Forest History Program

Chronicling the natural and management history of the foothills forest.

The program examines the history of forestry and man’s relationship with the landscapes in west-central Alberta, providing context for today’s challenges and informing today’s practices.

Bob Udell, former President of fRI Research, served as the Program Lead. To date, the program has produced a series of reports, books and other media covering all aspects of sustainable forest management, drawing on the history of the original model-forest land base. Partners currently involved in the program include West Fraser Timber, the Forest History Association of Alberta, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, the Hinton Historical Society, the Northern Rockies Tourism Alliance and the Jasper-Yellowhead Museum and Archives.

By Understanding our past, we shape our future.

This is the slogan of this program. The major goal of the program is to provide insight into how events of the past have shaped the landscape, ecology, culture and forest practices of today and how this insight can help inform future policy and practice.

How the Program Began

The Forest History Program at Foothills Research Institute has its roots in a 1995 speech by Bob Udell – Building AAC on a Tenured FMA – at the Grande Prairie Forestry Show. At the conclusion of the speech, Prof. Les Reed of UBC (former ADM of Forestry Canada) rose to ask why no one to date had set forward the remarkable legacy of forest management at the Hinton Forest. 

Weldwood was approaching  its 40th anniversary of Alberta operations at Hinton. In 1996, it launched the project to record the natural and management history of its Hinton Forest, with Pete Murphy and Bob Udell as lead authors and Bob Stevenson as photo historian. As the project advanced, it soon was evident that placing the operation in the context of the larger landscape was very important. At the suggestion of Foothills Model Forest board member Dennis Quintilio, the project moved over to the Model Forest in 1997 and was expanded to add more reports and to encompass the entire model-forest land base. From this sprang the larger Forest History Program

Bob Udell established the program with support from the Forest Resource Improvement Association of Alberta (FRIAA) and Weldwood of Canada Ltd.  Soon after this, Peter Murphy, Bob Stevenson and Bob Bott joined the program team to provide their expertise and skills to the first projects.  The program and its projects has received generous support from Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, the Forest History Association of Alberta, the Alberta Lottery Foundation, the Forest Resource Improvement Association of Alberta and Teck.

Program Lead
Bob Udell
The Columbia Trail
Uncovering a piece of history.
The Forest History Program Interview Series
Insight into the evolution of forestry in Alberta.
Learning from the Landscape: the fRI Research story
Scientific Publications | Books
A book about our first 25 years of research, from the Forest History Program.
Amelia Spanach Interview: Spanach Lumber Company
Scientific Publications | Interviews
Peter Murphy's 1999 interview of Amelia Spanach for the Forest History Program.
Judd Groat on horseback
Scientific Publications | Interviews
Part of the Forest History Program Interview Series.
Kenneth Hall Interview: Resident Manager
Scientific Publications | Interviews
Part of the Forest History Program Interview Series
Geographic Scope of fRI Research
Interactive StoryMaps | GIS Products
An interactive map of where our programs and associations are conducting research.
Fred McDougal Interview: Director of Forestry and Alberta Deputy Minister
Scientific Publications | Interviews
Part of the Forest History Program Interview Series.
Jack Wright Interview: Chief Forester
Scientific Publications | Interviews
Part of the Forest History Program Interview Series
Ray Ranger Interview: Land Use Department Head
Scientific Publications | Interviews
Part of the Forest History Program Interview Series.
Jim Clark Interview: Woodlands Manager
Scientific Publications | Interviews
Jim Clark worked in Alberta as assistant chief forester, assistant woodlands manager, and eventually woodlands manager, until his retirement in 1985.
jack glen sr.
Jack Glen, c. late 1930s Jack Glen Sr. (1891–1983) was a forest ranger from 1920 to 1945 in the foothills of the upper Athabasca. Produced by the fRI Research Forest History Program, the free ebook Mountain Trails tells of the adventures, colourful characters and challenges of bringing order and law to a previously untracked and mostly uninhabited wilderness. Below is an excerpt from Chapter One: First Days on the Trail.
Achieving Goals, Generating Results - Recap of the 2013 fRI Research Forum
Annual Research Forum Sparks Conversations
Adaptive Forest Management/History Program becomes the Forest History Program
In the fall of 2012, the Adaptive Forest Management/ History Program of the Foothills Research Institute becomes the Forest History Program of the Institute.  This reflects the evolution of a program that began in 1996 as the Adaptive Forest Management and History Program.
There was a great article in the December 13 issue of The Hinton Voice on the development of an app for the Northern Rockies Highway Guide.  Read the article here.  
Ecotour book.... yeah, there will be an app for that
An app is in development to take the Ecotour book mobile.
Bruce Mayer
Bruce Mayer
Former ADM and Board Chair
Bob Udell
Bob Udell
Forest History Program Lead
Peter Murphy
Peter Murphy
Researcher & Author
Tom Peterson
Tom Peterson

The program has produced a series of reports, and four books covering all aspects of sustainable forest management in west-central Alberta. The program also sponsored a 1999 repeat photography project of M.P. Bridgland’s 1915 photographic survey of Jasper National Park, which has been widely used by historians and geographers, and provided information in support of Ian MacLaren’s new book “Culturing Wilderness”.


50-Year History of Silviculture on the Hinton Forest 1955-2005—2013

By Bob Udell and Peter Murphy, with Diane Renaud

Des Crossley, who originated the forest management program at Hinton was a distinguished CFS researcher, frustrated at his inability to see his research knowledge adapted into practice.  When given the opportunity and challenge to do so at Hinton he leaped at the chance and set in motion a remarkable and innovative silviculture program never before seen in Alberta.

As background to “The Hinton Forest” a first draft of the comprehensive history of this silviculture program at Hinton from 1955 to 1999 was developed by retired CFS research Lorne Brace. This has been extensively modified, including the addition of images and maps. This important document provides insight into the science, philosophy and practice of silviculture as it has emerged under an adaptive forest management framework.

The Trans Canada Ecotours Northern Rockies Highway Guide—2012

By Fred Pollett with Robert Udell, Peter Murphy and Tom Peterson
A comprehensive examination of the landscapes, ecology, geology, forestry and human history of the Northern Rockies region, divided into three chapters, each developed along a major transportation corridor.

Mountain Trails—2008

By Jack Glen
The life and times of an early Alberta forest ranger, told in his own words. Drawn to the foothills of Alberta, he lived a life full of adventure and exemplified the spirit of adventure and commitment to forest stewardship that was the hallmark of the Alberta Forest Service rangers in the 20th century.

A Hard Road to Travel—2007
By Peter Murphy with Robert Udell, Robert Stevenson and Tom Peterson
An in-depth look at the remarkable human and ecological history of west central Alberta from prehistoric times to the arrival of large-scale industrial forest management in 1955. The authors trace the changing relationships between people and forests as humans first traveled through west-central Alberta, then stayed on to struggle, survive and eventually flourish—first despite the forest, then in harmony with it. 150 photos, 27 maps.

Learning from the Forest—2003

By Robert Bott, Peter Murphy and Robert Udell
This book draws upon previous publications in the series to examine the antecedents, scientific basis for and the evolution of the forest management program on the West Fraser Hinton Forest. “This is an important account of a large forest area… It is a first in Canada and is a major illustration of what can be accomplished by professional forest managers when provided with continuous support for their endeavours…” Ken Armson, former Chief Forester, Province of Ontario. Profusely illustrated with photos and maps.


The Resilient Forest – Looking Beyond the Stumps – a 35 Year Retrospective on a 1970s Environmental Campaign—2007

By Bob Stevenson, Steve Ferdinand and Bob Udell
In 1971, the environmental organization Save Tomorrow – Oppose Pollution – i.e. STOP – commissioned one of its members to visit North Western Pulp and Power’s Hinton forestry operations and expose adverse environmental and forestry practices there. This highly critical and controversial report is in the light of 35 years of forest management history. In 1997 authors Steve Ferdinand and Bob Stevenson relocated all the blocks and sites in the STOP report and took new pictures of them as close as possible to the original photopoints, and Bob Udell did the same in 2006. The dire predictions of the 1971 STOP report were totally refuted.

50 Years of Harvest and Reforestation: A Historical Photo Review of the Hinton Forest Management Agreement Area—2006

By Bob Udell
This report is a pictorial and historical record through time of harvest areas on West Fraser’s Hinton Forest Management Area. Drawing upon his own records as well as the archival records of West Fraser and others collected through the Foothills Model Forest Forest History Program, the author selected 36 blocks from the 1950s to the 1990s for rephotography.

The Hinton Forest:  A Case Study in Adaptive Forest Management 1955-2000—2002

By P.J. Murphy, R.W. Udell, R.E. Stevenson
This report is a comprehensive review of the forest management program at Hinton from its beginnings in 1955 to the 1999 forest management plan. The evolution of forest management from sustained yield to sustainable forest management of all values inherent in the forest is described through the comparison of planning, practice and adaptation from a wide range of perspectives – inventory, silviculture, multiple values and uses, protection, research, harvesting, and the planning and management cycle for sustainable forest management. This report was adapted and condensed to become “Learning from the Forest”.

The Evolution of the Forest Management Agreements on the Weldwood Hinton Forest—2002

By Dr. P.J. Murphy and Dr. M.K. Luckert
Eric Huestis and Reg Loomis of the Alberta Forest Service envisaged the concept of forest management agreements as early as 1949, and the Hinton operation was the first in Alberta to capitalize on this opportunity. Over time, the agreement has evolved and changed reflecting the changing view of society and our regulators on how forests should be managed and what the appropriate rights and responsibilities of tenure holders should be. Using a common set of criteria for comparison, the authors examine this evolution using the series of forest management agreements and amendments from 1952 to 1995.

The Development of Adaptive Management in the Protected Areas of the Foothills Model Forest—2000

By Michael den Otter
Den Otter described the histories of Jasper National Park, William A. Switzer Provincial Park and Willmore Wilderness Park, and the evolution of adaptive management within each managing agency. An important piece of this study was a map series showing the boundary changes of Jasper and Willmore Parks over time.

Other Media

The Roots of the Present are Buried Deep in the Past – CIF/SAF History Forum – Plenary Session 2 October 4, 2004
This historical forum, organized by Bob Udell and Peter Murphy of the Forest History Program, was a great success at the conference in Edmonton, several people from the SAF stating that it was the best plenary they had attended in years. Four distinguished speakers (Peter Murphy, Chas Miller, Cliff White, and Charles Kay) provide a fascinating look into the past as a prologue for the present and the future.
The Northern Rockies Ecotour App

This app takes the Northern Rockies Ecotour book and places it on an iphone or ipad with the ecopoints featured as waypoints on the map as you travel through the landscapes of the Northern Rockies Tourist Region. Both the iPhone and iPad apps are available from the iTunes Store.

Travellers will be able to read about the features of the landscape they are passing through as well as view photos from the book. They will be able to post reviews, examine services available in the area such as hotels and restaurants and other interesting waypoints along the way.