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I. Forest research

By R. C. ROL, Professor, National School of Waters and Forests, Nancy

Experiment station at Royat (Puy de Dôme). Many species are tried out here; in particular, numerous strains of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris).

FOR a very long period of time the forests in France were exploited as need arose and were often totally destroyed; only hunting preserves reserved for the nobleman who owned the forest were under any kind of management. In those days the forester played mainly a police role. But as the need for wood constantly increased while the forested area dwindled, the restrictive character of his functions became accessory, and the forester became a technician charged with the development of the forest domain. An art of forestry grew up, comprising all the techniques of cultivation and exploitation, at first based on purely empirical methods but, as time went on, increasingly founded on precise and scientific observation.

But simple observation, often deceptive in biology, can be particularly difficult in the case of trees, for the factors which influence the life of the forest are many and complex and they often react upon one another in a very unexpected manner. Analysis of these factors demands a highly developed critical sense and always contains a large percentage of personal interpretation. Furthermore, observation itself in the forest is attended by many inherent difficulties, owing to differences in the morphological and physiological characteristics of trees, in their longevity, in their capacity for growth, and in the durability of their wood tissues.

French foresters very soon realized that observation, though useful, was only the beginning and that research was necessary to solve many of their problems. But, unfortunately, forest research encountered the same difficulties as observation, so that the lone experimenter often became discouraged by material difficulties arising from the size of the trees, the physical properties of wood, and the lapse of time that was necessary before any conclusion could be reached.


Forest research involves teamwork and can be undertaken successfully only by a specialized organization which assures the continuity necessary to experimentation. It was only at a relatively recent date, the end of the nineteenth century, that the necessity to create such a specialized organization, the Forest Research Station, became felt in France.

Nevertheless, it would be unfair not to mention those who, at the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, attempted the first forestry experiments: Duhamel du Monceau. (17001782), Varenne de Fenville (1700-1793), and, most important of all, Philippe André de Vilmorin. It was de Vilmorin who, from 1821 to 1862, organized on the Domaine des Barres, which is now State property, the first experiments on different methods of tending certain forest trees such as Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), Laricio pine (Pinus nigra var. calabrica), and American oak. These experiments still serve as models, and conclusions can still be drawn from them.

Forest research in France properly dates from the setting-up of the Forest Research and Experiment Station (Station de recherches et expériences forestières), established by departmental order of 27 February 1882 as an annex to the National School of

Waters and Forests (Ecole nationale des Eaux et Forêts). Its beginnings were modest, for until 1914 the funds at its disposal were very small. The staff consisted of one or two forest officers, whose field of action was necessarily confined to those forests in the vicinity of Nancy which were directly under the control of the School. As a result, research was limited exclusively to forestry questions or to questions directly bearing on the forest, such as forest meteorology. Mention might also be made of research work undertaken during this period (1882-1914) on the effects of thinning, which was begun by Bartet and continued by E. Mer and Cuif.

As early as 1866, Mathieu, Professor of Natural Sciences at the School, had set up a series of meteorological posts with the aim of conducting research on the influence of the forest on climate. These studies were continued and extended by the officers of the Research Station, and the results, which are now universally accepted, were published.

It was natural that the professors of the School should participate very largely in the work of the Research Station: Henry was a pioneer in agricultural soil science, but he also worked on various questions of forest pathology and tree protection. In 1897 Thiery and Petitcollot published the results of their experiments on the resistance of certain tree species to disease. De Bouville worked mainly on fish culture, responsibility for inland waters being vested in the Administration of Waters and Forests.


After World War I the Research Station had to be reorganized, as the greater part of its records had been destroyed. A departmental order of 15 June 1920 made it possible to enlarge the field of research very considerably.

Four branches were set up. The first, headed by an inspector, was responsible for the management of the forests under the School's administration and for general forest research; the other three branches were put under the direction of the professors in charge of the corresponding fields of instruction: botany, zoology, headwaters protection.

This arrangement was continued for 17 years, and during this time research progressed vigorously. In 1937 a complete reorganization was effected by M. Guinier, then Director of the School, and approved by departmental order of 29 December 1937, increasing to seven the number of branches of the Research Station. Since that date this arrangement has remained unchanged except for a few minor details.

The first branch, which is now under the direction of a conservator, continues to work on general forest research and to manage the School's forests. Its principal task is the systematic study of growth, and the development and wood increment of the principal forest species of France. This work is carried out on sample plots which have been established in as many different stations as possible, with various environmental conditions. Detailed measurements are taken at regular intervals. Unfortunately, World War II profoundly upset this plan, but order is now being restored. Moreover, these are long-term experiments and, though figures accumulate, recognizable results are still a long way off.

As a knowledge of local climate, macroclimate and microclimate, is an indispensable factor in carrying on the work of forest research, a number of meteorological observation posts of interest to forestry were installed in 1939; but they ceased functioning during the war, and for economic reasons can only slowly be reinstated.

Apart from these purely forestry subjects, the first branch also devotes special attention to the tapping of Maritime pine (Pinus pinaster) for resin. An important report was published on this subject in 1938. At present, activation of the production of pine-resin by sulphuric acid is being studied.

The second and third branches, which are under the direction of the professor of forest botany, deal with all research which has a bearing on that subject. But while the second branch works on forest botany in general - the anatomy and morphology of fibrous plants, systematology, botanical geography, plant pathology, etc., as applied to forestry - the third branch is mainly concerned with artificial regeneration in its widest sense, from the ecological and genetic study of plants which can be put to use to the material execution of work on the plantations, including harvesting of seed and care of nurseries. It also manages the arboretums which are attached to the School.

The fourth branch, directed by the professor of technology, conducts research from a forestry angle on forest exploitation and the rational utilization of wood. It co-operates with the Central Timber Testing Laboratory in Paris, which comes under the Department of Waters and Forests, and carries out, from the industrial aspect, all technical research on the physical, chemical, and mechanical properties of wood and on wood preservation.

The fifth branch, under the professor of pedology, studies all questions relating to forest soils. The importance of pedology in modern forest science increases every day, and one of the most arresting problems of forest life is the complex relation existing between variations in soil and the evolution of tree associations. Recently a report on local conditions was made on this subject by one of the officers of the Research Station.

The sixth branch is in charge of work on forest zoology, and at present its activities are directed mainly toward the elimination of various insect pests which lay waste our forests. It also studies hydro-biology and agriculture in co-operation with the Central Station of Applied Hydrobiology in Paris, and as a result has the use of the Hydrobiological Establishment at Aix-les-Bains, on the border of Lac du Bourget in Savoy. Since 1920 this branch has published various studies on forest entomology and hydrobiology.

The seventh branch has charge of studies on mountain economy. Actually it is in the mountains, principally where climatic conditions are difficult, as in high mountain regions or in the Mediterranean mountains, that the forest forms the essential element in economic stability. So the mountain forester must take into account not only the forest itself but also all other problems of these regions, and: must work in arose co-operation with others interested in the same problems, especially with geographers. The seventh branch also takes care of soil conservation, reforestation of mountain country, rangeland management, protection against avalanches, and glacier and rainfall studies in the mountains. This is a very large program, and the branch has altogether insufficient funds at its disposal.

A description of the work accomplished by the officers attached to the Research Station is published in the Annals of the National School of Waters and Forests. Since 1924, 23 volumes have appeared. Less important articles have appeared in various French forestry reviews. Through exchanges, the library of the School receives publications from similar organizations abroad.

Economic conditions are constantly changing, and the fundamental sciences on which the forestry sciences are founded have made rapid progress in these last years. Consequently, new problems are continually arising, problems of such complexity that they require greater specialization and more efficient working methods than are at present possible. Satisfactory solutions would necessitate a reorganization of the Research Station on an entirely new basis with a considerable increase in the number of research workers and more modern equipment.


It is impossible in an article of this length to describe in detail the many problems that the Research Station must try to solve more or less rapidly.

From a silvicultural point of view, following the decline in demand for fuelwood and the increasing demand for softwood, the improvement of coppice and of coppice with standards, which composes a large part of the French forest, has become indispensable. This improvement will have to be made by the introduction of a considerable quantity of new species. This has given rise to many problems either purely scientific or purely technical, such as production, harvesting, preservation of forest seeds, mechanization in the nurseries and work on the plantations, elimination of various enemies of young plants such as fungi, insects, rodents, weeds, etc. The creation of a more intensive silviculture is impossible without thorough ecological research on climate, soil, and the biocoenotic systems, or without taking into account the present genetic factors - that is to say, without practicing selection. This is a wide field of research which is still relatively unexplored.

The forests of the Landes have suffered considerable damage from the war and from a succession of dry seasons. Their restoration must be considered from a new angle, especially as regards fire protection, and different methods will have to be tried. The Research Station cannot ignore this all-important question in the national economy, and experimental machinery suitable to deal with the problem must be considered as soon as possible. Fire fighting is of concern not only in the region of the Landes but also in the Mediterranean area and even in many of the forests of central and western France; but fire-fighting systems should vary according to the needs of the region. Consequently, research should be spread over these various regions.

Until recently experiments at the Research Station have been limited to the so-called forest trees; but there are also trees which are not generally considered part of the forest but which nevertheless produce a large amount of timber, such as the chestnut and poplar. The Department of Waters and Forests very rightly considers that at the present time these two species cannot be ignored. Two special commissions, composed of experts, have been set up to co-ordinate all efforts directed at the creation of new poplar plantations and the restoration of chestnut plantations. The technical secretaries of these commissions have been assigned to the Research Station of the School, where they will be responsible for collecting the documentation and carrying out the necessary experiments. A "populetum" which will group together almost all the types of poplars which are cultivated today is being established at Vineuil in the valley of the Loire and will permit interesting comparisons.

The questions of soil conservation and mountain reforestation also bring many pressing problems, but space is too limited to pass them in review. It is necessary, however, to mention the millions of hectares in the southern Alps reforested in black pine (Pinus nigra), the planting of which was begun in 1860. These trees are now approaching maturity, and the question arises as to whether regeneration can be secured or whether a different species must be introduced to assure the continuity of the forest. The answer to this question will depend on the environmental conditions under which each reforestation project is to be carried out and will vary accordingly. Experiment centers must be established and should be accompanied by systematic phytosociological studies.

It is evident that under present conditions a research station cannot live an isolated existence; close relations must be established with other similar organizations and there must be frequent contacts between technicians in the interests of forest research. These contacts existed before 1939 under the auspices of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (Union internationale des Stations des Recherches); but they were naturally suspended during the period of hostilities and, owing to the difficulties of postwar life, can be renewed only slowly. Nevertheless, in 1948 an officer of the School was able to go to Sweden, and he brought back with him many interesting documents, mainly on genetic research which has been studied in that country for a long time. Another officer traveled through the forests of North America, mainly in the coastal chains of the Pacific, whence most of our more important exotic species come. At different times contacts have been made with Swiss colleagues on questions concerning bark-borers, the struggle to reduce mistletoe, the systematic study of snow in high mountains, etc., and it is hoped that during the years to come these very necessary contacts will be increased.

In spite of its present limited staff, the Research and Experiment Station of the Forestry School has tried to attain the goal which was set for it: "to advance the various sciences which concern-forest instruction and to give to the forestry staff, as well as to individuals, scientific information and advice." It is to be hoped that its means of action will soon be largely augmented and that it will be able to carry out experiments on a scale befitting a country where the forest plays an important part in the general economy and where even now important reforestation work is being carried to fruition, thanks to the National Forestry Fund.


DUCHAUFOUR, PH. 1948 Recherches sur la chênaie atlantique française (Research on the oak groves of the Atlantic coast of France). Annales de l'Ecole nationale des Eaux et Forêts. Vol. 11, Section 1. 332 pp.

GUINIER, PH. 1932 La Station de recherches et d'expériences forestières de l'Ecole nationale des Eaux et Forêts - Douze années d'activité, 1920-1931. Académie d'agriculture de France - séance du 9 mars 1932. (The Forestry Research and Experiment Station of the National School of Waters and Forests: Twelve years' work, 1920-31. The French Academy of Agriculture - Meeting of 9 March 1932.) 10 pp.

OUDIN, A. 1930 Vues d'ensemble sur l'organisation en France des recherches de sylviculture et d'économie forestière: Les méthodes (Composite picture of the organization of research on silviculture and forestry economy in France: Methods). Annales de l'Ecole nationale des Eaux et Forêts. Vol. 3, Section 2, pp. 231-62.

OUDIN, A. 1938 Etude sur le gemmage des pins en France (A study on the tapping of pine trees for resin tin France). Annales de l'Ecole nationale des Eaux et Forêts. Vol. 7, Section 1, pp. 169-287.

PERRIN, H. 1928 Les recherches forestières en France (Forestry research in France). Annales de l'Ecole nationale des Eaux et Forêts. Vol. 2, Section 1, pp. 139-54.

ROL, R., POURTET, J., AND DUCHAUFOUR, PH. 1944 Catalogue des espèces cultivées dans l'arboretum des Barres (Catalogue of species cultivated in the Arboretum of Barres). Annales de l'Ecole nationale des Eaux et Forêts. Vol. 9, Section 1. 230 pp.

SCHAEFFER, L. 1938 L'Expérimentation forestière - Comptes rendus du premier congrès lorrain des Sociétés savantes de l'Est de la France Nancy, 6-8 juin 1938 (Forestry experimentation - Minutes of the meetings of the First Lorraine Congress of the Scientific Society of Eastern France, held at Nancy, 6-8 June 1938). 6 pp.

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