If Trees Could Talk

Overview: Module 5

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Time Frame
5 Class periods

Teacher Pages PDF
Student Pages

Forest Reserves
Forest Service
  Organic Act

A New Profession Takes Seed

A New Profession Takes Seed explores the origin and development of the United States Forest Service—a classic example of Progressive Era idealism. Students will examine the changing responsibilities and roles of foresters from the early 20th century through present-day and will reflect upon the evolution of forestry as a profession.

Objectives Lesson Plan
Links References

Forest Ranger, Jim H. Sizer, 1910

Typical early-day Forest Ranger in the southwest, Jim H. Sizer (shown here in 1910), who served as Ranger and Assistant Supervisor from 1909 to 1943 on the Apache and Tonto national forests.
Forest History Society


Student Pages
Worksheet 1  Worksheet 2  Worksheet 3 
Oral History 1
Oral History 2
Oral History 3

Worksheet 4 
Early Foresters
Modern Foresters
Worksheet 5
Reflective Exercise

Objectives  derived from

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National Standards

For History

  • The student will understand how the Progressive Movement addressed the impact of industrial capitalism on trees and forests. 
    (Standard 1: Era 7, The Emergence of Modern America)

For Social Studies

  • Describe the role of institutions in furthering both continuity and change.
    (Standard 5: Individual, Groups, and Institutions)

  • The student will analyze and explain ideas and governmental mechanisms to meet needs and wants of citizens, regulate territory, manage conflict, and establish order and security.
    (Standard 6: Power, Authority, and Governance)

State Standard Correlations: AL, AK, AZ, AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, HI, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MS, MO, MT, NE, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VT, VA, WA, WV, WI, WY

Lesson Plan

Teacher  Preparation:

Download and print Module 5 Teacher & Student PDFs using Adobe Acrobat and make copies of the student pages, one per student.

Day 1
Set the stage for this activity by writing the following quote on an overhead sheet or blackboard.  Do not include the author of the statement or date.

“Any fool can destroy trees.  They cannot run away; and if they could, they would still be destroyed – chased and hunted down as long as fun or a dollar could be got of their bark hides…God has cared for these trees, saved them…but he cannot save them from fools – only Uncle Sam can do that.”  -John Muir, excerpt from Atlantic Monthly, 1897

Read aloud the above passage and allow students a few moments to think about  its meaning.  Lead a group discussion based on the following questions:

  • When do you think this statement was written?  Why?

  • What is the problem the author refers to and who does he believe can solve the dilemma?

  • What solution(s) do you think the government devised to solve the problem?

  • What solutions do you think private citizens devised?

Distribute the Essay, Worksheet 1, and Worksheet 2.  Have students read the essay in order to complete the two worksheets and obtain background on the important topics and concepts for the lesson.

Day 2
Students will read oral history excerpts to gain an “insider's” perspective on the education of early foresters and their subsequent employment opportunities. Distribute the 3 Oral histories and Worksheet 3. Students should complete the worksheet based on the essay, the oral histories, and class discussion.

Day 3
Show students several samples of “Help Wanted” advertisements from any newspaper and discuss the purpose of this type of announcement.  Distribute Early Forestry Clues,  Modern Forestry Clues, and Worksheet 4 and provide class time for students to work in pairs to compose their own “Help Wanted” ads.

Day 4
Ask students to brainstorm about the meaning of the word profession. As a class, compose a list of professions and then create another list that includes characteristics common among most of the professions. Distribute Forestry Follows the Professional Path and Worksheet 5. After students complete Worksheet 5 write the following passage on an overhead sheet or the blackboard.

On March 26,1903, President Teddy Roosevelt addressed the newly formed Society of American Foresters and among other things he stated the following: 

“You have created a new profession of the highest importance, of the highest usefulness to the State, and you are in honor bound to yourselves and the people to make that profession stand as high as any other profession, however intimately connected with our highest and finest development of a nation.  You are engaged in pioneering work in a calling whose opportunities for public service are very great.  Treat that calling seriously; remember how much it means to the country as a whole.”

Ask students to respond to the quote by answering the following two questions:

  1. How did President Roosevelt regard the new profession of forestry?
  2. Based on what you now know about the development of forestry during the 20th century do you believe the profession succeeded in the mission described by Roosevelt?  Why or why not?
Day 5
Choose from one of three types of activity assessments: 

Application and Integration Exercise

Test  (Correlated to National Council for History Standards)

Reflective Exercise  (Correlated to National Standards for Social Studies)


Class Extensions  

  1. Using the information below as a guide, invite a forester to the class for a visit.  Ask students to generate questions for the visitor so as to learn more about the profession of forestry.

Where to Find a Forester

Use the categories listed below to identify a forester near you.
  • Consulting Foresters
  • Environmental Consulting Firms
  • Forest Products and Paper Companies
  • State Departments of Natural Resources/ Environment/ Conservation
  • Local Parks and Recreation Departments
  • United States Forest Service
  • Universities with forestry programs

Use the following web pages to locate a forester.

  1. During the course of the week students will be reading excerpts from the oral histories of 3 pioneers in the field of forestry.  Using a book such as Oral History: A Guide for Teachers (and others) [Sitton, Thad, George L. Mehaffy, and O.L. Davis, Jr., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983] as a starting point, have students conduct an oral history project of their own.  Possibilities could include interviewing a retired forester or someone currently working in the field.

Team Teaching Possibilities

Technology: Instead of having students complete Worksheet 5 on the sheet provided, have them create and complete their own timeline that outlines the events involved in the evolution of the forestry profession.

English: One of the extension suggestions for this activity asks students to conduct their own oral histories of a local forester.  In addition to asking students to read aloud to the class excerpts of their interviews, have students locate and read a transcribed oral history of a forester or person employed in an environmental profession.

Math: Have students examine how math is used in the modern profession of forestry.  Ask students to present their findings to the class.

Science: Ask students to research the scientific and technological advancements made during the Progressive Era.  Have students include a section on the changes in forest science during the period.


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Forest History Society--Bibliographic resources on forestry, conservation and environmental history. The Greatest Good Film.

Fire Science Online provides "Forestry Careers & Degrees: A Guide for Students."

Society of American Foresters—Helpful information about the profession of forestry, including career advice and links to resources in the field.

USDA Forest Service—Official website of the Forest Service that includes photos, employment information, and current information regarding the activities of this government agency.


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Argow, Keith A. “Professionalism and Ethics, A History Within SAF.” Forest History (August 1975): 460-463.

Block, Nadine E. “Credentialing and Accreditation Programs.” Journal of Forestry (April 2000): 18-22.

Clepper, Henry. Professional Forestry in the United States. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, for Resources for the Future, 1971.

Fedkiw, John. “National Forests and the Performance of the Organic Act of 1897.” Forest History (1998): 12-17. [PDF]

Hays, Samuel P. Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh, 1999. Reprint of 1959 original.

Jolley, Harley E. “The Cradle of Forestry.” Forest History (1998): 18-20.

MacCleery, Douglas. American Forests: A History of Resiliency and Recovery. Durham, NC: Forest History Society, 2011. [Order]

Pinchot, Gifford. Breaking New Ground. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1947.  Reprinted in 1972, 1987, and 1998.

Pinkett, Harold T., "Consulting Forestry." In Encyclopedia of American Forest and Conservation History, edited by Richard C. Davis. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1983.

West, Terry L.  Centennial Mini-Histories of the Forest Service. Washington, D.C., United States Department of Agriculture, 1992.

Williams, Gerald W. The USDA Forest Service – The First Century. Washington, D.C.:USDA Forest Service, 2005.

Essay  /  Worksheet 1 / Worksheet 2 / Worksheet 3 / Oral History 1 /
Oral History 2
/ Oral History 3 / Worksheet 4 Early Foresters / Modern Foresters  / Worksheet 5 / Professional / Application / Test / Reflective Exercise
/ Answer Key