Jack Savage's Forest Journal -- A man of the forest: Henry Ives Baldwin left an inspiring legacy

JACK SAVAGE March 02. 2013 1:48AM
The design of Henry Ives Baldwin's charcoal kiln, developed at Fox Forest in Hillsborough in the late 1930s, continues to be sought out around the world, even today. (COURTESY NH DIVISION OF FORESTS AND LANDS)

Last week I had the privilege of talking with a classroom full of students who are taking the Land Conservation Course taught by Frank Mitchell and Bob Eckert at the University of New Hampshire.

At a time when it is fashionable to decry the disconnect between our modern lives and the natural world - especially among young adults whose focus is presumed to be on social media and the online universe - it is heartening to find students passionate about figuring out how to best steward the real world.

When I asked the students if and how they had heard of the Forest Society, one raised her hand and mentioned that her great-grandfather was Henry Baldwin. The name is well known.

For more than three decades, 1933-1965, Henry Ives Baldwin was a research forester for the State of New Hampshire. In fact, he was the state's first research forester, using as his outdoor laboratory the Caroline A. Fox Research and Demonstration Forest in Hillsborough. A member of the Forest Society Board of Trustees from 1966-1972, Baldwin was the author of 10 books, including the popular "Monadnock Guide" and the highly respected "Forest Leaves: How to Identify Trees and Shrubs of Northern New England." He also was shredding the backcountry slopes long before it was cool to do so.

"Henry was an incredible man," recalls Ken Desmarais, an employee of the Division of Forests and Lands who knew Baldwin well.

Baldwin grew up in Saranac Lake, N.Y., the son of a famous tuberculosis doctor, Desmarais said. "As a boy, Henry spent much of his time in the forest hiking. As a forest scientist, he was known around the world for his provenance trials with mainly spruce and larch, part of the (International Union of Forest Research Organizations) experiments, and some experiments he ran with some fellow colleagues on his own."

Baldwin is also well-known around the world for his charcoal experiments.

Making charcoal was a mechanism for funding timber-stand improvement operations at Fox Forest. One year, Baldwin put crews into young stands thinning out small poor quality trees, which were then stacked and dried. The following year, the wood was made into charcoal and sold in state campgrounds and many other places. The proceeds were used to fund the next timber stand improvement crew.

"(Baldwin) developed the New Hampshire charcoal kiln, which is a mobile metal kiln used to make charcoal from generally un-merchantable forest materials," Desmarais said. "We still get requests for the plans for the New Hampshire charcoal kiln, often from far away, such as South America.

"He always had bags of charcoal in his car and would sell it whenever the opportunity arose. He told me at one time he was one of the biggest charcoal suppliers in the Northeast.

"Henry also ran many experiments with our local forests and forest products," Desmarais continued. "A typical timber sale at Fox Forest under Henry's supervision could have over a dozen product sorts."

When it came time to chronicle his life, Baldwin focused on a different passion.

"Henry was a skiing enthusiast, "said Desmarais. "He built a ski jump at Fox Forest and coached the (local) high school ski-jumping team. He skied throughout Scandinavia and eventually wrote a book about his skiing travels called 'The Skiing Life.' He and I last skied together when he was 91 years old."

Baldwin died at age 96 in 1992. He was a 20th century steward of the real world.

In addition to a descendant studying land conservation, Henry Baldwin's legacy includes the Cottrell-Baldwin Environmental Lecture Series, presented each spring by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and the state Division of Forests and Lands at Fox Forest in Hillsborough.

This year, the first of four lectures is this coming Tuesday, March 5, featuring UNH Associate Professor Scott Ollinger talking about how climate and air quality changes may affect New Hampshire's forests. Other lecturers include author Dan Sperduto ("The Nature of New Hampshire"), wildlife biologist Eric Orff, and Bill Betty, on the somewhat controversial topic of mountain lions in New Hampshire.

For more information about these lectures, visit www.forestsociety.org/thingstodo.

Jack Savage is editor of Forest Notes, the quarterly magazine of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. He can be contacted at jsavage@forestsociety.org.

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