Worksheet 3: Biography Bruce J. Zobel

Bruce J. Zobel was born in Los Gatos , California on February 11, 1920. His parents owned a fruit and vegetable farm near Watsonville, California and he was the youngest of six children. Zobel graduated from high school in 1938 and then attended Salinas Junior College in preparation to attend the University of California, Berkeley.

In 1941 Zobel married his wife, Barbara, and began attending school in Berkeley . In 1943 Zobel graduated with his Bachelor’s of Science in Forestry from Berkeley. He then began working at the Pacific Lumber Company as a logging engineer until he was drafted into the U.S. Marine Corps in 1944.

While in the Marines, Zobel worked at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and helped develop a forestry management program. In 1946 Zobel completed his time with the Marines and took advantage of the GI Bill to return to graduate school at the University of California , Berkeley . The GI Bill provided funding for college or vocational education for those individuals that served in the Armed Forces. While again at Berkeley, Zobel received both his Master’s in Forestry in 1949, and his Ph.D. in Forestry in 1951. While working on these degree programs he also worked as a Senior Laboratory Assistant in the Forestry School.

In 1951 the Zobels moved to College Station Texas where Dr. Zobel was hired to head a new tree-improvement program. This program was funded by major forest products companies, Texas A&M University, and the Texas Forest Service. While there Zobel developed a successful breeding program for forest trees.

Interest in forest genetics and in Zobel’s work grew and in 1956 Zobel moved his wife and four children to Raleigh , North Carolina. There Zobel helped start the North Carolina State University-Industry Tree Improvement Program. In addition to running this tree improvement program, Zobel taught courses and advised forestry students at North Carolina State University (NCSU). He became a well-respected authority on forest improvement and forest genetics, and was honored with numerous awards. Forest genetics is the study of heredity in forest trees. This involves developing new types of trees with “improvements.” Forest genetics might create fruit trees that produce more or larger fruit, or create trees that grow faster to produce more timber for harvesting, etc.

In 1979, Zobel retired from NCSU, although he continued to teach part-time until 2004. Zobel consulted for international forestry firms over the several years, and in 1984, he founded the Zobel Forestry Associates. In 1995, Zobel sold his half of the company, but continued to work for the company as a consultant.

His accomplishments both in forest research and in the development of a tree improvement program, providing “better” trees for industrial forestry in the South have been widely recognized. Here are a few of the many awards received by Zobel throughout his career: 1965, Governor’s Award for Conservation in North Carolina; 1973, Outstanding Extension Services Award, North Carolina State University; 1982 named Man of the Year in Forestry by the North Carolina Forestry Association; and in 2004 Alexander Quarles Holladay Medal for Excellence, North Carolina State University. Bruce J. Zobel is described in numerous lecture brochures as “a creative scientist and gifted teacher.”

Image 1: Bruce J. Zobel and John W. Duffield, pioneers in tree improvement and forest genetics, discuss the development of seed orchard technology in 1967 at one of many seed orchards that were being established in the southeastern U.S. Photo by Bill Libby.