Mr. Besley’s Forest: Maryland’s First State Forester

August 13, 2018 by Andrew

By Cheryle Franceschi. Full curriculum downloadable here.

Maryland’s trees were well rooted as a part of her landscape well before the Dove and the Ark set sail for the shores of St. Mary’s City in 1632.  Fast forward to 1788, as Maryland becomes the seventh state to ratify the United States Constitution.  Then after the Civil War, state forests were harvested for their commercial and industrial value. The big trees of the Old Line State were in need of protection.  Certainly, they were in a league of their own.  Someone needed to tabulate the quantifiable evidence that they clean the air, purify our water supplies, protect soil, provide wildlife habitat, and add aesthetic value.  This league was in need of a coach to devised a playbook formula to calculate measurements for judging, that would in turn, save the big tress.

By 1906, the nation had three state foresters.  One was from Connecticut; Walter Mulford, and the second was from Pennsylvania; George Wirt.  The third was Fred W. Besley; Maryland. He was a protege of Gifford Pinchot, the first chief U.S. Forest and President Theodore Roosevelt’s advisor on conservation matters.  Besley was the first in the nation to establish eligibility rules for crowning champion big trees.  He devised the formula of circumference in inches + height in feet + 1/4 of the average crown spread (the spread is the average of two measurements at right angles to each other) = total points.  In 1925, Maryland’s first official Big Tree winner; the Wye Oak of Talbot County won based on his formula used to earn points leading to its championship run that repeated in 1937 and 1940. 

Then the American Forestry Association, through its national magazine, “America Forests”, became the official sanctioning organization for the national Big Tree competition.  Each year since 1940, American Forests has crowned the national champion.  All 50 states, and the District of Columbia, have a Champion Big Tree Program were winners are entered into their own “grove of fame.”  According to Maryland Big Tree Program officials, ‘the MBTP continues to be the second-largest database of big trees in the world.”  Fantastic stats from the original state first to recognize big trees for their contribution to winning environments.

Mr. Besley’s triumphed record of bringing scientific forestry management to Maryland and the nation, is an example of passionate coaching for all seasons.  When children gear up and get outside to explore the world of big trees, be it in the city, country or suburbia, they are on a level playing field.  Let the roots deepen, and the leaves blossom, and give legendary status to a conservation hero and the nation’s big tree program founder. Celebrate this Arbor Day in your own neck of the woods, and play near the little trees too.  After all, they will be the mature ones of tomorrow.

If you live in a state other than Maryland, or in Washington, DC,  visit Marylanders show your pride by going to Click here for your copy of 4th-grade STEM & Humanities curriculum written to Maryland’s educational standards developed for the video.

“Mr. Besley’s Big Tree Program.”

Mr. Besley’s Big Tree Program Curriculum

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