Ferdinand A. Silcox (1882-1939)
5th Chief of the Forest Service, 1933-1939
Ferdinand Augustus Silcox was born on Christmas Day in 1882, at Columbus, Georgia.
He graduated from the College of Charleston, South Carolina, in 1903, with honors
in chemistry and sociology. He went on to take a masters degree in forestry from
the Yale Forest School in 1905. He served with the Forest Service in the northern
Rockies after graduation. Silcox entered the Engineer (Forestry) branch of the U.S.
Army in 1917 as a captain, leaving as a major. He was selected to handle labor problems
at the shipyards in the Puget Sound and Columbia River districts during much of
World War I. After the war, Silcox worked in the private sector for 11 years as
a director of industrial relations before being appointed as chief.
The great depression was in full swing when Silcox took over as chief; he
led the Forest Service during some of the most difficult times. He was able to effectively
help millions of unemployed workers deal with the Depression through the Civilian
Conservation Corps (CCC) and Works Projects Administration (WPA) projects in the
national forests. The Forest Service provided space for the 200-man CCC camps, thousands
of work projects, and experienced project leaders. More than two million unemployed
young men enrolled in the CCC during the nine years of its existence.
Chief Ferdinand Silcox.
Extensive cooperation with the U.S. Army, Department of Labor, and other federal
and state land management agencies was needed to get these programs to work effectively.
His previous work for the Army and in the private sector proved to be invaluable
for getting the job done. An able administrator, Silcox treated his associates and
subordinates with great consideration and kindness. He had an enduring humanitarian
viewpoint which resulted in doing his best to help the "have nots" in society. His
ideas of forest conservation and advocacy of the public regulation of timber cutting
all brought strong opponents as well as loyal adherents.
Silcox's contributions to the forest conservation movement were many, but
especially significant was his success in focusing public attention on the conservation
problems of private forest land ownership. The Forest Service also made a study
of western range use and surveyed forested watersheds for flood control. Under the
Prairie States Forestry Project, 217 million acres were planted by 33,000 plains
Ferdinand A. Silcox wrote:
"Civilizations have waxed and waned with their material resources; dwindling
means of livelihood have set rolling great tidal waves of migration and have been
a prolific cause of domestic disorder, class uprising, and international war; but
never before have the people of a great country still rich in the foundations of
prosperity sought to forestall future disaster by applying a national policy of
conservation---of which planned land use is the central core."
Silcox's holiday letter to employees, Guarding Democracy
, was written shortly before his death of a heart attack on December 20, 1939.
"A Challenge", from the December 13, 1937 Forest Bulletin.