Faces from the Past
John Putnam known as 'Mr. Hardwoods'
By James Barnett
John "Put" Putnam was born in Michigan, raised in Iowa and went to school at the University of Michigan. He began work with the Southern Forest Experiment Station in New Orleans in 1928 as a field assistant on a bottomland hardwoods reconnaissance. He came with unique and valuable experience acquired in logging hardwoods tracts owned by his family. He received a permanent appointment in 1931.
Although established in 1921, the station's funds did not allow any being spent on bottomland hardwoods. It was not until 1927 that some funds were allocated to survey Delta hardwood resources. The Louisiana Department of Forestry contributed some $5,000 for a survey of the Delta's hardwood resources, conditions and utilization in the State. G.H. Lentz and John Putnam began the survey in the spring of 1928. Lentz, a recent graduate from the New York State College of Forestry at Syracuse, was an intensely practical man, bursting with energy and self confidence. Putnam was a hardwood enthusiast and even in 1928, probably knew the bottomland types better than any other professional forester in the South. They were an excellent team to undertake this survey.
Lentz's and Putnam's report on the hardwood survey along with some other information was published in 1932 as, "The trees of the bottomlands of the Mississippi River Delta Region". This publication won the admiration of a wide and varied audience. Certain master copies were beautifully illustrated with photographs. It was republished by the Station as Occasional Paper No. 27 and began the noted Occasional Paper publication series. Although numbered 27, it was the first issue of the Occasional Paper series--even then, the field of public relations was understood! The Hardwood Survey of 1928 led to establishment of the Southern Station's bottomland hardwood research center at Stoneville, Mississippi.
In an effort to relocate some cypress plots that had been established in 1914, Lentz and Putman were led by a local character named Captain Forgery of the Jeanerette Lumber Company into a swamp area in south Louisiana's St. Martin Parish. The water was high in the bottoms; for quite a bit of the way, it was waist deep to Lentz, which meant it was nearly arm-pit deep on Putnam. Forgery, who knew the ground well and was fairly sure where the plots lay, said: "You gennelmen come over thisaway. There's a high, dry ridge that'll take us right to the place, and it'll be easier going." They followed and the going was easier, wading up to their knees. Putnam finally asked: "Where's that high, dry ridge you were going to take us to?" The answer was: "Why, Mister, you're on it right now!"
Not until the early 1950s did the economic value of John Putnam's work begin to be recognized. Putnam and his colleagues demonstrated on the Delta Experimental Forest at Stoneville that depleted hardwood stands could make a quick comeback if they are supplied with fire protection and a minimum of management. After 1951, more than 40 companies added foresters to their staffs to carry out the management programs recommended by Putnam and his staff.
Near the end of his career, Putnam was awarded for his exceptional service. Director Philip Briegleb of the Southern Forest Experiment Station commended Putnam "For exceptional service in determining and demonstrating the opportunities for profit in growing hardwoods, thereby stimulating the management of hardwood forests on private and public lands throughout the South."
Putnam was continuously associated with hardwood forestry for more than 36 years. Millions of acres of public and private hardwood land are now managed according to his recommendations. It is appropriate that he became known as "Mister Hardwood".
(Ed Kerr's document published by the Louisiana Forestry Commission in 1958 entitled History of Forestry in Louisiana was used as a resource for this article)