Union Notables

Franklin B. Hough    class of 1843

Robert Holland, 2009, digital photograph, courtesy of Robert Holland

Franklin B. Hough (Union, 1843) is remembered as the “Father of American Forestry.” Hough (pronounced “Huff”) was born in 1822 in Martinsburg, just outside the western edge of the Adirondacks. As a boy, he had a strong interest in natural science and the outdoors and collected plants and rocks whenever he could. He entered Union College in 1840 and arranged his studies so that he could spend as much time as possible in the field, continuing his collections. A few years later, a new mineral he collected was named after him: “houghite.” After graduating from Union, he taught school for three years, eventually becoming principal at an academy in Ohio. He continued his field collections, and his first publication, A Catalog of the Plants Growing without Cultivation in Lewis County, New York, was published in 1847. He published 77 more articles, books and major reports before his death in 1885.

In 1846 Hough entered medical school in Cleveland, and upon graduation two years later he returned to upstate New York not far from his birthplace. His rural medical practice did not interfere with his continued study of local natural and human history, and he published local histories of St. Lawrence and Franklin Counties (1853), Jefferson County (1854) and Lewis County (1862). His meticulous collection and analysis of data in these publications was noted in Albany, and Hough was appointed as superintendent of the New York State censuses of 1855 and 1865. He modernized the state census to conform to the format of the US census by including information on land use and industrial statistics.

After the 1865 census, Hough noticed a dramatic decrease in the production of lumber as well as forested acreage during that decade, and he became concerned that the current forestry practices were not sustainable. He had read Marsh’s 1864 book, Man and Nature, in which Marsh suggested a connection between the demise of ancient Mediterranean civilizations with the devastation of their forests and agricultural resources by non-sustainable intensive harvesting. As a result, Hough became a strong advocate of sustained forestry techniques and the conservation of forest resources. In 1873, he presented a paper to a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). In this paper, On the Duty of Governments in the Preservation of Forests, he used the concepts developed by Marsh to argue that governments must take on the responsibility of forest conservation if they are to remain viable over the long term.

The AAAS then petitioned Congress to fund a federal position to look into this matter further. Congress soon approved a salary for this position, and Hough was appointed as the nation’s first Special Forestry Agent. In this role, he continued collecting data and published the massive Report on Forestry (1877) and in 1881 he was named head of the US Division of Forestry. In 1885, Hough presenting a plan to the New York state senate to form a commission to establish a state forest preserve. The state approved the Forest Commission Act later that year and established the Adirondack and Catskill Parks. Hough died a few months after the passage its passage in 1935. The state named a 4,400 ft peak in the Adirondacks “Hough Peak” in his honor.