Faces from the Past

Chapman brought Yale foresters to Urania

By James Barnett
Journal Correspondent

Dr. H.H. (Herman Haupt) Chapman was a long-time faculty member of Yale University's School of Forestry who made significant contributions to understanding the practices needed to restore the South's longleaf pine ecosystem. Chapman graduated from the University of Minnesota in the early 1900s. He established a research plantation with red, white, jack, and Scotch pines at the University's experimental farm in 1900-probably the oldest in the nation. According to his colleagues at Yale, Chapman originally trained as a poultry scientist and was so boisterous about it that he became known at "Chicken Chapman." Described variously as dynamic, dogmatic, charismatic, impressive, and intimidating by students and colleagues, he was known as "Chappy" to his friends. His strong personality had a lasting impact on his students.

Beginning in 1909, Chapman began leading Yale's summer forestry students into the South. He and students would spend three or four months annually studying southern forestry conditions. An early host was the Thompson Lumber Company near Trinity, Texas. Henry Hardtner of Urania Lumber Company invited Chapman and the Yale program to work at Urania and developed a camp that facilitated a long-term connection between Urania and Yale. Beginning in 1917 and continuing for decades, Chapman led students to install studies in northern Louisiana and southern Arkansas that evaluated reforestation, thinning, effects of fire, and ecology of southern pines.

Chappy pioneered such novel concepts as determining growth possibilities, evaluating the relation of fire to establishment of longleaf pine, and recommending periodic controlled burns as a means of suppressing hardwood competition. Dr. Chapman published more than 20 papers between 1909 and the early 1940s dealing with southern pines and their relationship to fire. His work showed that most winter fires do not kill all longleaf pine seedlings; rather, they helped establish stands, suppress pine and hardwood competitors, reduce hazardous fuel accumulations, and control brown-spot disease. Chapman recommended use of fire in longleaf pine stands every three years. He has been termed the "father of controlled burning for silvicultural purposes."

Chapman's recommendation of the use of controlled burning in longleaf pine reforestation ran counter to the prevailing understanding at the time. This led to a lengthy conflict between Dr. Chapman and U.S. Forest Service specialists. In the1920s, the Forest Service published a Technical Bulletin that stressed the evils of fire in any form or for any purpose. Chapman responded with articles that described the importance of burning in the management of longleaf pine. Eventually, the Forest Service agreed that Chapman's recommendations for longleaf pine management were appropriate.

Although his work with controlled fire was particularly noteworthy, other studies were also exceptional. One was the description of a natural hybrid of longleaf and loblolly pine. Locals had long recognized this distinctive tree that assumed the worst characteristics of each parent and called it "bastard" pine. Chappy did the critical evaluation of nature of this cross and in 1922 published a careful botanical description. Since he recognized and described the hybrid, he was allowed to name the species. He named the hybrid Sonderegger pine (Pinus sondereggerii Chapm.) after the Louisiana state forester at the time. V.L. Sonderegger was a graduate of the Biltmore Forestry School and served as State Forester on two separate appointments. He and Chapman disagreed on a number of issues and folklore has it that the naming of the hybrid was not one of honor, but recognition of the local descriptive name of the cross.

In the 1930s, Chapman initiated studies on the effects of thinning on loblolly pine stand development. His studies showed that yield for normal thinning increased stand yields by about 20 percent due to faster rates of diameter growth. These studies emphasized the advantages of applying thinning techniques to stands of timber. His work also led to numerous studies that refined thinning guidelines and improved yields from plantation establishment.

Dr. Chapman's leadership in studying southern pine forestry not only contributed greatly to the development of modern forestry practices, but also resulted in training of numerous foresters many of which returned to the South in leadership positions. His efforts made a significant impact on the restoration of forests across the South.

(H.H. Chapman's articles in volume 20 of the 1922 Journal of Forestry and in Yale University's 1926 Bulletin 16 were used as resources for this article)