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James Henry - Unsung Hero
Jim Wilson
Jacobsburg State Park
Sep 15, 2002
"Man's moral dependence on, and affintiy to, nature are nowhere more apparent than in those captivating influences exercised upon him by the tree." These are the words of James Henry in the introduction of his first book on forestry, which he wrote in 1886. In all, James Henry wrote nine books on forestry, and scores of articles and other papers on the subject throughout his literary life. While gunmaking was his appointed vocation, forestry was his chosen avocation. (James Henry was the second-last proprietor of the Boulton Gun Works, one of America's most famous civilian firearms manufactories & located in Bushkill Township, Northampton County. Today the Henry heritage is preserved & interpreted thorugh the partnership of Jacobsburg Environmental Education Center [the only State Park facility in the Lehigh Valley] and the Jacobsburg Historical Society.)

While the Henry family in general embraced a strong environmental ethic, James in particular was most passionate about nature. So passionate in fact that James Henry drafted a forestry bill in 1883 that was successfully lobbied through the state legislature in the 1884-'85 session. Titled, "An act to encourage the planting of trees over the springs and along the water courses of this Commonwealth of Pennsylvania," James Henry's bill, sponsored by Senator Hay from Northampton County, became Pennsylvania's first public law dealing with the reforestation of stream corridors and wetlands across the Commonwealth by establishing a state nursery system.

With a mind and a heart toward conservation, James Henry saw the desperate need to reforest the state's waterways, which had been utterly denuded in the lumbering heyday of the 19th century, resulting in tremendous environmental impacts due to uncontrolled stormwater erosion and sedimentation. He knew the onus for restoring the state's forests and water quality rested with the Commonwealth itself. In a letter uring the State Senate to support his bill, James Henry wrote, "The protection of our streams and springs should be the first avowed object of arboriculture in our State, and the great work naturally falls on the State, it being the proprietor of the waters as it is of the game." And in a letter to the State House of Representatives seeking support of his bill, James wrote, "The establishment of nurseries for the cultivation of useful forest trees, and offering these for gratuitous disbribution to the landholders of our State, is to bring about the recuperation of our woodlands." James Henry was a man for his time...and a man ahead of it as well. Nearly 120 years after James' forestry bill became public law, the conservation of streamside forests - our link between land and water - is today a subject of community concern and greenway initiatives in the Lehigh Valley and throughout Pennsylvania.

In addition to his legislative feats in state forest conservation, James Henry also lobbied for the establishment of county councils of forestry in each of the counties of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He also lobbied for the establishment of schools of forestry in all the state colleges and universities in Pennsylvania and across the nation. And he was a councilman for both the Pennsylvania Forestry Association and the American Forestry Congress. To be sure, James Henry was a quintessential and proactive conservationist. In a letter to the American Forestry Congress dated August 23rd, 1884, James Henry wrote, "I speak for Pennsylvania when I say that our wooded domain is rapidly diminishing." And he did something - many things, in fact - about it. While names like Rothrock and Pinchot are all too synonymous with our state's forest conservation history, it would appear that the Lehigh Valley's own James Henry is a genuine, unsung hero of Pennsylvania forestry.

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