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  Texas : Features : Columns : "Letters from Central Texas"

GOODRICH JONES:
The best friend Texas trees ever had

by Clay Coppedge
Some people might be tempted to refer to W. Goodrich Jones as the original tree hugger. While there is no record of Jones in an arbor embrace, he was no doubt a pioneering conservation and a profound and lasting impact on forestry in this country, especially Texas . A state forest in East Texas is named in his honor.

A report Jones wrote on the condition and future of forestry in Texas set the tone for the past century’s conservation practices in the state on behalf of trees. If trees could hug people Jones was a person to whom the trees would have opened their limbs.

Jones attended a White House Conference on conservation called by another ardent conservationist, President Theodore Roosevelt, and helped form the Texas Forestry Association in 1914, serving seven years as the association’s president. Later, he lobbied the state legislature for creation of the Texas Department of Forestry, which became the Texas Forest Service in 1926.

All this from a man who made his home and his fortune in Temple, a town founded and constructed on virtually treeless prairie. He didn’t think much of Temple when he first saw it. “My first impressions of Temple were unfavorable,” he later wrote. “Not a tree was to be seen. The tree idea possessed me so I planted some pecans in a tin can filled with sand and placed it on my hotel’s windowsill. That was the town’s first tree planting.”

As a child in an affluent family, Jones spent two years in Europe where his father took him on a tour of the fabled Black Forest. What he saw there had a profound impact on Jones. The German system of continuous planting, cultivating and cutting rotation, along with the forest’s almost mystical beauty, was something he never forgot.

Jones came to Texas in 1883 after his graduation from Princeton to serve apprenticeships at banks in Galveston and South Texas. A family friend staked Jones to $80,000 to start the Temple National Bank, otherwise known in that town as “Jones’ bank.”

The U.S. Forest Service asked Jones to survey the forests of East Texas in 1905. “I went by train, carriage and horseback,” he wrote. “It was a scene of terrible waste of virgin timber, by the lumber mills in the harvesting of lumber. To cut down and drag out one tree, 100 younger trees were knocked down and killed.”

The state was, he concluded, “killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.”

Jones still he liked what he had seen in the Black Forest, a cooperative effort between state and federal governments to regulate planned cutting and planting as part of a systematic program to replenish the forests indefinitely.

Jones organized the first Arbor Day celebrations in Temple in the late 1880s and lobbied for a statewide recognition of a day dedicated to trees. Arbor Day was first celebrated in Texas on Feb. 22, 1889, the anniversary of George Washington’s birthday. It continued on that date every year until 1949 when it was changed to the third Friday in January.

The W. Goodrich Jones State Forest in Montgomery County south of Conroe is both a place of primal beauty and scientific inquiry. Among the native loblolly pines, some of them 100 years old, are a number of endangered red cockaded woodpeckers. The Texas Forest Service has operated the forest partly as a demonstration forest since it bought the land in 1926.

Even without its beauty, wonder charm and inherent value, the W. Goodrich Jones Forest provides us something else: a way to remember W. Goodrich Jones, who did more than any other Texan of his generation to keep Texas green.

© Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas"
March 6 , 2008 Column
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