“Conversations in Forest History”

Conversations banner with Jamie

Join FHS Historian Jamie Lewis as he engages in Conversations in Forest History with leading historians, artists, researchers, policy makers, and newsmakers as they apply their historical knowledge to current topics. Each conversation opens with a short presentation before Jamie and his guest take questions from the audience. Topics include the decline of the majestic American hemlocks and beech trees, the an introduction to forest carbon markets and to ESG, a history of the US Forest Service district ranger in popular culture, and the challenges of heir property rights and Black forestland ownership.

Videos of all presentations are available on the FHS YouTube Channel or the FHS Vimeo Channel.

Upcoming Webinars

April 24, 2024

1-2 pm ET

Register HERE

"Contemplative Forestry: Lessons from Monastic Landscapes Past and Present" with Jason M. Brown

For centuries, Christian monks have embraced sustainable forestry practices to protect the land around their monasteries. Today, in the United States and elsewhere, monasteries face challenges to managing their lands similar to those of secular landowners, including feeling pressure to sell their lands and managing for climate change. But monasteries have additional challenges associated with being a religious order, too. Join Jason Brown, author of Dwelling in the Wilderness: Modern Monks in the American West (Trinity University Press, 2023), as he discusses the history of monastic forestry and explores some lessons for our times.

Jason M. Brown studied anthropology and international development as an undergraduate at Brigham Young University. He earned joint master’s degrees in forestry and theology from Yale University. He completed his PhD in 2017 from the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia, where his dissertation explored the sense of place of contemporary Catholic monks in the American West. As a Lecturer at Simon Fraser University Jason teaches courses in comparative religion and ecological humanities for the department of Global Humanities and occasionally environmental ethics for the School of Resource and Environmental Management.

May 14, 2024

1-2:15 pm ET

Register HERE

"Forest and Industry in the Late Soviet Union" with Elena Kochetkova

Russia has more than one-fifth of the world’s forest areas, which contain more than 55% of the world’s conifers, and 11% of the world’s biomass. Yet, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, their forests are "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." Historian Elena Kochetkova will help us better understand this important part of the Russian economy and the world's ecosystem. Elena will discuss how the Soviet economy developed a unique approach toward forest resources after the Second World War. Looking at the materiality and dreamscape of Soviet industry through forests and wood, my talk will demonstrate how, paradoxically, industrial ecology emerged and developed as a by-product of the Soviet industrialization project, which saw the rise of new industry-ecology paradigms designed by specialists. It will also discuss how the industry neglected socialist experience after the demise of the USSR and has been revived in post-Soviet countries in recent decades. Within the context of the current environmental crisis, the presentation (and book) invites readers to re-evaluate state socialism as a complex phenomenon with sophisticated interactions between nature and industry.

Elena Kochetkova is a historian of the economy, environment, technology, and state socialism at the University of Bergen in Norway. Elena’s new book “The Green Power of Socialism: Wood, Forest, and the Making of Soviet Industrially Embedded Ecology”, published with MIT Press in 2024, examines the relationship between nature and humans under state socialism by looking at the industrial role of Soviet forests.

 Watch Previous Webinars


March 2024

Watch the video HERE

In 1846 and 1847, three thousand Black New Yorkers were gifted with 120,000 acres of Adirondack land by Gerrit Smith, an upstate abolitionist and heir to an immense land fortune. On their new land they could hope to meet the $250 property requirement New York imposed on Black prospective voters in 1821.

Smith’s plan was prescient, anticipating Black suffrage reform, affirmative action, environmental distributive justice, and community-based racial equity more than a century before these were points of public policy. But when the response to Smith’s offer fell radically short of his high hopes, his zeal cooled. Timbuctoo, Freemen’s Home, Blacksville, and other Black enclaves were forgotten. Local and regional historians then marginalized the Black experience for 150 years.

Drawing from her book The Black Woods: Pursuing Racial Justice on the Adirondack Frontier (Cornell, November 2023), writer and independent scholar Amy Godine retrieves the robust story of Black pioneers who carved from the wilderness a future for their families and their civic rights, and returns these trailblazers and their descendants to their rightful place in the Adirondack narrative. Her book is available through her website or from online retailers.

February 2024

Watch the video HERE

"Managing Our Urban Forests in A Changing Climate" with Katie Rose Levin

The vast majority of Americans live in an urban/suburban environment, where trees have historically thrived with little care and scant attention to soil. With increased population, intense urbanization, and climate change, this is no longer the case. Join us to learn about the technology urban foresters are using to successfully plant and manage trees in this newly complex environment. We’ll discuss the technological and social components that determine where trees thrive—or where they die.

Katie Rose Levin teaches urban forestry and greenspace management at Duke University. She runs her own consulting company, City Leaf Works, and helped found two tree planting organizations, Trees for the Triangle and TreesDurham. Katie Rose is a board-certified Master Arborist with a Master’s of Forestry and a Master’s of Environmental Management.

Jan. 2024

Watch the video HERE


Nancy Siegel: "Susie M. Barstow: Redefining the Hudson River School of Painting"

With its idyllic or dramatic depiction of America’s forested landscapes, the Hudson River school of landscape painting deeply influenced the early conservation movement. The painters most often associated with it—Cole, Bierstadt, Gifford, to name a few—are male. Susie M. Barstow and other women were part of the Hudson River school but were omitted from its histories when they were written in the 20th century. A prolific artist, Barstow (1836–1923) was as popular and widely travelled as the men in her lifetime but quickly slipped from public memory. Nancy Siegel’s lecture examines the life and career of this fascinating artist through vast and previously unknown archival materials.

Nancy Siegel is Professor of Art History and Culinary History at Towson University and specializes in American landscape studies, underrepresented women artists of the 19th century, print culture, and culinary history of the 18th and 19th centuries. Her most recent book, Susie M. Barstow: Redefining the Hudson River School, complements the 2023 touring exhibition she co-curated, Women Reframe American Landscape.

Dec. 2023

Watch the video HERE

David Paul Bayles: "Sap in Their Veins: Looking at Loggers and Life in the Woods Through a Camera Lens"

In 1972 David Paul Bayles left the suburbs of Los Angeles for a summer job as a logger. Then, instead of heading off to photography school in the fall as planned, he stayed for four years later. When he left, the woods boss told him: “We wish you well in photo school and please don’t forget us dirty old loggers.”

A decade later he returned to the forests of the northern Sierras, Mount Shasta, and Redwood coast regions to create a photo exhibition that traveled through California and Oregon. In 2004 he expanded the project, focusing on how northern California’s logging industry had changed and altered the lives and culture of the men with whom he’d spent long days working in forests, men who worked with their hands and intuition. David's new book Sap in Their Veins: Portraits of Loggers and the Trees They Fell brings together those powerful photos with the moving stories the men shared with him. He spoke about his career in the woods and behind the camera.

Photographer David Paul Bayles focuses on landscapes where the needs of forests and human pursuits often collide, sometimes coexist and on occasion find harmony. He is also the author of Urban Forest: Images of Trees in the Human Landscape (Sierra Club Books).

Oct. 2023

Watch the video HERE

“TIMOs: The History and Future of Timberland Investing” with Tracy Buran Evens

Timberland investment management organizations (TIMOs) have transformed forest landownership over the past forty years. To understand how the TIMO industry has grown and invested capital, institutional investor objectives and preferences for committing capital must also be understood. Tracy Buran Evens breaks down the history of TIMOs into distinct eras representing significant changes. She discussed the history of these events and what we might expect in the future for timberland investing. Download the slide deck as a PDF HERE.

Tracy Buran Evens is a Principal of TimberLink LLC, an independent advisory firm strictly serving institutional investors. Tracy began her career in 1989 with a pioneer TIMO and has been advising investors with TimberLink for 20 years. Her experiences over the history of the industry offer a unique perspective into how and why capital has been invested.

Sept. 2023

Watch the video HERE

"Cellulose: Meet the Versatile Forest-based Polymer" with Beth Cormier

Cellulose is the most abundant polymer on earth. Used in paper products, textiles, consumables, and pharmaceuticals, it’s central to our daily lives. This presentation by Beth Cormier covered the many applications of forest-based cellulose in everyday products—some known, some not so known. Join us on a journey from paper and paper-based packaging to wood pulps for innovative composites and textiles and then finally from forest into high fashion.

Beth Cormier is Vice President of Research, Development, and Sustainability for Sappi North America. She has more than 35 years industry experience across several disciplines, including product development, manufacturing, and marketing. Beth serves on the board of the UMaine Pulp and Paper Foundation as well as the Bio-renewable Development Consortium.

 June 2023

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Becoming “Treewise and Sequoical”: John Muir and the Giant Sequoia

Naturalist John Muir had just turned thirty when he first arrived in California in 1868 in part to see the Giant Sequoias. Throughout the rest of his life, Muir’s focus on the species changed and those changes matched his pursuits in life. At first, he reveled among the groves like the young man that broke away from the factories to “study the inventions of God.” Then he studied the trees scientifically as he had studied the glaciers of the Sierra. Lastly, he worked tirelessly to preserve them as he helped to establish national parks and tried to prevent the flooding of Hetch Hetchy Valley. Join Mike Wurtz of the University of the Pacific as he discusses how Giant Sequoias changed John Muir and how John Muir's thinking changed about the tree species.

Mike Wurtz is Head of the University of the Pacific Libraries’ Holt-Atherton Special Collections and Archives—home of the largest collection of John Muir material in the world. An archivist and historian by trade, he is also the author of John Muir’s Grand Yosemite: Musings and Sketches, which geolocates 25 sites in Yosemite from which Muir made his drawings.

June 2023

Watch the video

"Lucette!" – Transforming Paul Bunyan from Indiscriminate Logger to Caring Forester

The Paul Bunyan myth has been woven through the history of US and Canadian forests, supporting a pride in unlimited logging. Marybeth Lorbiecki, having written a biographies of Aldo Leopold (one for adults and one for children), decided that North America needed a fresh cultural story that integrates a Leopoldian and Native American–influenced ethic. So, in 2007, Lorbiecki created the picture book Paul Bunyan’s Sweetheart, which puts a new twist on the tale of Paul’s courtship of Lucette Diana Kensack. Lorbiecki is transforming this story into a new musical: “Lucette! A Lively Tale of Lumberjacks, Trees & Paul Bunyan.” She's integrated a strong female lead and friends, immigrants, and wildlife to better reflect the Northwood’s real history. Join us for a discussion about the message, the musical, and how we talk about the land by using well-known figures both real and mythical in general.

Marybeth Lorbiecki is the author of the award-winning biography A Fierce Green Fire: Aldo Leopold’s Life and Legacy. She is an adjunct writing and literature professor at the University of Wisconsin–River Falls and author of adult nonfiction and children’s books.

May 2023

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"Firebreak: How the Maine-New Brunswick Border Defined the 1825 Miramichi Fire" with Alan MacEachern

On 7 October 1825, the Miramichi region of New Brunswick experienced one of the largest forest fires in recorded history while, next door, Maine suffered the most extensive fire in its history. The fires burned in the same environmental and climatic conditions, of course – and may well have been connected. Alan MacEachern will describe reconstructing the fire's history, and discuss how the international border served as a cultural firebreak, diminishing its fame in both the United States and Canada.

Alan MacEachern teaches History at the University of Western Ontario. He was the founder of NiCHE: Network in Canadian History & Environment, and has written extensively on environmental history, most recently The Miramichi Fire: A History (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2020). 

April 2023

Watch the video

Download the slidedeck

"Understanding ESG and the Forest Sector" with Jason Metnick

In less than 20 years, the ESG (environmental, social, and governance) movement has grown into a global phenomenon representing more than $30 trillion in assets under management. ESG ratings aim to measure a company’s long-term management of financially relevant ESG risks and opportunities. However, controversies (and confusion) emerge when different companies post ESG ratings and how relevant those ratings are to informing sustainable investing. This can leave investors, company leadership, and government regulators challenged to understand the real meaning of ESG and how it may relate to the forest-based supply chain. Jason Metnick spoke about the ESG topics that are driving innovation and mitigating risk in the forest sector.

Jason Metnick is Senior Vice President, Customer Affairs, with Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Inc. Jason has worked at SFI since 2001 and leads the standards pillar at SFI, with a focus on elevating the SFI standards as a proof point for sustainable forestry and responsible purchasing.

March 2023

Watch the video HERE

“The History of the 'Two-Fisted Ranger': From Myth to Reality” with Rachel D. Kline

Depending on who you ask, the mythical US Forest Service ranger may be either a superhero or supervillain—a forester who is either the moral and knowledgeable face of conservation or the embodiment of an overbearing federal government. In reality, some of those rangers are District Rangers—midlevel managers who are responsible for a large geographic area and all US Forest Service employees in it, and for enforcing agency rules and policies that try to balance the ecological needs of the land they manage with the demands of a diverse public. What has historically been the role of the district ranger, and who is the district ranger of today? Join historian Rachel Kline as she explores the history, myth, and reality of the Forest Service district ranger—and what all this may mean for the agency in the era of ecosystem services management and climate change.

Rachel Kline is a supervisory historian for the USDA Forest Service who holds a PhD from the University of New Hampshire. Rachel previously presented on how we can rethink our land ethic narratives by listening to what women have been saying about it since the mid-1800s.

Feb. 2023

Watch the video HERE

“Conserving American Forests With Carbon Revenues” with Sarah Ford and Jessica Bakowski of Forest Carbon Works

Do you have a basic understanding of forest carbon markets (or attended our "Introduction to" webinar in January, linked below) and are ready to learn how carbon revenues could help conserve American forests? In “Conserving American Forests With Carbon Revenues,” you’ll learn about forest conservation, climate mitigation, and legacy building, and then about carbon program options for U.S. landowners, no matter how large your property is.

Jan. 2023

Watch the video HERE

“An Introduction to Forest Carbon Markets” with Sarah Ford and Jessica Bakowski of Forest Carbon Works

In “An Introduction to Forest Carbon Markets,” you’ll learn the history of carbon markets in general and forest markets in particular, including about the Chicago Climate Exchange, Cap and Trade, and voluntary markets, before being introduced to today’s U.S. carbon markets for forest landowners.

Dec. 2022

Watch the video HERE

“Finding Their Roots: Exploring the Childhood Landscapes of Our Conservation Giants” with Jeffrey Ryan

Many of us have come to know those most responsible for America’s public lands through their well-documented accomplishments and writings. But what led people like Aldo Leopold, Benton MacKaye, Ernest Oberholtzer, and Howard Zahniser to become advocates for our parks, forests, and wilderness areas? While researching his latest book, author Jeffrey Ryan visited the birthplaces and other critical landscapes of these and other early conservationists to better understand how “nature” shaped their lives and careers. Ryan will share images from his travels as well as quotes from the subjects themselves about how their early connections with nature helped set them on the path to becoming fervent defenders of our parks, forests, and wilderness areas.

Maine-based author, historian, and speaker Jeffrey Ryan is the author of This Land Was Saved for You and Me, which traces the 150-year history of the development and management of America’s public parks, national forests, and wilderness areas.

Oct. 2022

Watch the video HERE

"'Robin Hood was just taking care of his own': Timber Poaching from California to British Columbia" with Lyndsie Bourgon

Timber theft exists because there is a strong market for poached old-growth timber and redwood burls, which enter our homes in the form of firewood, furniture, and building materials. But while poaching contributes to a lucrative trade, it’s also an ancient crime that’s deeply rooted in the identity of those that live and work in forests. Many contemporary poachers see their actions as following in a long line of protest, and also as a response to conservation plans that contributed to rural poverty. In her new book Tree Thieves: Crime and Survival in North America's Woods, Lyndsie Bourgon explores the social and economic drivers behind timber poaching in the Pacific Northwest.

Lyndsie Bourgon is an author, oral historian, and 2018 National Geographic Explorer. Her book is Tree Thieves: Crime and Survival in North America's Woods.

Sept. 2022

Watch the video HERE

“A Sedimental Journey: Tracking Historic Dirt Downstream” with Chris Bolgiano

Through archival and contemporary photos, historian Chris Bolgiano explored how the misuse of forests across the eastern U.S. over more than four centuries still impacts watersheds today. Legacy Sediments, as the results of historic erosion are officially called, have only recently been recognized as a major problem not only for the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the U.S., but also for other bays along the Atlantic coast. To understand why requires a map of long-gone water mills, a lidar-equipped drone, and a revolutionary new understanding of streams that look “natural” but definitely are not. These and other tools inform Chris's research and presentation.

Nature writer and environmental historian Chris Bolgiano has written or edited six books, as well as travel and nature articles for many publications. Chris is Professor Emerita at James Madison University in Virginia, where she spent 25 years documenting local history while serving as a university librarian.

June 2022

Watch the video HERE

"Drawing From Forest History: How One Artist Uses Forest History As Source Material" with Shing Yin Khor

Shing Yin Khor's National Book Award finalist graphic novel, The Legend of Auntie Po, follows a 12-year-old Chinese American camp cook as she tells Paul Bunyan stories (reinvented as an elderly Chinese matriarch named Auntie Po) in a Sierra Nevada logging camp. Join Shing Yin to talk about making graphic novels, adapting W. B. Laughead's Paul Bunyan drawings and stories, integrating forest history research into historical fiction, and telling stories about Chinese-American contributions to forest history.

Shing Yin Khor is a Malaysian-American cartoonist and experience designer making stories about immigrants trying to find a home in nostalgic Americana. Shing’s middle-grade historical fiction graphic novel The Legend of Auntie Po is a National Book Award finalist and Eisner Award nominee, and their graphic novel about driving that famous highway, The American Dream? A Journey on Route 66, was one of NPR's best books of 2019. Learn more about this celebrated artist and writer at their website.

June 2022

Watch the video HERE

“Driven Wild: Foresters, Automobiles, and the Founding of the Wilderness Society" with Paul Sutter

The founding of the Wilderness Society in 1935 marked the beginning of organized wilderness advocacy in the United States, a movement that culminated in the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the creation of a national system of wilderness areas. Conventional wisdom had long been that wilderness advocacy was hostile to the utilitarian conservation of federal foresters, who believed that the national forests should be developed for their timber and other resources, and yet four of the eight founders of the Wilderness Society were trained foresters who valued both wilderness protection and sustained yield forestry. How are we to make sense of this apparent paradox? To find out, historian Paul Sutter, author of Driven Wild: How the Fight against Automobiles Launched the Modern Wilderness Movement, revisits this classic history of modern wilderness advocacy twenty years after its publication.

Paul is also author of Let Us Now Praise Famous Gullies: Providence Canyon and the Soils of the South (2015), and he is the co-author or co-editor of three other books on the environmental history of the American South. He is also the series editor for Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books, published by the University of Washington Press.

May 2022

Watch the video HERE

“What Did She Say? Recovering Women’s Voices To Our Land Ethic Narratives" with Rachel Kline

For more than half a century, historians have told us that the first calls for forest preservation and an ecological and moral approach to land management were made in Henry D. Thoreau’s Walden (1854), George Perkins Marsh’s Man and Nature (1864), and Aldo Leopold’s “Land Ethic” essay in 1949. But a century before Leopold published his essay, Susan Fenimore Cooper made the same arguments in her book Rural Hours. She began an ongoing pattern of women initiating calls for including ethical and cultural aspects of environmental management—two cornerstones of forest management today—which would be overlooked until men repeated them. How do we recover the voice of Cooper and so many other women to tell a more comprehensive history of creating a land ethic? Join historian Rachel Kline to discuss how we can rethink our land ethic narratives by listening to what women have been saying all along.

Rachel Kline is a historian with the U.S. Forest Service and holds a PhD from University of New Hampshire.

April 2022

Watch the video HERE

“Optimism in a Time of Environmental Doom and Gloom: A Conversation with leaders of the Global Earth Optimism Movement” with Ruth Anna Stolk and Nancy Knowlton

On Earth Day 2017, Ruth Anna Stolk and Dr. Nancy Knowlton co-led an international team that introduced Earth Optimism Alliance to the world. Their goal was to collect and amplify stories of what’s working in conservation across disciplines and geography to improve the environmental situation and conversation. In this webinar they talked about how some of the exemplar projects they have featured from multiple countries have coped with setbacks like a global pandemic and social justice, and then retrenchment through creative approaches to solving problems. They shared examples of success stories, and also how optimism-related efforts are sprouting across individual organizations and groups. They offered examples and thoughts about how such efforts serve as a counterweight to the cumulative bombardment of negative messaging all around us—particularly the next generation of conservationists.

Ruth Anna Stolk is Founding Executive Director of the Smithsonian Conservation Commons, a community serving more than 21 museums, libraries, and research centers to sustain a biodiverse planet. Nancy Knowlton is a distinguished author, public speaker, marine scientist, and conservation biologist whose use of state-of-the-art molecular approaches has led to the recognition that the biodiversity of the ocean is far greater than previously recognized.

March 2022

Watch the video HERE

(80 minutes)

“It’s a Family Affair: Understanding Heirs’ Property and Forestland Ownership" with Mavis Gragg and Sam Cook

Productive agricultural land remains elusive for many landowners and agricultural professionals are often limited in helping them due to complicated legal and social issues. This is particularly true for land owned as heirs' property—property with multiple owners, each of whom inherited their shares. Forester Sam Cook and attorney Mavis Gragg will demystify a legal and social quandary that limits agricultural land from being used productively. According to Mavis Gragg, "I think people have heard more and more about heirs’ property in the last couple of years because of the tremendous land loss that has been experienced by the Black community. But it’s an issue that impacts many Americans, because most families that have land will transfer it by inheritance."

Sam Cook is the executive director of Forest Assets and VP of the Natural Resources Foundation for the College of Natural Resources at NC State University; and is Vice President of the Society of American Foresters. Mavis Gragg is director of the Sustainable Forestry & African American Land Retention Program with the American Forest Foundation.

Feb. 2022

Watch the video HERE

(90 mins.)

“Frederick Law Olmsted: Bringing Nature to the City” with Laurence Cotton

Laurence has provided an annotated list of resources, including books and other films to watch. Download the PDF HERE.

April 26, 2022, marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Law Olmsted, the master designer of public parks and a founder of the field of American landscape architecture. Public historian and filmmaker Laurence Cotton explored the remarkable life and career of Olmsted—writer, philosopher, social reformer, conservationist, and creator of some of the most beautiful public and private parks and gardens in all of North America and that of his sons and their legacy. Laurence Cotton is a practicing public historian, and writer/producer of historical films for PBS including Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America. He was trained as a cultural anthropologist and brings that lens to bear on much of his work.

Jan. 2022

Watch the video HERE

"The Twilight of American Hemlocks and Beeches" with Tim Palmer

Tim Palmer, an award-winning environmental photographer and writer, shared his awe-inspiring photos of these two tree species while explaining how exotic insects and pathogens are decimating them, and discusses the promising work that scientists and managers are undertaking to correct the problems and restore these extraordinary woodlands. Visit Tim's website to see all of his work and purchase his books.


Other Presentations From FHS

The re-created cabin of Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond.

Unprecedented Seasons

This series addressed the biggest issues of 2020 and 2021: racial inequality and social justice, social isolation and distancing, and climate change—often using the lens of environmental history, biography and memoir to do so.

mushrooms in Great Smoky Mtns

Nontimber Forest Products & Bioeconomy

Experts discussed how the bioeconomy can reduce environmental impacts of economic growth by forest management that promotes sustainable harvests and production of non-timber forest products such as food and medicine.