The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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John Bliss Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Mike Dicianna.

August 21, 2015


John Caswell Bliss was born in 1951 in Madison, Wisconsin where he also grew up. Following the completion of his high school education, Bliss pursued an undergraduate degree in Cultural Anthropology at his hometown school, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, dropping out for a period of time to live on a commune in eastern Washington. After finishing his bachelor's degree, Bliss and his wife joined the Peace Corps, teaching English in Afghanistan from 1974-1976.

Upon returning stateside, Bliss once again enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, this time as a master's student in Forestry. Researching the application of computer-aided classification to analyses of small-scale aerial photographs of forest cover types, Bliss completed his master's studies in 1979. From there, he accepted a position as a forest ranger with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, ultimately working as a county forester and hardwood silviculturist in the southwestern portion of the state.

After spending six years with the Department of Natural Resources, Bliss returned to his alma mater to pursue a doctorate in Forestry. It was during this time that he began to marry his training in Anthropology and Forestry. He completed his dissertation, "Motivations of nonindustrial private forest managers: a qualitative approach," in 1988. Bliss' first faculty position was with the Cooperative Extension System at Auburn University, where he focused his research on the socioeconomic impact of the forestry industry in Alabama, with particular attention paid to the ways in which small woodland owners participated in community life and the regional economy.

In 1998, Bliss moved to Oregon State University where he was the first occupant of the newly created Starker Chair in Private and Family Forestry. In this capacity, he continued to pursue research themes that had been established in Alabama, with a specific interest in the ways that small-scale forestry operations are impacted by changes in public policy as well as shifts in social norms. He also developed an integrated research, teaching and outreach program that embedded OSU students in various communities across the state with the dual goal of creating experiential learning opportunities as well as assisting communities in need.

Bliss' academic pursuits have taken him all around the world and, in 2012, he accepted a new appointment as Associate Dean for Graduate and International Programs within OSU's College of Forestry. An honorary professor at the University of Queensland, Bliss is also active in the International Union of Forestry Research Organizations and is a past editor of the international journal, Small Scale Forestry. He retired from OSU in 2016.