Beginning in the 1910s, the Yale Forestry School began to acquire forestlands throughout New England, mostly through donations from alumni. Throughout the first several decades of ownership, these lands were more of a financial burden to the school than an asset. In 1954, when Dr. David M. Smith became the Director of the Forests, the Forests were regarded mostly as useless liabilities and there was frustration over impediments that then existed against disposing of the Yale Myers Forest.
In the past 40 years, however, the application of forest management principles has converted the Yale Forests from a sink to a source of money. The Yale Toumey Forest became self-supporting in 1955 and about a decade later the Forests as a whole achieved financial self-sufficiency. Active management has directly or indirectly produced net income since that time. Except for the tightly restricted Bowen Memorial Fund and the Myers Forest Endowment Fund, all of the endowment funds given in the early days for the support of the Yale Forests are now treated as part of the general endowment of the School.
At the same time, the Forests have been increasingly incorporated into the School's program of education, research, and demonstration. The past decade has also seen substantial improvements to the Forests' facilities and infrastructure in addition to its recordkeeping and GIS capabilities.
The forest vegetation at the Yale Myers of today is powerfully influenced by the Forest's land use history. A lost civilization is buried in the woods. These rocky soils were the part of eastern Connecticut that was settled last and abandoned first, and about two-thirds of the land was cleared for pasture or agriculture between 1730 to 1850. Had you hiked the Nipmuck Trail then, the view from the ridge tops would have been magnificent. Agriculture began its long decline when it became cheaper to ship food in by rail from the Midwest than to grow it among the rocks of New England. As a result, abandoned pastures and field were slowly reclaimed by the forest. The re-invasion of forest vegetation was slowed from about 1850 to 1870 by a period of sheep-raising, but that succumbed to competition from the Southwest, Australia, and New Zealand where sheep can live outdoors all year long.
Evidence of this agricultural legacy can be seen in the network of stone walls that still criss-cross Yale Myers. Stone walls with double rows of stones usually denote land that was plowed, while walls with single rows of stones suggest old pastures, which did not generate as many stones. Small piles of stones on boulders indicate that farmers once mowed hay with scythes in those places -- if the scythe hit a small stone, they picked it up and put it where it wouldn't nick the blade the following year. Cellar holes, wells, and charcoal pits are also visible around Yale Myers and provide a glimpse of the vanished agricultural civilization that once dominated the landscape.
The first kind of forest that came back after agriculture was usually pure "old-field" white pine. White pine has a lightweight, wind-dispersed seed that could travel far and invade the grass of abandoned fields more readily than hardwoods. Grazing animals preferred hardwood seedlings to conifers as well. Once the white pines had shaded out the grasses of abandoned fields, hardwoods and hemlocks were able to establish beneath them. Much of the old-field white pine had multiple, crooked stems from attacks of the white pine weevil, an insect that kills the leading shoots of open-grown pines. Despite their poor quality, these pines were still very useful for making wooden boxes, which were used as containers in the years before the advent of brown corrugated cardboard cartons. In fact, the abundance of pine made southern and central New England the center of the American container industry between 1890 and 1930.
Demand for pine boxes led to the very heavy cutting of existing white pine stands, which released the underlying hardwood and hemlock advanced regeneration. This mix of regeneration flourished among a scattering of mature white pines, which is why today's forests are much more natural mixture of hardwoods and hemlocks with a few emergent white pines that often tower above the other trees. Most of today's stands are about the same age because they initiated following the very heavy cuttings in the first years of the twentieth century. Between 1913 and 1930, George Myers began purchasing this heavily cut-over land land in order to create the Yale Myers Forest. The highest price paid for any acre was $15 and much of it probably cost less than $4 per acre. The Forest was deeded to the Yale Forestry School in the early 1930s. The fact that there were few trees large enough to cut made ownership of the Forest such a serious financial problem for the School and it was regarded as a white elephant in the classic sense of the term. In the 1960s, the inexorable growth of trees and an intensive program of improvement thinnings nudged the Forest towards economic sustainability.
Many of the mature trees harvested in the past 40 years belong to the cohort that established after the devastating 1938 hurricane. In the past 15 years, the Yale Forests has embarked on a long-term silvicultural program designed to replace the old even-aged forest with a mosaic of stands with a well-distributed mixture of age classes ranging from zero to 80 or 100 years. This changeover may not be completed until about 2070.
Over the years, research on the Yale Forests has changed the practice of forestry in North America at different periods of time. The Yale Toumey Forest in Keene, NH, donated to Yale in 1921, was where research was first initiated on the School Forests. This was started by James W. Toumey in the early twenties and continued until 1940. He investigated plant-environment interactions of which his famous trenched plots (Yale Bulletin #30) were a part. This kind of work culminated during the 1940's in a series of forest ecology and silviculture textbooks that were the first of their kind in North America (Hawley 1921, 1929, 1937; Toumey 1928; Toumey & Korstian 1937; Lutz & Chandler 1946), in large part based on the work done at Yale Toumey and later Yale Myers. Unlike Yale Toumey, there was little ongoing research at Yale Myers when this forest was donated as a series of parcels from 1926-1931. There were, however, a number of permanent plots that were set up by the USDA Forest Service in the 1930's to monitor forest growth and health impacts from the chestnut blight and gypsy mot.
The first complete description of land use history, research and management at Yale Myers was published by Meyer & Plusnin in 1945 (Yale Bulletin #55). During the war and post-war era (1940-1960) research at both forests was considerably curtailed. It was not until David Smith was appointed as Director of School Forests in 1954 that more research was gradually initiated. Some of the first forest gap dynamics and controlled long-term regeneration studies in North America (1966-1968) were started at this time. These studies continue today both at the Yale Toumey and the Great Mountain Forests as permanent plots (Smith & Ashton 1993; Liptzin & Ashton 1999). Another focus that developed in the 1960's was the establishment of permanent plots in red and white pine plantations to evaluate growth and competition of differently spaced trees. This was at Yale Toumey, with some at Yale Myers. This work eventually resulted in a better understanding of crown-growth allocation relationships that are now changing the ways foresters consider controlling growing space (Seymour & Smith 1987; Oliver & Larson 1990). Since the middle 1970's, research has been consistently increasing at the Yale Myers Forest and remained somewhat steady at Yale Toumey. This is in part related to time commitment and distance away from New Haven, but also due to the considerably richer land-use history and floristic complexity at Yale Myers. This has provided a wider base upon which to explore a number of interesting social, biological, and physical questions. The first such research theme that developed at Yale Myers was the documentation of patterns in stand development. Studies were done on mesic mixed-oak stands by Oliver (1978). It was also at this time that William Burch and his students were documenting patterns in land-use change. Later, related studies explored similar themes with other tree mixtures (Kelty 1986) and from different perspectives in scale and time (Kittredge 1988). This whole forest dynamic paradigm has now become a way of thinking for many in North America (Smith 1986; Oliver & Larson 1990; Toman & Ashton 1996; Berlyn & Ashton 1996; Ashton & Peters 1999), but it was conceived and continues to be developed at the School Forests. Since the mid 1980's research has blossomed. Past programs have been renewed, existing programs expanded, and new programs initiated. Work has been renewed on forest gap dynamics with studies that are now investigating patterns in interaction between soil moisture, soil nutrition and radiation and their effects on regeneration at microsite and landscape scales (Ashton 1992; Kittredge & Ashton 1990, 1995; Ashton & Berlyn 1994; Ashton & Larson 1995; Ashton & Larson 1996; Ashton et al., 1998; Ashton et al. 1999); effects of fire on regeneration (Moser et al. 1995; Ducey et al. 1995); and several studies are begining to investigate factors arresting successional dynamic in forest uplands (fernlands, deer and forest understory interactions - Kittredge et al., 1992; Kittredge et al. 1995).
New work is exploring trophic interactions among plants and herbivores and the role of biodiversity on ecosystem function at Yale Myers. Most of this work centers on two systems: i) old fields; and ii) wetlands. For old field systems studies have been examining the dynamics of ecological food chains and food webs comprised of grassland plants and insects and herbivore behavioral response to predators (Schmitz 2000, 1998, 1997, 1994; Schmitz et al., 2000, 1997; Abrams & Schmitz 1999; Uriarte & Schmitz 1988; Beckerman et al., 1997; Rothley et al., 1997). Work in wetlands and other aquatic habitats is focused on understanding pattern in species distribution and community composition of amphibians with special application to habitat conservation and management. This work can be divided into three related themes. The first is exploring the role of forest vegetation as a determinant of amphibian species composition and abundance in small ponds. Results suggest that shading by forest vegetation limits the distriution of many local amphibian species (Skelly 1997). A second related project is aimed at understanding how the dynamics of canopies may impact amphibian populations. In this case studies have focused on how clearing by beaver and humans and vegetational succession act to shape the phenotypes of local populations (Wellborn et al., 1996; Kareiva et al., 1997; Skelly & Friedenburg 2000). Thirdly Kiesecker et al., (1999) and Kiesecker & Skelly (2000) are in the process of determining whether and how urbanization influences disease in amphibian populations. Though these studies appear to be the major areas of research that are ongoing at the School Forests, there are many smaller shorter-term studies that are currently being done by faculty, doctoral students and master's students.