Worksheet 2: Biography Carlos G. Bates

Carlos G. Bates was born on October 14, 1885 in Topeka, Kansas to well educated parents. His mother was part of the first graduating class at Vassar College and his father held three degrees. Carlos Bates spent his childhood in various small communities across the Great Plains region. He attended the University of Nebraska and graduated in 1907 with a Bachelors of Science in Forestry. He then worked for the USDA Forest Service from 1907 until his death in 1949.

Bates worked in Washington DC until March of 1909, at first on silvical studies, then later on windbreak planting. Silvical is the study of the life history and general characteristics of forest trees and tree stands, in particular regional or area factors on trees or as a result of the trees. Bates was then assigned by the Forest Service was to establish a field station for silvical research within the central Rocky Mountain region. Bates established the Fremont Experimental Station in Sept of 1909 to meet this assignment and begin the Wagon Wheel Gap study that same year. Wagon Wheel Gap became the first controlled experiment on forest-streamflow in the U.S. Nearly nothing was known about the hydrology of mountain watersheds at this time making Wagon Wheel Gap a ground-breaking study. These two research sites were about 300 miles apart from each other yet with Bates' successfully ran both for over 15 years. Bates worked on the Fremont Experimental station 18 years and the Wagon Wheel Gap study for 16 years. Bates was an innovative man. From the Wagon Wheel Gap study, Bates developed ideas about how water moves through the soil of mountain watersheds to maintain streams in rainless or drought periods. He presented ideas in his writings on Wagon Wheel Gap that would later be published as “new” ideas nearly fifty years after. Bates worked in the Rocky Mountain region until 1927.

Image 1: Carlos Bates working near the Fremont Station.
Provided by the Rocky Mountain Research Station, USDA Forest Service,

In 1927 Bates was transferred to the Forest Products Lab in Madison, Wisconsin, as chief of the Biological Section. After three weeks there, he requested a transfer back to the Fremont Station to continue his soil research studies. Instead he was sent to the Lake States Station in St. Paul, Minnesota. Due to issues plaguing the Nation at the time, the dust bowls and massive erosion concerns, Bates focused his studies on erosion sources, causes, and cures. In 1929 he began a special study of erosion in southeastern Wisconsin and southwestern Minnesota . Then in 1934 Bates was put in charge of the Great Plains Shelterbelt Project, for erosion control. The shelterbelt project was the plan of planting trees to create windbreaks to reduce erosion in farm fields and prairie lands of the Central U.S. Then in the 1930s and 1940s Bates was in charge of flood control projects, developing ways to potentially reduce flooding through improved land management and other upstream practices. The last few years of his life were spent writing up his findings on his watershed and shelterbelt studies.

“C.G.” as Bates was called, was an independent spirit. He was a very logical man and appeared to many to be stern, aloof, and arrogant. To his close associates he was also warm, kind and gentlemanly. He paid close attention to detail, was reluctant to leave any point unexamined, and was a perfectionist. Because of these traits he conducted lengthy studies and wrote long scientific writing about his findings. He preferred to do much of his work himself, and he enjoyed being outdoors working on a definite set of problems and finding results to his experiments. Bates' curiosity and imagination led him to conduct studies and investigations not normally conducted or pursued by other researchers of his time. His constant search for scientific truths dominated his life. Bates died at his St. Paul home of a heart attack in July 1949. He was still working for the Forest Service's Lake State Station. Bates was known for his keen mind, outstanding capabilities, and his versatility. While other researcher of his time excelled in one field, Bates distinguished himself in three: silvics, shelterbelt forestry, and watershed management.