LANSING — The Michigan Historical Museum has accepted a valuable collection of objects belonging to Marcus Schaaf, Michigan’s first state forester and a leader in the development and management of the state’s reforestation program.
Former Department of Natural Resources Director Michael Moore facilitated the donation on behalf of Schaaf’s granddaughter, Suzan Schaaf. The artifacts were presented at a special ceremony held in association with the annual meeting of the Michigan Forest Association at Hartwick Pines State Park.
The son of German immigrants, Schaaf was born in 1879 and graduated in 1904 from the Biltmore School of Forestry in North Carolina. After working for the U.S. Forest Service in New Mexico, Schaaf was hired in 1910 as the first forester of the Michigan Public Domain Commission. His job was to “preserve, protect and restore Michigan’s forests.” He held this key position for nearly four decades as the commission evolved to eventually become today’s Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Schaaf led the development, survey and consolidation of millions of acres of forested land, establishing the nation’s largest state forest program. He demonstrated strong organizational and administrative skills, and improved the standards and technologies of surveying that effectively defined and organized Michigan’s state forests and parks.
According to “Ruin & Recovery: Michigan’s Rise As A Conservation Leader,” published in 2001 by the Michigan Environmental Council and written by environmental policy expert Dave Dempsey, Michigan’s state forest system grew from 30,000 acres to more than 3.6 million acres under Schaaf’s leadership.
Many state forests consisted of lands abandoned by lumber barons after the initial harvest of their original timber, as well as farms abandoned by homesteaders who couldn’t grow crops in northern Michigan’s sandy soils. The early emphasis was on simple reforestation of barren lands to prevent erosion; later, the emphasis would shift to effective forest management.
The collection includes a dial compass (used to determine direction, measure slope and the height of trees) in its original leather case, a compass in a wooden case for a surveyor, and a Saginaw-manufactured wooden reel and a 66-foot metal surveyor’s tape from the early 20th century.
All were used by Schaaf during the time when his administration consolidated and expanded the boundaries of Michigan’s State Forest System.
A heavy wool field coat with animal-skin lining and a pair of stirrups with rowel spurs testify to Schaaf’s hands-on involvement in forest surveys, inspections and evaluations.
Schaaf retired in 1949 and died in 1959.
More about the Michigan Historical Center www.michigan.gov/michiganhistory.
A short history of Michigan’s state forests is at http://mff.dsisd.net/TreeBasics/History/MooreState.htm.