College of Agriculture at Cornell University, a position he held until his retirement in June 1942. Hosmer died July 20, 1962 in Ithaca New York.
At the time of his resignation from service in Hawaiʻi, 37-areas had been designated forest reserve and acreage had grown from zero to 800,000-acres. The territory had set aside 550,000-acres, and private lands had contributed 260,000-acres.
Another legacy is the Hosmer Grove, located just inside the main entrance to Haleakalā National Park on Maui, at about 6,800-feet in elevation. It features many of the non-native species Hosmer experimented with. It also has a campground and picnic area (with picnic tables, barbecue grills, drinking water, and toilets.)
Charles S Judd, who succeeded Hosmer, was Hawaiʻi born and descended from the early missionary, Gerrit P Judd. He took over in 1914 and followed Hosmer’s lead in designating reserve areas. By 1930, more than 1,000,000-acres had been set aside. (Robinson)
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