Celebrating FDR’s Pioneering Tree Conservation – Scenic Hudson

Celebrating FDR’s Pioneering Tree Conservation – Scenic Hudson

Conserving land and cultivating it expressly for nature is now a standard practice. However, few people know that this concept was pioneered by the Hudson Valley several decades ago. Thanks to the early land-conservation efforts, today’s visitors can explore some of the region’s most fascinating scenic and ecological assets. One of the key figures behind these efforts was none other than President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had an unwavering passion for tree conservation.

Roosevelt’s dedication to forestry was so immense that he often referred to himself as a “tree farmer.” He embarked on numerous scientific forestry management experiments and personally planted over 500,000 trees. The National Park Service aptly describes his approach, stating, “FDR thought of the land as a resource, something to be used and managed in a responsible manner. He treated the trees on his wood lots as a crop, not as a landscape. He was concerned about the productivity of the land and how to keep it that way, to make it sustainable.”

Celebrating FDR’s Pioneering Tree Conservation – Scenic Hudson

FDR’s tree plantation served multiple purposes. It provided lumber for railroad ties, light poles, and even contributed to the construction of Navy patrol boats during World War II. Additionally, it supplied Christmas trees that were sent as gifts to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The forest’s bounty became a source of inspiration and solace for President Roosevelt as he guided the nation through the challenging times of the Great Depression and war.

Whenever FDR returned to his beloved Hyde Park, he would spend hours driving through his forest on roads branching off from today’s Roosevelt Farm Lane Trail. It was here, in Hyde Park, that Roosevelt found a kindred spirit and mentor in Archibald Rogers, a railroad magnate and landowner. Rogers had dedicated much of his life to developing a tree plantation on his estate. He not only harvested trees for timber but also implemented sustainable practices such as building woods roads, planting young trees, and selectively thinning them as they grew.

Celebrating FDR’s Pioneering Tree Conservation – Scenic Hudson

Rogers’ efforts deeply influenced FDR and provided the perfect environment for him to learn the ropes of forestry. The two would spend considerable time together in Rogers’ woodlands, chopping down dead trees in preparation for planting new ones. This collaboration and shared passion for tree conservation laid the foundation for FDR’s future endeavors.

During the Great Depression, FDR established a “tree army” inspired by his forestry work. The Civilian Conservation Corps workers planted a remarkable “Great Wall of Trees” stretching across the Great Plains from Texas to North Dakota. This shelterbelt played a crucial role in combating the conditions that had transformed the region’s agricultural soils into the devastating Dust Bowl.

Today, researchers are considering reviving the shelterbelt as a means of helping farms adapt to the increasingly harmful impacts of climate change while sustaining or even increasing productivity. The trees would provide numerous benefits, such as lowering temperatures, protecting crops from wind and rainstorms, capturing run-off that could otherwise flood fields, sequestering carbon, and providing habitat for wildlife.

Celebrating FDR’s Pioneering Tree Conservation – Scenic Hudson

The seeds of an idea that could help save the planet were sown in the woods of Hyde Park. In 2004, Scenic Hudson protected 335 acres of land across Route 9 from the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site. Remarkably, some of the trees planted by Archibald Rogers and Franklin Roosevelt still grace the land today, serving as a living testament to their enduring legacy.

Reed Sparling is a staff writer and historian at Scenic Hudson. He is the former editor of Hudson Valley Magazine and currently co-edits the Hudson River Valley Review, a scholarly journal published by the Hudson River Valley Institute at Marist College.

For more tips and insights on tree planting and conservation, visit Tips Tree Planting