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Jerry Franklin Life History Interview

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Jerry Franklin Life History Interview


The interview begins with discussion of various forms of records of Jerry’s personal life and career, and he explains that he has not been attentive to keeping a full record, because doing so would reflect conceit. However, so much of his work was so public, ranging from science publications to Congressional testimony, that there are many records. Digging into his early life history, he describes having the middle name “Forest” because his mother thought forests may become a big part of his life. He grew up in the Camas, WA, area and had early exposure to forests through family outings, where he got the idea he may want a career in forestry. He found his way to Oregon State and ultimately Washington State University for academic training. A traineeship with the Forest Service in 1956, also set him on his career path that was strongly influenced by Forest Service in the early decades. He was spurred by the advice to “go for it” when opportunities arose, even if it made you feel uncomfortable. Franklin goes on to outline three key features of leadership that he learned in part from his father: 1. A personality willing to get out there, to get exposed; 2. The ability to listen and sense the will of a group; 3. The ability to evolve, change, grow.

Next, the conversation returns to his childhood and influences of his father, who worked in a paper mill in a system of work shifts that disrupted family life, and ultimately reaching the position of foreman. At times the family resources were very few, but they were able to experience Northwest forests and mountains. He sensed he wanted to be a Forest Service ranger. He recounts how, upon getting into research, he wanted to become the world authority on upper-elevation forests and not be stuck down in the lower elevations with Doug-fir forests where most other forest scientists in the region were working. When opportunity for foreign travel arose, he turned to Asia, especially Japan, rather than Europe.

Franklin describes a key juncture in his life in the mid-1980s when he departed Corvallis after leading science at Andrews Forest, Olympic and Rainier National Parks, and Mount St. Helens and considered taking a position at one of several prestigious universities in the East, but after a year at Harvard Forest, he returned to the West and settled at University of Washington. One aim he had was to give western US forests standing before the academic world of the eastern US and Europe. He speaks of the joy of being in the forest with a community of people who shared his love of the forest and that were willing to follow him. His objective was to do the best he could for the forests and his bridging of the ecological and forestry research worlds was integral to that.

Stepping back and reflecting on his whole career, Franklin sees many opportunities for having big impacts that escalated in magnitude as his sense of what could be done grew. These included establishment of the Research Natural Areas program, old-growth forests, the International Biological Program, his stint at the National Science Foundation, the Long-Term Ecological Research program, Wind River Canopy Crane and NEON site, Northwest Forest Plan, and more. He comments about passing big projects on to others for the follow through so he could move on to the next big impact. But not all efforts were successful; he notes the Olympic Natural Resources Center as one example of failing to meet his expectations.

Franklin states a strong case that forests of the Pacific Northwest are exceptional and they have helped shape public perceptions of what a forest is, and also shaped science and policy. The capacity to study them and the body of knowledge have grown over time. He cites widespread belief that it’s not OK to cut old-growth forest anymore as a consequence of the science and storytelling about those forests. Finally, he outlines the progression of research and thinking from a focus on the most spectacular – the old growth – to studying the whole sere (sequence of stages of stand development), and how this work was catalyzed in part by the eruption of Mount St. Helens. This has been the arc of his career.

Note: Due to technical issues, the first several minutes of the interview were not recorded. Fred Swanson and Jerry Franklin later compiled their recollections of this portion of the interview, which were prepared for inclusion in the transcript that is presented here.


Jerry Franklin


Northwest Forest Plan Oral History Collection (OH 48)


Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Oregon State University Libraries


August 18, 2009


Fred Swanson


Born Digital Audio




Oral History



Oral History Item Type Metadata


Fred Swanson


Jerry Franklin


Government Mineral Hot Springs cabin, Wind River, Washington

Original Format

Born Digital Audio



OHMS Object

Interview Format


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