Date of this Version
University of Nebraska, Nebraska Forest Service, Lincoln, NE
Perhaps forests and trees are not the first images one conjures when thinking about Nebraska. Indeed, an old joke claims the Nebraska State Tree is a wooden football goalpost. Yet Nebraska has a unique forestry history. Pioneers of the mid-nineteenth century moved into what was popularly known as the Great American Desert, and they rolled the dice that this semi-arid land, seemingly incapable of sustaining trees, could somehow grow crops. After winning that gamble, the settlers yearned for the trees they had grown accustomed to in the Eastern United States. They missed the beauty of the wooded areas and the respite of a shade tree. Moreover, they needed windbreaks to slow soil erosion and crop damage. Homesteaders would take advantage of timber claim opportunities and plant trees 40 acres at a time. Nebraska would become the “Tree Planter’s State”. J. Sterling Morton would found Arbor Day. And Nebraskans would toil in their own blood and sweat to create the nation’s largest hand-planted forest reserve.
The most unheralded part of this unique history is the organization of dedicated, hardworking individuals who have directed these and other efforts. Nebraska foresters have distributed trees, built windbreaks, protected forest reserves, conducted original research, contained diseases, fought forest and wildfires, and assisted the forest products industries. Through obstacles both natural and man-made, forestry activities have continued for over 100 years in one form or another. The pioneering foresters of the early-twentieth century could little predict what would evolve from their efforts. This a story of steady determination, daunting undertakings, and great achievements. It is the story of the Nebraska Forest Service.