Henry Baldwin: A Legacy of Life in the Forest

Jack Savage | March 2, 2013

Last week I had the privilege of talking with students who are taking the Land Conservation Course taught by Frank Mitchell and Bob Eckert at the University of New Hampshire. In 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 class if and how they had heard of the Forest Society, one student 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 first research forester, using as his outdoor laboratory the Caroline A. Fox Research and Demonstration Forest in Hillsboro. A member of the Forest Society Board of Trustees from 1966 to 1972, Baldwin authored  10 books, including the popular Monadnock Guide and the highly respected Forest Leaves: How to Identify Trees and Shrubs of Northern New England. He was also shredding the backcountry slopes long before it was cool to do so.

“Henry was an incredible man!” recalls Ken Desmarais, who works at the Division of Forests and Lands, who knew Baldwin well.

“He grew up at Saranac Lake, New York the son of a famous Tuberculosis doctor,” Desmarais said. “As a boy Henry spent much of his time in the forest hiking. A forest scientist known around the world for his provenance trials with mainly spruce and larch, part of the IUFRO [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 he put crews into young stands thinning out small poor quality trees which were then stacked and dried and the following year the wood was made into charcoal and sold in State campgrounds and a lot of other places. The proceeds were used to fund the next timber stand improvement crew.

“He 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,” said Desmarais “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,” said Desmarais. “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 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 having a descendant studying land conservation, Henry Baldwin’s legacy is noted with the Cottrell-Baldwin Environmental Lecture Series, presented each spring by the Forest Society and the NH Division of Forests and Lands at Fox Forest in Hillsboro. This year the first of four lectures is this coming Tuesday, March 5, when UNH Associate Professor Scott Ollinger talks about how climate and air quality changes may affect New Hampshire’s forests. Other lectures are by 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 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.