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Interview with Charles Davey, December 4, 2002 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Charles Davey, December 4, 2002
December 4, 2002
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Davey, Charles Interviewer:  Warren, Harry Date of Interview:  12/4/2002 Series:  Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length  62 minutes


Warren: I’ve got us recording right now and I will ask you some questions Chuck, we’re with Chuck Davey.

Warren: Chuck, if you wouldn’t mind just giving us some basic information here, your full formal name, spell your last name for us, where did you get your education, where do you hail from and how long have you been at NC State?

Davey: My name is Charles Bingham Davey. Most people call me Chuck. In fact, a lot of people don’t know I have a first name Charles. I was born in Brooklyn, New York because my father was an itinerant engineer and happened to be there at the time working installing the subway system in New York.

I was born in 1928. Mostly I grew up on a hard scrabble farm in western New York state, got my forestry education at Syracuse. My graduate education, both Master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin. I came south after service in the military and a little bit of government service in 1962 and have been here now 40 years since this is 2002.

Warren: Did you come here to North Carolina to take a job here at NC State?

Davey: Yes, I was hired originally by three different departments, the soil science department, the forestry department and the plant pathology department and I think the more departments you fit in, the narrower your interests are. I was interested in the microbes that live in the soil around the roots of trees and so I fit into all three departments and I’ve got graduate students, Ph.D.’s in all three.

I’ve taught in all three. But I think the reason that Harry is interested in talking this morning is that I was department head of forestry from 1970 through 1978. We went through some major evolution during those years. It’s hard to believe now but in 1975, we had the heaviest teaching load on campus. Everybody wanted to be a forester.

Warren: Really? Why was that?

Davey: I guess the age of the environment was just getting started and foresters were still seen as white hat people who wore a white hat and did good things for the woods, for the wildlife, for the water for the soil and provided the services and goods that the population needs.

Warren: You have seen things change a lot and you really touched on something that I’ve heard before and saying the white hat is an apt metaphor for the way foresters were viewed from the 60’s right into the 70’s. What’s the situation now? Their hats seemed to have been soiled a little bit. How did that happen?

Davey: Well I think that the foresters haven’t changed that much, but there are some people in the population in general who think that trees have a soul. Corn plant doesn’t have a soul, wheat plant doesn’t have a soul, but somehow or other a tree does. So these people think we should not cut trees at all. Well that’s a problem because they use paper every day. They live in wooden houses, have wooden furniture so we’re going to cut some trees.

There’s no doubt that in times past there have been some abusive cutting practices, but the foresters have been trying to change those practices for years and we’re making some serious progress. The change from white hat to black hat was not voluntary. I mean people were trying to swipe the white hat off of our heads and jamb black hats on top of our heads.

Now my personal professional field is reforestation so I work both across the south from Virginia to Texas producing, helping to produce about a billion tree seedlings a year. These are planted out all over the south and I’ve also worked overseas, in India, all over Latin America, in Indonesia, New Zealand.

Warren: In reforestation projects?

Davey: In reforestation projects.

Warren: Have you been involved with any rainforest projects?

Davey: Oh yeah. I have been to Borneo several times. We set up four different nurseries for the reforestation of a very large burn that was caused by El Nino. Borneo has no infrastructure, no roads, no people and so this one fire burned off an area of the size of the state of Connecticut and so it’s going to be years of reforesting and reestablishing a fully functional forest in that area.

Warren: Well reforestation is a concept that’s been with us at least a century now. You hear much more about it these days. Do you think that reforestation was just sort of overlooked until the 1960’s or 70’s?

Davey: No, reforestation, well of course when the pilgrims first came to North America, the trees were in the way and so the first thing they had to do was clear land so that they could plant crops so that they could build houses. In fact they used trees for paving the roads for goodness sake there were so many trees.

That changed and when Benjamin Franklin was writing in the 1700’s, he said, of course he lived in Philadelphia, he said the most expensive item on the housewife’s budget was fuel wood for her kitchen stove and he said there was hardly a standing tree within a hundred miles of Philadelphia. Well thanks to fossil fuels, if you go to Philadelphia today there are trees all over the place.

So cutting trees from there on kind of moved west, moved up into Wisconsin and Minnesota and then moved eventually moved clear to the west coast, Washington, Oregon and a little bit in California. Well in World War I we harvested an awful lot of trees. We had to build all those airplanes and ships and everything else and most of them were built out of wood, at least the airplanes were.

In World War II we did it again and right after World War II then we got into projects to replace these forests that we harvested so vigorously during the war effort. We had first the soil bank plan and we’ve had various conservationist reserve programs since then. Planting trees became a good thing to do and it still is.

Warren: What was the soil bank plan?

Davey: The soil bank plan was to encourage people to plant trees and the government subsidized this. Land that was likely to erode or was eroded was not terribly good for producing food crops. We needed the wood. We needed to stop the erosion, we needed to clear the water that ran off of these lands. So about 1958, don’t quote me on the dates, but it ran for about five or six years and everybody that could plant a tree was planting them.

The government program really worked and a lot of those trees have already been harvested and there is a second rotation on a lot of the lands that were planted in the soil bank program. The conservation reserve is a slightly different program. Again the government has helped with subsidies and land that was classified let’s say by the conservation service has highly erodable, there was help to get that land out of row crop production and into forests or in some cases pastures.

Again people responded when the government said plant and my particular job has been working with the nurserymen across the south to produce the seedlings so that the land could be planted. We now have approximately 70 nurseries in the south and as I said earlier, producing about a billion trees a year. This varies from year to year. It’s down a little bit right now, but everything is down right now (laughter).

Warren: Let’s get back to your career. I believe you said your father was an engineer, but you went to Syracuse which has an excellent forestry school and went onto graduate school. Why did you decide to become a forester? Why didn't you become an engineer?

Davey: Okay, my father’s father was a farmer and I grew up on the farm a lot. I was expected to be out helping my granddad farm whenever I wasn’t in school. I knew I liked the land and I liked to grow things and I took vocational horticulture in high school and got interested in nursery work. So I put nursery work and forestry together and went to Syracuse. Some people thought I would probably go to Cornell and study agriculture, but that wasn’t what attracted me. My first nursery job was at the Saratoga Springs Nursery in New York State in 1948 and I’ve been dabbling with little trees ever since.

Warren: What drew you down to North Carolina? What was attractive about coming down and being part of the NC State’s academic community?

Davey: The thing that really attracted me was that NC State was just beginning a program in forest soils and because it was a land grant school and had forestry and had all the different departments in agriculture, not just soils, but it had genetics, botany, ecology, plant pathology and all the ancillary departments, to me that seemed to be the right place to be and it was the right time. So I left employment with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in a suburb of Washington, D.C. and came down here and I’ve never looked back. I still think it was the best decision.

Warren: Now you were teaching in three different departments, but we’re in the forestry department this morning. Have you always been based out of the forestry department or have you been the roving professor?

Davey: The first seven years I was housed in soil science.

Warren: So ’62 to ’69.

Davey: Yeah, then I took the year ’69-’70 and went to Oregon State as a visiting professor. While I was out there, Dr. Mackey who was the head of forestry retired and I was invited to take the position as head of forestry when I came back from Oregon State and I did. I served till almost the end of 1978.

Then there was a new research program here that the dean asked me to take over and I said well I could either be department head or run that research project, but I couldn’t do both. So we agreed I had probably served my term as department head, it was time to give it to somebody else and I took over the research project.

Warren: Now as department head, what were some of your responsibilities?

Davey: Well, hiring people was one of them because we had this big increase in enrollment.

Warren: Did we say what the enrollment increase, what kind of increase are we talking about?

Davey: Oh gosh, I really don’t know the numbers. I could look them up, but I don’t have them at the top of my head right now.

Warren: Ballpark?

Davey: In the ballpark, we went from 300 to 500 students in forestry. Some classes were so crowded that the professors simply had to quit offering the laboratory which was sort of disastrous. All they could do was lecture because we simply didn't have laboratory facilities. Then next door to where we’re sitting at the moment is Biltmore Hall. That as built and we occupied that starting in 1970.

Then this is Jordan Hall and I don’t remember exactly when we moved over here, but the what is now the College of Natural Resources was then the College of Forest Resources. We had all of Biltmore Hall, but we shared Jordan Hall with Marine Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and a couple of other smaller programs, sea grant and things like that.

And the hope is that one more unit of this building will be built within the next few years and we’ll get some more laboratory space, some more large classrooms, things that we really need. We now have to go clear cross campus to teach some of our classes because there’s no classroom over here large enough.

It was a very good period and then nationwide enrollment in natural resources of any sort just crashed and I don’t know why. A few programs…

Warren: By the mid-70’s it was going down.

Davey: Oh and how. And things have come back quite a bit now. We’re holding our own. I wouldn’t say we’re awash in students, but our student enrollment and the job prospects still reasonably well match. Right now because the whole economy is in a bit of a funk, why placement isn’t quite as good as it’s been, but our placement has been pretty good.

Warren: Now speaking of students, what was a typical forestry student like back in the mid 1970’s and is that student different from your forestry student 2002?

Davey: Up until 1970 if you were a female, you were not eligible to enroll in forestry.

Warren: Really, you mean there was a rule?

Davey: Oh an absolute rule, strict rule. And 1970, the year I became department head, we enrolled our first four women students.

Warren: You don’t remember who they were, do you?

Davey: One was Joanne Ernst, if I’d known you were going to ask that.

Warren: That’s what I’m saying, you never know what’s… that’s fine getting Joanne on tape, that was one of your first female forestry students in 1970.

Davey: She and one other girl went straight through in four years and graduated in ’74. The female enrollment has gone up to as much as a third. I think it’s a little less than that right now, but still any woman who wants to get in can certainly enroll and are encouraged to enroll.

Warren: Chuck, what was the thinking prior to 1970 on why a woman couldn’t go into forestry? Because it was looked at that you had to be a big strong guy?

Davey: Yeah, I think it had always been considered a masculine or a male profession. But gender things have pretty much disappeared not just with forestry, but all professions. That was definitely just an understood rule and it was sort of across the country and just about in 1970, things began to change.

In my class at Syracuse back in the late 40’s, we had one girl. Her father was a big landowner up in the Adirondack Mountains and he wanted her to come to Syracuse, but she couldn’t enroll. So she went to Cornell.

Warren: So this was a rule system wide?

Davey: Oh, this was countrywide. She went to Cornell and got a Bachelor’s degree in botany or biology of some sort and then came to Syracuse as a graduate student. Women were enrolled in the graduate programs, just not the “professional”. But she took all the undergraduate forestry courses which is really kind of stupid. Of course nowadays it would not even be considered. Anyway that was one of the things that happened during my time on watch here.

Warren: So we’re starting to see the face and the body of the student body changing here in the early 70’s. What about the guys that were in it? What was a typical forestry student and why do they generally say I want to be a forester?

Davey: Some of them love to hunt and fish, love the outdoors and they get here and discover they have to take chemistry and physics and calculus, holy smokes.

Warren: Probably shocked a lot of them.

Davey: Oh it has, yeah. We still have a summer camp at the end of the sophomore year. This whole bunch goes up to our summer camp which is north of Durham on the Hill Forest. At the end of the summer camp which takes most of the summer, they come back and you find them in two different groups. There are those that said, “Yes! This is what I want to do, this is what I want to be, this is the science I love” and they can’t wait to get into the upper division classes.

The other group, which fortunately is smaller, comes back and says “Let me out of here” (laughter). There’s very little middle ground. So the summer camp is sort of the crucible. After that the classes are pretty well solidified. They developed wonderful friendships, they stay in touch over the years. They do things together and that’s why you find when you get out working with professional foresters, that there is quite an esprit de corps amongst them. And it’s not just NC State, the Syracuse graduates are the same or Oregon State or University of Washington, wherever.

Warren: I’ve noticed this since I’ve been doing this forestry museum business and it is still evident. I was at SAF in Winston-Salem and there were a lot of students there, about 300 students there. They really seemed to love what they’re doing and they seemed to have a lot of appreciation for each other, loyalty to each other and to the subject that they’re getting involved in. This has always been a constant.

Davey: As far as I know, it’s always been a constant for a very long time. It almost gets people in trouble, it’s possible. The different foresters let’s say that graduated from here and go to work for different industries. Those industries compete in the marketplace, but the foresters help each other out and once in a while, you’ll get a lawyer who says, uh oh, we’ve got collusion here. We’ve got to worry about antitrust.

So now when you go to meetings, somebody usually gets up and reads or at least there’s, in the program, a printed statement about things that happen here have nothing to do with antitrust issues, nobody discusses prices, nobody discusses this, that and the other thing which is just something that just came out of some corporate lawyer somewhere, to protect…

But the companies of course do. Several companies make paper and so they’re in the marketplace competing with each other. The foresters back growing the trees….

Warren: They were in the same frat house (laughter).

Davey: Exactly, exactly. So there’s a real esprit de corps amongst the professional foresters.

Warren: This declaration you mentioned that’s often read at the beginning of meetings, that’s a fairly recent evolution or devolution whatever. Is that just sort of a result of our litigious society?

Davey: Absolutely, yeah. Now I’m sure there are lawyers that I’d tell you, it’s absolutely necessary. Most foresters hear it and say oh yeah, here’s that announcement again and we can go on about our business. Maybe if you get higher up in the corporate world, then competition does become paramount so then they do get worried and working with the different companies, I occasionally have access to some proprietary information and I try to keep my nose clean and that’s ok.

Most of the information in three or four years is public knowledge, but at least the company that paid for doing the work has two or three years edge in the marketplace. That’s just a fact of life these days.

Warren: Unfortunately I think to some extent or so. Everybody’s afraid they’re going to get sued by somebody. I hope this tape won’t get us in trouble (laughter). Courses, what was being taught in the early 1970’s through your tenure as department head and is it different from today?

Davey: Well that’s a very good question because I think a lot of students think that the curriculum was chiseled in stone many years ago and that’s absolutely not true. Curriculum is in active evolution all the time. I mean all you have to do is think about how we handle data. When I start out we had mechanical calculators sitting on your desk that weighed 50 pounds.

Then we got to electric calculators and then we got heavy slow computers and nowadays, I’ve got more power in my little calculator in my pocket than my first computer had. Statistics, how we analyze data to get our confidence up that what we’ve learned is real and not just by chance. It used to be we had to do all the sums and squares ourselves. Nowadays we have software packages you install on your computer and it does it all for you.

In some ways that’s too bad because the student really doesn’t understand how some of these numbers come about. You know if the computer spits it out, it has to be right. Well it isn’t always the case. There’s an old saying, gigo, garbage in, gospel out (laughter). If you put bad data into the computer, the computer will do something with it for you.

We started with airplanes and cameras taking aerial photographs and using that data for mapping purposes, for timber crews and for all sorts of things. Nowadays we have satellites. We have all kinds of different imaging techniques, infrared, false infrared as well as black and white. A lot of it is digital. So techniques change. Unfortunately things that we used to teach, we don’t have time for anymore.

Warren: For instance.

Davey: We have taught forest pathology as a full semester course. We have taught forest entomology as a full semester course, in other words, diseases and insects. There are so many topics that have to be covered now that we are developing a new course which will be called forest protection and that will be encompassing both of those and fire. So it will have three topics rolled into where we used to have one.

Warren: So you can’t focus on one.

Davey: That’s right, you can’t. The students will be introduced to the subjects, but they won’t the get the depth that they used to. We used to teach two semesters of physics because a lot of things that go on in the woods require physics. You may not think so, but when a tree comes down there’s a lot of physics in the forest.

Warren: Oh yeah, you want to know which way it’s falling (laughter).

Davey: That’s right, exactly. Building roads, surveying used to be a major part of the curriculum. Now they just get their fingers dabbled in it.

Warren: These are still necessary tools and skills to have.

Davey: Right, exactly, but what we find is that people who want to become surveyors after they graduate from forestry, then they have to go and learn how to be a modern surveyor. But the surveying tools themselves are so different. I mean we have kids walking around with an antenna sticking out of their backpack with GPS, you know, with a satellite up there and doing their mapping that way. When I was a student, we set up a plane table and cited angles and measured things with transits and levels and all kinds of things. A lot of the techniques have really improved.

Warren: Do you think the undergraduate today that comes out of NC State is more of a generalist as opposed to in the past?

Davey: Now I may get in trouble (laughter).

Warren: We can’t edit this.

Davey: It’s alright. There has been a push by university administration to make the graduating students more well rounded. To do that, of course, they require more history and social studies and things like that. But they won’t let us increase the number of hours that the students take. In fact, they’ve made us reduce the number of hours.

So that’s why we have to take things like three courses and squeeze them down into one so that the students don’t miss those technologies all together. I’m old and I’m stuck in my ways and I think it’s unfortunate that we have lost some of these what I would say are the more basic professional classes in order that the students become more well rounded. So in answer to your question, yeah, I think that they have skills that the earlier ones didn't have, but they also don’t have some of the skills that the earlier graduates did have so it’s a tradeoff.

Warren: Well, it sounds like you still give them a good education at NC State and NC State has a terrific reputation. This has to be related in part to the professors that are here, not only here now, but have been here. Who are some of the outstanding professors that you have worked with over the years?

Davey: Well when I came here, Dr. T. E. Mackey was head of the forestry department and he was mostly a hydrologist watershed manager and a real philosopher. He was a great man. I also had the good fortune and still have the good fortune to work with Dr. Bruce Zobel. Bruce is probably the preeminent forest geneticist in the world and we have turned out many Ph.D. in forest genetics.

Warren: Are professors coming to state who are starting their careers now, are they different than the professors when you were starting?

Davey: The only difference I would see there Harry, is that they are better trained in more concentrated disciplines. They are less generalists, okay. We now have up on the fifth floor of this building the Center for Earth Resources Sensing. All the GIS, GPS, major computer hardware, digitization of maps. In fact earlier this morning I was up there looking at some digitized contour maps and the person I was talking with just sat there at her computer and punched a dozen buttons and up came the map I wanted.

These things have changed the concepts. I mean earth resources satellites have given us information that we never had before. I’ll digress here just a moment. I have done a lot of work in the tropics, Brazil, Peru, Venezuela, all those countries and Borneo and other parts of southeast Asia okay. Let’s just take the Amazon Basin for instance. People have been decrying how the Amazon is being all cut down.

Well they totaled up the number of acres that are cleared every year for farming, but the people that live in those conditions, they hate like heck to go out and cut a primary forest because it is super hard work. They want to clear land that they cleared four, five years ago. So the people that are adding up all the acres that have been cleared, pretty soon they’ll have totaled up more acres than there is in the Amazon.

Warren: I wondered about that. They’re counting the same acres over and over again?

Davey: Over and over again, sure, but with satellite imagery, we can see the whole of the Amazon today.

Warren: And how’s it look?

Davey: Well depending a little bit on where you say the exact edges of the Amazon are, somewhere between 8% and 12% of it has been touched. So that’s 88% to 92% of it is still untouched.

Warren: You hear these figures like we’re cutting so many thousands of acres of our rainforest every year and like you said if you start figuring it up, well okay in 20 years that number of acres would equal how many acres there are.

Davey: So satellite imagery has taken a lot of the mystification out of the it, it’s literally cut the feet out from under some people who are screaming. Now in Brazil there is another forest you never hear of. It’s called the Atlantic Coast Forest and it starts from just south of the Amazon and goes down all the way into Argentina down the Atlantic coast. It’s 95% gone.

Nobody ever talks about it, but that’s where all the people are, Rio de Janeiro and San Paulo and Brazilia and all the big cities down there. They need wood. That forest has just been decimated. If somebody wants to really worry about a forest in Brazil, worry about the Atlantic Coast Forest more than the Amazon.

Warren: Is that the situation with a lot of folks that are often called environmentalists complaining about the deforestation of America by chip mills for instance? It seems you never hear them talk about the deforestation of American by strip malls or interstates. Is it because with, like with the rainforest, there it is. You can focus on it. That other stuff is all spread out and everything and then you go to this country and you can focus on a chip mill. I mean it’s right there, you see what it’s doing. You’ve got a recognizable target. Who do you focus on when they start building a mall.

Davey: That’s a wonderful question. The chip mill business which we have been involved in the controversy for the last several years. It’s a two edge sword. Yes, there is land cleared that probably wouldn’t be cleared, but it’s not being plowed. Most of it comes right back up in forest and there is an opportunity to plant more desirable species.

If you take a patch of native forest and somebody goes out there and does what’s called selective logging, that means they select all the high value trees, the walnuts, the cherries, the big timbers and harvest those. Okay, they leave what’s left. You do that about three generations and there’s nothing but green junk out there. There’s nothing to harvest.

So what the chip mills have done is they have provided a market for that which you might call trash wood or green junk because the chip mill doesn’t care whether it’s pop willow or pumpkin ash or something else, it’s wood and that will make the chips that they need. So the lands that are being cut for chip mills, the opportunity is there now to plant more desirable trees.

You get into all kinds of arguments and you and I don’t have the time to do this. There are people who will object to what I just said and that’s okay. I’ll tell you one little cute story which is true. There was a lady who lived up in Asheville a number of years ago and her house just happened to face on a road that came down out of the National Forest. She was sitting on her front porch one afternoon and several loads of logs came down out of the National Forest and went to a mill somewhere in Asheville.

She got kind of irate and she wrote a letter to the editor of the Asheville paper that we shouldn’t be cutting trees because the forest is there and the forest should be there and all this and that. The editor of the Asheville paper was a rather intelligent person. He sent a reporter out to interview the lady. This reporter went up and she offered him a glass of ice tea and they sat on her front porch and she told him her reasons why she thought that trees shouldn’t be cut, they’re beautiful, birds build nests in them, deer wander around, you know, there are lots of good reasons.

So what the editor of the paper did was he published the lady’s letter in its entirety and then he published what the reporter observed during his interview. The reporter said, “We sat in wooden rocking chairs on the wooden porch of her wooden house and she had written her letter to the editor on paper made of wood and she had used a pencil made of wood. I noticed inside her house, there was lots of nice furniture made of wood. It may be a little hypocritical to say we shouldn’t cut trees”. I don’t know what the lady thought, but her argument lost some of its sting.

Warren: And that’s what people need to realize, that it’s such a part of our everyday existence and you just ticked off some of the obvious things that we use wood for. Now we use wood resins and an unimaginable line of products.

Davey: Oh yeah, wood chemicals are in everything from pharmaceuticals to paints, lacquers and everything under the sun. Trees are in our lives to stay. I don’t think there’s any thought that they’re not.

Warren: Well if you’ve got the documented evidence like the aerial photographs of the rainforest…I don’t think any rational person would argue with the validity of what we just said about wood being so prevalent in our life, why is there so much alienation between certain segments of our society, for lack of a better name, the enviros and the forest people or forest industry?

My just naïve experience is that these people have more in common. At least it seems to me that they have more in common than they have differences yet they have their own bodies of scientific evidence, but why can’t they get together?

Davey: That’s a wonderful question. We had an example here a number of years ago of how it can work. There was objection to cutting trees on the Allegheny National Forest and the chief of the forest service organized a committee to study this issue. On this committee, he put foresters, he put forest scientists, he put environmentalists, he put retailers and wholesalers. He put people of all persuasions and these are the people who are practically shooting at each other to begin with.

The gentleman who chaired this committee, this is his chair right here, Dr. Arthur Cooper, he started this overall committee to talk about the management of the Allegheny National Forest. He said okay, before we get to the sticky issues, let’s talk about the areas of agreement. Everybody agreed forests are good. Everybody agreed wildlife is good. Everybody agreed that clean water is good. Everybody agreed that forest products are necessary.

They went through a great long list of things that they all shared. Then they finally got down, once they were friends, to talking about the stickier issues. Admittedly there were some changes in how the national forest was managed, but it was an exercise done in a way that more of these things should be resolved, not people out driving spikes in trees or sitting up in the crown of the tree to protect it and so forth. Okay, it gets headlines.

Warren: Now what was the occasion of this? It was a seminar sort of setting?

Davey: No, it was a “panel of experts” that the chief of the forest service appointed to address the issues of management of this national forest.

Warren: That was initiated by NC State?

Davey: No, Dr. Cooper I think was our only member on this panel. Yeah, they met in Washington, D.C. and sometimes they met out on the national forest.

Warren: When did this panel get together?

Davey: Oh gosh, I suppose it was late 70’s, early 80’s. But I just cite this as an example of how these issues can be resolved.

Warren: What happened after that? I mean did these folks, they all had a little love feast and got to know each other and then did they go back to their respective areas?

Davey: Yeah, they kind of…I wouldn’t say it was a love feast, but they got to appreciate each other’s point of view. It was, I would call it quite successful. We nowadays have two or three new mechanisms. We have what’s called forest certification. This is sort of a hot button issue right now.

Warren: I heard it mentioned a lot at NCFA up in Asheville.

Davey: The idea is that the power of the market is there and these people have said well okay, if we’ve got to have wood and we probably do have to have wood, how we handle that wood is important, how we establish the forests, how we manage the forests, how we harvest the wood. These are all important and if you will, Mr. Landowner, whether you’re a timber company or a private person, if you will manage your lands in accordance with good conservation practices, in other words, protect the streams and protect the wildlife, then you can be certified and then folks like Home Depot and Lowe’s and others will sell your product. If you don’t do this, then we’re going to keep you out of the market.

This first happened mostly in Europe because they import a lot of forest products from the tropics. Even I’ll admit that some of the harvesting of the forests in the tropics that has gone on has been pretty devastating to the landscape. It was not ever designed by foresters. It was designed by folks with a chainsaw (laughter). So the people in Europe said we’re not going to buy your wood unless you can convince us that you are harvesting this wood in manners that is conservation aware and conservation sensitive.

It had economic power. There’s no doubt about it. So this has now become a fact of everyday life in the U.S. Several companies now have most all of their forestlands certified. That’s one of the things that’s involved in certification, that the landowner is permitted to make a profit, okay. That’s a given, right up front.

Warren: Well if they’re not allowed to make a profit, then they might do something with that land you don’t want them to do. They’re going to sell it to a developer or whatever.

Davey: You’ve got it, exactly. There are avenues where if you have a sensitive piece of land, you can give it to some agency like the Nature Conservancy or one of those groups and get it off of your tax books. There are several cases of that here in North Carolina.

Down toward Wilmington, there’s a very large swamp area called the Green Swamp. Part of the Green Swamp is very wet and really is not useable, but when the present owner bought it, they got a big chunk of this land that isn’t cut, has never been cut, shouldn’t be cut, but they were paying taxes on it. They said well that’s not fair and so they get a tax break by giving it to the nature conservancy and the nature conservancy can then turn around and assign it to some conservation group and it’s a win-win or a win-win-win situation. The area is protected and the company that is trying to make money growing trees doesn’t have to pay taxes on land that it can’t use. So this is one way of handling these sorts of situations.

Warren: Now when you were chair in the 70’s, if you had to say that there was one major issue that sort of came about during that time, what would you say? Would it be what we’re talking about or would it be something else?

Davey: I think the thing that probably was talked about most then was the size of clear cuts. That is still an issue with some people. The national forests I think now are down to where they don’t clear cut more than 50 acres in one spot. Certainly if you want to get your forest certified, there are limits on the size of clear cuts and even the proximity of one clear cut to another.

Warren: And this all kind of came out of an awareness that sort of developed in the 70’s.

Davey: Yes, maybe earlier, but not much. I’ve worked up in New Brunswick in Canada where they work in some of those old growth spruce and fur forests and they use some monstrous machines for preparing the land to plant more genetically improved trees. The equipment is so big that the operator told me that unless I can clear 1000 acres or more in one block, it isn’t worth my while to move this monstrous equipment in there.

Certainly out west I have seen clear cuts 600-700 acres. In the Ozarks, there have been very large areas clear cut. So that was an issue and so that has sort of reached an equilibrium where the people that grow the trees say hey, you don’t tell a farmer he can’t clear cut 100 acres of corn. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to clear cut 100 acres of trees. So there’s been some give and take and I hope maybe this issue is slowly reaching some kind of equilibrium.

Warren: We’re down to our final last eight minutes Chuck and I know I’m not going to have enough tape with you, so I’m going to try to hit on a couple of things real quick. A little closure. First on your teaching here, you left this department chair in 1978 and then you headed a special research project? What was that research project, did you do that from then until… when did you retire? Are you retired?

Davey: Oh yes, I retired officially in 1992, but I continued teaching through the spring of 2000. Maybe it’s just I had an ego trip and wanted to teach into the next millennium, I don’t know. At that point there was a new faculty member who came on board and was anxious to take over the class I had been teaching and I was tickled pink to give it to him. So it was a nice transition.

Over the years, I’ve taught tropical forestry, agro forestry, artificial forestation, forest soils, microbial ecology, a little bit of forest diseases, all things dealing with trees, but it’s been quite a range of subjects and my good fortune to work with Dr. Zobel has been wonderful because I have been able to teach the geneticist the importance of where they plant their trees. Soils are different and they’ve been able to teach me that genetics is important.

Dr. Zobel and I have gone around the world over the years and I catch him teaching soils and he catches me teaching genetics (laughter).

Warren: (Laughter) So we can all learn something.

Davey: Absolutely, from each other you know, it was some famous philosopher that said, “we’re all ignorant, just about different things”. That’s true.

Warren: That was Will Rogers, I read that just recently.

Davey: Thank you, in the heat of the moment, I didn't think of it. I normally do.

Warren: And he was a great philosopher for sure. Now the research project, that you left the chair for, what was that all about?

Davey: It was dealing with the possibility, instead of using fertilizer nitrogen in the forest, can we use leguminous and other plants that fix nitrogen to fertilize with nitrogen the forestland naturally. So we were working with various clovers that you could plant out and let them grow for six months or a year before you plant the trees and enrich the soil in nitrogen as clovers are legumes, they do fix nitrogen and they do enhance the nitrogen status of the soil.

This worked quite well. It has problems, but anyway I had students that were looking at everything from the bacteria that live in the nodules on the roots of the clovers, whether they could withstand the acidity of a natural forest soil or not. So we were doing things in the genetics of bacteria in a long series of steps getting back to how can we best take advantage of biological nitrogen fixation in forest management.

There are still a few places that are using the technology. A lot of them, believe it or not, are wildlife habitats. They thin the forest, get a lot of light in on the forest floors. It’s good for quail, it’s good for deer. Then they plant these clovers on the forest floor and the deer and the quail love it. Then the hunters love it and it’s beautiful.

Oh my goodness, in the spring when the clovers come into bloom, it’s just a doggone garden. It’s also good for stopping erosion. Most of these clovers have very dense root systems that if you’ve got a churned up mess, you get the clovers in there. They can stop the erosion quicker than young trees can. The trees will eventually do it, but you know, one foot high tree that’s planted every 10 feet, it takes it several years before it has really closed its crowns and protected the soil.

Warren: Chuck, I’ve got two two minute questions or one three minute question so take your choice. The first one is tell me about Hofmann Forest, your relationship with it and why is it a part of NC State.

Davey: The Hofmann Forest was started by Dr. Julian Hofmann who started the forestry program here at NC State. It’s probably the largest school owned forest in the world. It’s about 78,000 acres down in southeastern North Carolina down near Jacksonville. And he started it. It was tax delinquent land. It was not making any money for anybody, the counties that owned the land or whatever. So he bought this land and the history is in this book.

It has over the years slowly been coming up to be a highly productive forest and you’ve mentioned Butch Blanchard at the beginning of the interview. Butch helps us through the Forestry Foundation in the management of the Hofmann Forest and we get money from the sale of timber which goes to support student scholarships, to support graduate student research, even a little bit of supplemental for faculty salaries.

At one time I was the shank professor of forestry and some of the money in my salary came from the Hofmann Forest. It’s a wonderful teaching place. Our students go down there and they see the pros and cons of different types of forest management, wildlife management, water management and so it’s a real positive thing.

Doc Hofmann was very far a visionary, he really was. He was the first head of the program, I won’t even call it a department, it was program in the College of Agriculture and in 1948 I think it was, we became a school. Then Richard Preston became the first dean and we have just hired our fourth dean. So they have all stayed and done a wonderful job.

Dr. Mackey was the first official department head. I was the second department head. Dr. Cooper was the third department head and Dr. Cubbage is our present and fourth department head.

Warren: A lot of stability.

Davey: Yes, very much so.

Warren: That’s one of the reasons it’s so good. Thirty seconds, what’s the biggest challenge facing forestry today? And you can answer that from an academic, industrial, environmental or whatever standpoint you want.

Davey: I think the biggest challenge is trying to inform the public of what is being done is mostly in their best interest. If something isn’t in their best interest, they should complain. Okay, I’m a taxpayer, I’m a landowner too. If I see something I think is gosh awful, I’m going to speak up. But, on the other hand, we’ve got a lot of history, we’ve got a lot of science, we’ve got a lot of experience and mostly forest management, it’s still evolving and it will continue to evolve. It will change something, but I think we’re sort of reaching a plateau. This areas of agreement plateau keeps getting bigger. The real ups and downs are getting fewer and farther between.

Warren: Well Chuck, thank you for a great interview, I’m optimistic too, I think there’s more common ground than people want to admit. And I do think the alienation is becoming… the parties that are alienated are becoming smaller.

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