SARATOGA SPRINGS — The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has renamed the State Tree Nursery in Saratoga Springs the Colonel William F. Fox Memorial Saratoga Tree Nursery.
Considered by many to be the “father” of DEC’s forest rangers, Fox is arguably one of the most important people in New York state forest lands and forest management history, DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said.
During its more than a century of service, the State Tree Nursery has adapted to the changing needs of forestry and land management. The trees and shrubs grown at the nursery support DEC’s goals and overall mission. DEC encourages planting trees and shrubs by providing nursery service to provide low cost, quality stock that is readily available to the public.
Born Jan. 11, 1840, in Ballston Spa, just miles from the tree nursery, Fox studied engineering at Union College in Utica for three years. He is buried in Ballston Spa Village Cemetery.
At 22, Fox joined the Union Army in 1862 as a captain commanding C Company of the 107th New York Volunteer Infantry. He was wounded at the Battle of Antietam, considered the bloodiest day in U.S. history, as well as at the Battle of Chancellorsville, where he served as a major. He was discharged from the Army on July 8, 1864.
On Nov. 1, 1885, Fox was appointed assistant secretary of New York State’s Forest Commission, which oversaw the recently created New York State Forest Preserve. Throughout his career, Fox worked to expand the Forest Preserve and was unceasing in his attempts to purchase as much land for the preserve as possible. At the time of his death on June 16, 1909, the preserve had grown to include more than 1.6 million acres of “Forever Wild” lands.
In 1895, the Forest Commission and the Fish and Game Commission were consolidated as the Fisheries, Game and Forest Commission. The Fisheries, Game and Forest Commission and the Forest Preserve Board were later consolidated as the Forest, Fish and Game Commission in 1901. This commission became the Conservation Department in 1911, and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in 1970.
Fox is credited with making New York the first state in the nation to put forest fire protection under public authority. Shortly after the Conservation Department was formed in 1911, the title, duties, and responsibilities of forest ranger were established.
In 1898 Fox proposed that burned-over barren lands in the state be replanted. In response, New York created one of the nation’s first tree nursery and reforestation programs. The tree nursery program began in 1902 and has been an integral part of forest stewardship on public and private lands since its inception.
More than 1.6 billion seedlings have been produced by nursery system. to enhance and protect our forest resource.
Established in 1911, the Colonel F. Fox Tree Nursery is the oldest state tree nursery in the country. In the decades before World War II, the nursery’s primary mission was to grow conifer seedlings for water supply protection, soil protection, and for timber plantations to ensure a steady supply of lumber.
In the early 1930s the State began the reforestation system by acquiring abandoned farms. Most of this land had to be planted to protect the soil. Nursery production rose to meet the demand and peaked in 1938 at 72.8 million seedlings produced for planting just in that year. These plantings were mainly accomplished by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).
The tree nursery’s mission became more diverse when DEC was established in 1970. Along with traditional forest seedling production and wildlife shrubs, the tree nursery also began to produce trees and shrubs for remediation, wetland restoration, and riparian protection, with a focus on growing native species from local seed sources.