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DCNR colleagues bid farewell to Bureau of Forestry leader
His photograph hangs on the sixth floor of the Rachel Carson State Office Building, framed by the likenesses of men and women who have emerged as virtual pillars in the American success story that is Pennsylvania forestry.

To his right, Dr. Joseph T. Rothrock is identified as the “Father of Pennsylvania Forestry.” To the left, a portrait of Mira Lloyd Dock, “Mother of Pennsylvania Forestry.” The photograph of the late James C. Nelson, who served as state forester from 1989 to 1993, is in rare company, to be sure.

So, too, are the accomplishments noted beneath the former leader of the Bureau of Forestry, who died Saturday at the age of 81 at his East Berlin home:

“State’s first resource planner, who developed a statewide log-grading program, and computerized timber-sale procedures,” says the plaque beneath Mr. Nelson’s photo. “Expanded the Forest Stewardship Program and encouraged the use of volunteerism. Promoted good forestry practices in private forestlands.”

Announcing Mr. Nelson’s death to his coworkers on Monday, Bureau of Forestry Director Daniel Devlin identified his predecessor as “a pioneer in so many ways.

“Many of the programs we work on today are a result of Jim’s foresight and vision. Jim was a friend of mine, a great mentor and will be missed.”

“Jim Nelson loved the forest and he loved forestry,” Devlin said. “His license plate on his car was ‘ForStry.’ He was a great historian and more importantly loved to share his knowledge with anyone and everyone. He definitely was a spokesperson for the trees and the forests of Pennsylvania."

Accomplishments cited by Devlin included:

“He was the father of the Natural and Wild Area programs in the Bureau long before anyone else had such programs,” said the state forester, noting the bureau is considering naming one of these existing areas in Mr. Nelson’s honor. “Such a designation would be most fitting to the man who started it all.”

Devlin said Mr. Nelson “was in charge of writing the first comprehensive State Forest Resource Management Plan – one of the first in the country. He brought the National Heritage Program to Pennsylvania when no one else saw the value.”

In addition, Devlin said Mr. Nelson “started out his career working in the research unit of the bureau, working on oak wilt disease. He published a paper stating that it was a serious problem, but not the devastating force that most folks were espousing at that time.

“Also, Jim co-authored a piece on sustainability for the Society of American Foresters (SAF) that was deemed controversial at the time … Now, of course, everyone talks about sustainability of forests.”

Mr. Nelson headed the Bureau of Forestry under the former Department of Environmental Resources (DER), which in 1995 was divided into DCNR and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Mr. Nelson was succeeded by Dr. James R. Grace, who served as state forester from 1993 until 2007, when he was named DCNR deputy secretary and Devlin succeeded him as bureau director. In August, 2010, Grace was named the new Maurice K. Goddard Chair in Forestry and Environmental Resource Conservation at Pennsylvania State University.

“Jim grew up in the ‘big woods’ of Pennsylvania and he relished being a forester,” Dr. Grace said. “Jim was ‘the expert’ on the history of forestry in Pennsylvania and he loved to collect old tools and artifacts of earlier logging eras when the Pennsylvania forests were first cut.

“Jim was also an innovator and he endorsed and initiated concepts such as wild and natural areas, biodiversity guidelines, multiple resource forest planning, ecosystem management, and the use of multi- media approach in making the public aware of the benefits of good forest management long before these concepts were accepted by others in the forestry profession.”

Echoing those sentiments was Delaware State Forest District Forester Bradley Elison:

“Jim’s combination of direct ties to the core of the historic timber industry, in a forester who lived to develop great foresight on both forestry as well as broader environmental issues, was truly unique.  He combined that with a casual delivery that made him the best spokesman for forestry I have ever known.”

It was a management style well-known to Bureau of State Parks official Barbara Davey:

“Jim was a dynamic leader with a gentle demeanor. He taught us all so well,” said the assistant parks manager for Region 4. “You’d think he was just your neighbor. With his crystal blue eyes and genuine smile, he always welcomed you, and he never was too important to lend a helping hand or explain what was needed.”

Christopher Plank, forest program operations manager with the bureau, bids farewell to a former superior who sat on the panel that hired him:

“I worked with Jim from the day I started to the day he retired, and always that working relationship was marked by his ability to hear and understand the smallest of details. But, at the end of the day, he translated all those little details into the forward thinking ideas which really mattered.

“However, if something wasn't right or didn't make sense, Jim wouldn't go along with it, and there was no way anyone was going to persuade him to do otherwise.”

Mr. Nelson was the husband of Iris K. (Leas) Nelson, and the late Margery Nelson.

He was born Oct. 21, 1930 in Kane, a son of the late Emil S. and Mabelle (Thomas) Nelson.

A member of Zwingli U.C.C. in East Berlin, where he served on the consistory, Mr. Nelson served with the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry. He was also a member of the New Oxford Social & Athletic Club; a past president of the East Berlin Historical Society; the East Berlin V.F.W. Post No. 8896, where he served on the board of directors; and he was an avid woodworker and gardener.

He was a graduate of the Pennsylvania State University where he received the Alumni Award from the School of Forestry. His career with the Bureau of Forestry spanned 42 ½ years with the PA Bureau of Forestry culminating in the position of State Forester, and was the Director of the Bureau from 1989-1994. He was also a fellow of 50 years with the Society of American Foresters and served on its board of directors.

Following cremation, a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, March 24, at Zwingli U.C.C., 403 W. King St, East Berlin, with his pastor, Rev. Dr. Margaret J. Wise, officiating. Burial will be private and at the convenience of the family. The family will receive friends at the church on Saturday from 9 a.m. until time of the service.

Memorial contributions may be made to Zwingli U.C.C.; Wellspan VNA Homecare, PO Box 2404, York, PA 17405; or Susan G. Komen for the Cure, PO Box 650309, Dallas, TX 75265. Feiser Funeral Home, Inc, 306 Harrisburg St, East Berlin, is in charge of arrangements. Memories may be shared at

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March 14, 2012

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