Interviewer: Ms. Catherine Rodriguez, Auburn University
Interview Date: Monday, November 12, 2012
Location: Alcock Residence, Dunwoody, Georgia
Listen: Read Transcript
USDA Region 8 Oral History Project
Interview with Mr. Jack Alcock
Conducted by: Catherine Rodriguez, Auburn University
INTERVIEWER: The Following interview was conducted by Catherine Rodriguez with Jack Alcock on behalf of the USDA Forest Service in conjunction with Auburn University for the Region 8 Oral History Project. It took place on November 12th at his home in Dunwoody, Georgia.
So, thank you Mister Alcock, for meeting with me to discuss your experience in the Forest Service. I will be recording this interview. At the conclusion of the interview, I have a consent form and deed of Gift for your signature.
ALCOCK: Fair enough,
INTERVIEWER: Now I will ask you a few questions regarding your employment with the Forest Service. So, can you tell me how you, um came to be employed in the Forest Service.
ALCOCK: Uh, after I graduated in 1961, at Michigan State University in Lansing, Michigan I was already married to my wife Joyce at the time. Already had my oldest daughter, who was born when I was a senior, and um, so obviously we were looking for work. Big time, and uh, we were living in housing, university housing, we had no furniture or anything. But, we did some interview, and uh, and it was a tough job market, kinda like now, I think, a lot of similarities. And uh, I fully planned to work in the private sector; I thought maybe Georgia Pacific or somebody like Westvaco, here in the South or Weyerhaeuser out west. But they weren’t hiring at the time. And I needed a job in the worst way. So I started putting out applications uh, for uh, public sector jobs. And my first job offer was in California with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and my wife said “I don’t think so,” it was really, really remote, I mean we knew we were going to be in remote places, just cause that was part of the work you know, but anyway we turned that down after a lot of thought. And then we had a lot of offers from the Fish and Wildlife Service, and finally uh, some guys form the US Forest Service came and interviewed. And I was very impressed with the people that interviewed me. One of um’s name was Thurman Trosper and he was head of personnel out in the eastern region out of Milwaukee. And um, we had a nice interview and about a week later I got a job offer. And it was in uh, for a junior forester in Southern Indiana, I grew up in Illinois and I’d never thought I’d being a forester I’d work in Indiana, and thought “Wow that’s too close to home” but we needed a job. So everything we had we put in a little tiny, uh, U-Haul, pulled it behind my terrible old 1958 Chevy station wagon and we ended up in a town in southern Indiana called Brownstown, and uh, 2000 people, and uh, couldn’t find a place to live there either, it was terrible for a while, but eventually the ranger there Wilford James, was a wonderful guy, actually he was quite wealthy he, uh inherited a lot of money from the Hoover Vacuum company when his mother died.
INTERVIEWER: Goodness, [laughter]
ALCOCK: Yeah, wasn’t it! [laughter] Anyway he uh, he helped us find a place to live and uh he was a really just a wonderful guy to work for. So that’s how we got our start, and uh, it was more out of necessity than anything else. And my whole career in the Forest Service seems like it was necessity. I actually thought I would probably farm, because I grew up in on a farm, while all through high school and all, that was my objective. But then when I went into the army and when I got out of the army there just wasn’t enough land for another one in our family , and there wasn’t enough machinery or capital or anything else. So with some pretty strong prodding form my wife Joyce, who’s a registered nurse, uh, we picked a school, and went. And I just kinda picked forestry out of the blue to be honest about it, I knew it had something to do with a lot of the things I was familiar with you know, soils, insects, and diseases, and plants physiology and all of those things. So it seemed to fit in, pretty well.
INTERVIEWER: So would you say that our upbringing in Illinois kinda prepared you for this, um, so I guess could you MAYBE elaborate more on that kind of work?
ALCOCK: Sure, yeah well growing up on a farm definitely helped prepare me, I had a very strong work ethic, because that’s what we had to do to survive during the depression. And uh, us as kids we worked hard as kids, and so that was a part of it. And uh, just the whole idea of working with things that grow, working with the land the soil and the management aspects of it. Uh, it was all-good. Plus I grew up hunting and fishing and all that so, that became a part, an interesting part of Forestry as well. And as we moved around the country, uh I always worked very close with the Fish and Game people, and that was a really nice associate. In fact that picture right there with my nice salmon, I was fishing with the head of the fisheries department in Oregon when I caught that fish so,
INTERVIEWER: And what year was that?
ALCOCK: That’d be bout 1976 or so, somewhere in there. On the McKenzie River. In the Western Cascades,
INTERVIEWR: That’s a nice fish in that picture.
ALCOCK: 24 pounds I think. And I smoked it and we ate it. So, anyway, yeah there was a really strong connection between growing up outdoors, worked outdoors. I always thought foresters would always work outdoors, well you know the first few years I did, but it wasn’t long after that you drift more, more into management, which brings you inside, and more meetings, and more things that I never really was all that interested in, but you do it, if you want to progress,
INTERVIEWER: Ok. Well Great, thank you. Now I’m going to ask you some questions are going to be related to your region 8 work experience. The first one that I have is, how would you describe your average experience working in the Southeast?
ALCOCK: Well I had worked in Kentucky, which probably to a lot of people doesn’t sound very southern, but it really was. The culture in Kentucky was, was quite oriented toward the south, and when I was supervisor of the Daniel Boone National Forest there, so and my kids went to school there. So I think I got, uh, and that too was when my boss was in Atlanta when I was in Kentucky, so that’s when I first started coming down there to meet with him and so forth. That would have been about 1974, I guess, um, so I knew something about the south before we came to Atlanta. But there was a lot of south that I didn’t know anything about too, which was the National Forest in Texas, uh, same way for those in Florida, and uh and especially I had, had the Caribbean National Forest in Puerto Rico and I’d never even been to Puerto Rico before, so there was a lot of new territory for me get acquainted with, and also the culture in the South, and uh, and so I just thought about doing that and you, you do that just by jumping in an area the middle of it, and thankfully I had wonderful people to work with here in the South. They were very professional and um, they just, they knew what they were doing. And most of them uh, grew up on the south, and they never left the south, so they tended to go to places like Auburn University, or Mississippi State, and then they stayed pretty close to home when they got a job. So uh, anyway just found it just a matter of traveling, a lot of traveling. This is a big region, thirteen states, plus Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. So, there was, it took a lot just traveling around and that was one of the kind of the downsides of it, cause you can wear yourself out just traveling over this thirteen state area. So, that’s how I started that, anyway, and then let’s see I did that for twelve years. So um, in the end I think I got, being in forestry you want to see every corner of it if you can, but it was thirteen million acres and there was no, no way that you could become intimately familiar with all of it, but I think I was as pretty familiar with each of the national forests in the south. And having moved around a lot, before that, you know, having worked in Vermont, and Oregon, and Wisconsin, and Missouri and all over, I think it makes it, it made it easier for me because I knew what to look for, and I had enough experience before by the time I came down here, uh, I knew, I knew exactly, I’d done, I’d done every job that the people I supervised had done. So I, uh, I think I was well pretty qualified
INTERVIEWER: And this was during your position as a regional Forester?
INTERVIEWER: Ok, just verifying um, so as um, as a regional forester for the southeastern region, um can you tell me some of the projects, special projects that you were a part of, that maybe you managed or helped create new projects?
ALCOCK: Uh, [laughter] one of, one of the purpose of the national forest was, when they originally established, had to do uh, protecting water sheds. In fact all of the national forests in the South had that as one of their initial purposes, and uh, so there’s a lot of projects that I was involved with, like in Kentucky we built, well we were there it had two large reservoirs working with the corps of engineers, uh, reservoirs built for flood control, in most cases we inherited these big reservoirs and all the recreational work that goes on with it camp grounds, marinas, uh fisheries, the whole thing, and those were huge, huge projects. And exciting! exciting projects. A lot of, quite a lot of money floating around, and uh, and a lot of different disciplines involved, and a lot of different agencies involved. Very political. Got to know politicians quite well through those. Uh, also genetics was a big deal here in the south. Because things tend to grow pretty fast here. Uh, we had good orchards, where we’d bring in the best seed we could find, plant them, culture these trees and then collect the seeds from those and then put them into our forest nurseries. That was, that was a big deal here in the south. And again going back to my days on the farm, that was…the genetics, the improved genetics of plants, uh, was always of interest to me. And it doesn’t matter whether its corn, soybeans or trees. No, it’s um, it’s all the same except it’s takes, it’s a lot harder with trees cause their slow growing and it takes forever to see if you have a genetic giant that you’re working with. So that was big. Uh, prescribed burning has a big thing here in the south. We burn about a hundred thousand acres a year, on purpose, prescribed. And that was because, that fire is a natural part of the ecology here in the south. So we, we burned a lot, we had a few get away from us, we smoked in some highways, interstates that we didn’t want to at times, but by and large it was pretty successful, and again we had some people that were good. They knew how to do it and how to do it without it causing a lot of problems. So that was big. We also had here, which I don’t think, most people think, are you familiar with the Job Corps program?
INTERVIEWER: Um, slightly familiar
ALCOCK: Uh, it came out of the 60s and we had in the south here we had nine job corps centers. They averaged roughly about 200 young guys, they were all male at that time, uh, in each of these centers, so somewhere around a couple of thousand of them at any given moment. And those were scattered all over, in Kentucky where I was supervisor we had two of them there. One called Pine Knot and then the other one called French Burg, and uh these were designed to take young people, disadvantaged, mostly out of the cities, mostly, a few rural people but not many, mostly out of the cities and a lot of them were out of schools, they’re 16-21 years old. And our job was to train them, educate them try to get a GED diploma under their belt. Uh try to teach them a vocation. We did everything from cooking, to uh welding, uh carpentry, stone masonry, all of those kinds of trades. Each center was a little bit different. And the idea was that we would change their living habits quite a bit, like teaching them, that by gosh you’ve got to get up in the morning, and uh got to stay away from drugs. And uh, In fact when the bus would pull in and they’d unload these kids from Boston, Philadelphia, or the Bronx in New York or where ever, the center that I managed as a director was on a mountain top in Vermont. And the first thing we did with these kids was to take them into the gymnasium and take the weapons off of them. And I had a safe there. I don’t’ know were all these things ended up, I’d like to know. And you can’t imagine, you’d be amazed at the scramble of weapons that we took of these kids. That was the first job. And so then we, you know, if they’d with us one of our objectives was to get them a high school diploma and a vocation. Some of the hottest vocations was welding, they’d go into the ship yards and make good money. If they’d stick with, but boy was it hard to make them stay ‘cause they all wanted to go home right away when they got there. And a lot of them went into the military and that was a good career path for a lot of these kids, but it’s was a little sad too because a lot of them got shot up in Vietnam and places like that. And I heard about most of those, a lot of them stayed in touch with us. Anyway we had nine of those centers in the south and uh, of course foresters in the history we’d had managed the CCCs in the 30s and I guess that’s how we became an natural for these job corps centers in the 60s, 70s and they’re still around, but the Forest Service is not involved with them as they used to be. So that was a big deal. Um, we have a lot of trails here in the South. You’re probably familiar with the Appalachian Trail. Okay?
ALCOCK: I was involved with that right form the earliest days of my career I think in one way or another. And uh, I think I was almost around when we acquired the very last mile of the Appalachian Trail. It starts here in Georgia and ends up in Maine. Two thousand some miles, and um, it was bought piece, by piece, by piece. On the national forest and then most of it was on the national forest, there’s some of it that is on private land. So that’s a big deal. And we also did a trail that runs, a national scenic trail runs all the way from one end of Florida to the other. Uh, hooking together public lands. So the whole business on trails is a big deal, for us.
INTERVIEWR: Was that to meet a more of a public demand, to have access, and to create this type of recreational, I guess, experience, or?
ALCOCK: Well yeah, well there’s always been trails on the national forest, but the early trails were mostly to get around. You know, so you could get in and manage it, because you didn’t have a good road system. So, they used trials. And they built trails. Especially during CCC days in of the 30s and the 40s. and a lot of those trails then became pretty heavy use for recreation. And various groups sprung up like the Appalachian Trail Conference, which was there form the earliest days of the Forest Service back around 1900. And um, when I worked in Vermont and lived in Vermont, why one of my best contacts and best helpers was the Appalachian Trail conference and the head of that in that time was in Boston. So I’d go down to Boston and meet with him. And they did a lot of the work on the trail, some maintenance, and all of that so. It was a kinda of a wonderful working relationship and awfully good people, lot of professional people. Give a lot of time on their weekends go up and camp and work on the trails and all that stuff. That was always exciting.
ALCOCK: [stammer] I want to mention one other thing.
INTEVIEWR: No of course.
ALCOCK: It’s wildlife. Everybody in the south hunts, pretty much you know. And if, if you want to make friends in the South or good working relationships, that’s one of the things you absolutely have to pay attention to. Because when it’s time to go fishing in the south, or its time for deer hunting season or turkey season, or whatever its important to be aware of that. [laughter] cause uh, but one of our projects in the south was to reestablish wild turkeys in the South. Because over in South Caronia is the head of the Wild Turkey Federation, another wonderful wildlife related group to work with. And um, they, they helped us on every national forest in really every state in the South to reestablish wild turkey. And it’s been successful, in fact to the point where they’re almost a nuisance in some places.[laughter] Have you seen them?
INTERVIWER: Um, I’ve, I haven’t seen them actually, but I know a lot of people that like to go hunting for them. [laughter] So,
ALCOCK: Well as you know they’re a big bird. And they’re a proud bird. One time some of the early, early Americans thought that the wild turkey should be our national symbol, rather than the bald eagle. So there’s a lot of sentimental attachment to wild turkeys, so anyways. At, that was a big project in the south, and the reestablishment of deer in a lot of the forest lands were hunted out, to the point where there just wasn’t, there wasn’t very many deer there. So getting them reestablished was a big deal. Fisheries in the lakes and the trout streams, the streams on the national forest were in pretty terrible shape when we started buying land. And a lot you know of silting, muddy, and just not very good fisheries. So as they began to get cleaned up, we began to work with states again and reestablished the fisheries. And um, gosh it turns out that we have some pretty nice trout streams around now. And that was a huge accomplishment.
Hum…now let’s see. Oh there’s more endangered species in the south, both plants and animals than anyplace else. Runs all the way from tropical species to, to those that are more common to the south. So that is, that was a big deal here in terms of the management. And we made some awfully good progress, the biggest controversy this all came about under the Endangered Species Act. What was that 69? Or somewhere around there it was passed. And we had a lot of controversy involved with endangered species, and out West I worked with the Spotted Owl that was a big deal out west; cause it shut down whole logging operations and everything. And here in the East when we sweated the most was the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, little woodpecker about that big, black and white actually. And um, he was endangered and really about the only place that he existed was on the national forest here in the south. So um, we spent a lot of time and a lot of research. We have two big research stations in the south: one in Asheville, North Carolina and one in New Orleans [Louisiana]. And I don’t know, when I was working, there were probably over a hundred scientists, Ph. D’s working out of those two stations. And of course we worked really close with them. And then, just to show you how exotic it can get the Endangered Species, in Puerto Rico in the Caribbean National Forest there had the Puerto Rican Parrot. Little green parrot about that big, only 30 left in the whole world. And every time you’d have a hurricane come through that country, you’d worry about whether or not, if you’d have any enough survive. So we ended up establishing an aviary, in Puerto Rico on the Caribbean National Forest and we rounded up about 30 of those little parrots and that, got some of them to reproduce, and uh, and to the point where, I think the population now it’s not off the endangered species list, but its, its uh, not as threatened as it was. Cause when you get down to thirty in the whole world, thirty of anything [laughter] thirty of anything it’s time to worry. But anyway, that’s some of the things in the South.
INTERVIEWR: A whole host of all kinds of special projects to be a part of.
ALCOCK: Its busy, busy region. Really busy region. It’s a fun place to work.
INTERVIEWER: Okay so my next question that I have for you, naming some of the projects and how diverse they are, um with some of the locations that you worked in Region 8, how would you say they were similar or different?
ALCOCK: See I just spent most of my time right here in Atlanta, except for my four years as supervisor in the Daniel Boone. So, I don’t know, I was just pretty much concerned with the entire region. And there are, it’s such a diverse region when you go all the from Virginia in the North, right up to the door step of Washington D.C almost- on the George Washington Jefferson NF, down through North Carolina, South Carolina into Florida, down to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, then Back up across to Alabama, your old school state, and uh Mississippi, Louisiana, in to Texas, back up through Arkansas, Oklahoma, and uh, back through Kentucky and including Tennessee, so that’s uh, that’s a huge, I don’t know what, that’s probably a third of the country there maybe, with all kinds of cultures within the different cata-cultures. Heck of a difference between Virginia and Texas or even Mississippi and Georgia for that matter. Probably didn’t answer your question, but I don’t know…
INTERVIEWER: No that’s fine.
ALCOCK: I did spend, I’ve been here now 31 years, so this is home.
INTERVIEWER; Okay, um my next question that I have, to what extent do you believe the Forest Service has fostered economic development in the Southeast?
ALCOCK: Well I guess that, I mentioned the watershed part of it, as being one of the um, the reasons the forests were established. But, also it’s always, since that earliest histories going back to the earliest 1900s, um the land was in bad shape here in the south and east. And it had been heavily harvested of trees, burned a lot of it, a lot of erosion it was just in pretty bad shape. And then along come the Depression of the 30s, 20s and 30s, and people began to wonder if these lands were ever going to make any kind of contribution to the economy, and there was a desperate need for jobs. And that’s when I guess, uh FDR, remember Roosevelt, began to think in terms of broader programs and there was a lot of land acquisition at that time of these beat up lands, and the object was to try to bring them back into a more productive state. Uh, for yes, for timber, that was a part of it, it was called multiple use and then in 1960 they passed the Multiple Use Act in Congress to make it all legal, and it basically said you should do the main five things timber, watershed, wildlife, and fisheries, uh grazing. We had some grazing in the south too, you know sheep, goats and what have you. And what else? I forgot something, minerals I guess. Oil and gas and minerals, and recreation. I didn’t say that. And so, it was to try to manage all of those in some kind of combination where you would get the greatest good. In fact the Forest Service had this saying you know, the greatest good for the greatest number in the long run. And that was our motto for decades, and maybe still is for all I know. I’m out of touch a little bit. Uh, anyway the first job was to get the land back in some kind of shape where it could be productive, for the things I mentioned. Growing trees, and it really wasn’t productive from a recreation standpoint because it was so beat up nobody wanted to go there and spend any time. It wasn’t at all productive from a wildlife and fisheries standpoint. So, you had to first repair the land, which took decades and is still going on in some places. And then uh you could start to harvest some timber, which created some jobs. Recreation became more important to a lot of the smaller towns around the south. And uh, and of course the watersheds, the improved watersheds had a lot to do with economy of many small towns, gave them a decent water supply and just made living a lot more attractive. So after, you know, after a few decades of work, a lot of dedicated people uh, it became more of an economic, uh of more economic importance all over the south. In fact I can’t remember exactly, but uh, I retired 18 years ago. So, at that time though, we were producing over a billion board feet of timber, and some of the forest like in South Carolina and in Texas and Mississippi were producing a lot of wood with a lot of jobs, we’re talking about tens of thousands of jobs. So, it a, once the land recovered it started producing and the country needed the products, needed the wood, needed the water, needed the tourism, and all that. It’s kinda how it developed overtime.
[Brief silence on tape while interviewer looks over questions]
INTERVIEWER: Let’s see.
ALCOCK: Am I telling you the things you want to know?
INTERVIEWR: Oh yeah, no you’re answering a lot of questions, definitely. No, you’re doing great. I’m just taking a look here. Okay so my next question is um, so what where some of the challenges the Forest Service experienced during your tenure?
ALCOCK: Um, fire control was a huge problem and still is in some parts of the country. There’s always been incendiarism, people who deliberately set fires, for whatever reasons, for they used to settle grudges here in the South. If your neighbor did something bad to you, it was, uh almost expected that he would try to burn your house down, or at least burn off your pasture and things like that. Uh, getting the fires under control and getting some handle on incendiarism has been a huge problem here in the south. Its uh, I would say it’s pretty well under control now, but they were hard to catch those guys. They were very hard to catch. And uh, they set them not only just to settle grudges but in some parts of the region they would set fires to get a job, because they knew we needed the help, so they’d go set a fire and we’d come and hire them to put the fire out. Smart huh?
ALCOCK: [Laughter]- Okay, So they were called job fires. So that went on for a long time. So that’s been a huge problem and all the time we were trying to keep them from burning, we were doing prescribed burning ourselves, which has kind of made us look like we were talking out of the sides of our mouth. And um, so that was a big problem. Poaching of wildlife, every time we would try to do wildlife restoration like for turkeys, it was hard because if they saw a turkey they’d shoot it. That’s what they’d done their whole life, and they didn’t seem to understand at first that you had to have a certain population with these birds in order to build up, and before , and reproduce before you could begin to harvest some of them. Now there’s hunting in every state of the South, but it wasn’t that way when were first trying to get them established. So that was a big deal.
INTERVIEWER: So how did you get people to get on board with, or how did you communicate what some of these initiatives were to people?
ALCOCK: That was a big job. It really was, and that was why you had to have people who could go into a small town and get acquainted with people there, whoever the county commissioners are, or in Louisiana and in the parishes, or in Vermont or New England, you’d be getting acquainted with the selectmen there in towns. So, people had to have kind of a knack of how to go in, find out who the key people were, get acquainted with them. Uh, and it wasn’t always easy because a lot of times they didn’t like the government coming in at all. If you were from the government, well sometimes you were not welcome right from day one. So, that was a job to go in. We call them “key people,” “key persons,” and uh, I probably, I had a book I’ll bet it was that thick, of people- just name, name, name, name and what they did and where they lived- from all over the south in thirteen states. People that I could pick up the phone and say, “Hey look, here’s a thing that’s a problem for us, can you help us?” And if they were a key person in that community, you know through, maybe through the churches, maybe through rotary clubs, or the lions club or JCs, or whatever; these people would bring you, go with you, you know, and go around meet other key people and say “Hey, look.” If you have enough key people you could pretty well get anything done. You’d still have problems, but as long as you had the community behind you, you could get a lot done. So I spent a lot of time on that, and these were the same people frankly who could help us with congress too, help us with our budget. You know, if you needed extra money in Florida you better know someone who could talk to US senators or congressmen in Florida, things like that.
INTERVIEWER: My next question is um, can you talk some about the technological changes you experienced in your career.
ALCOCK: Yeah, sure, [laughter] remember I asked you if you had GIS in your car?
INTERVIEWER: Yeah [laughter]
ALCOCK: Yeah, well anyway, anyone who says they’re a forester, but say they’ve never been lost in the woods, I always say they’ve probably never spent much time in the woods. [Laughter] Cause just getting around, uh, you spent a certain amount of time lost, and particularly in the forest in the south. It wasn’t like, here’s all national forestland. It has a lot of land…[telephone rings] Joyce will get that I think? A lot of land private land intermixed, so you had this, um, situation of trying to identify where your land is, physically on the ground, how do you know it’s your national forest, or how do you know its Joe Smith’s and he doesn’t want you on that piece of land. And, so we did a lot of surveying, on a lot of different and with a lot different methods. And for example, in New England they have what they call meets and bounds surveys, and if you’d went to the county or the town records to find out the description of a piece of land, you know, how to find it, it would say things like, “there’s a large oak tree at the corner,” and ya and you’d go for, we’d measure in chains. A chain is 66 feet, it’s a physical, it’s a piece of metal, like a metal tape 66 feet long, and you’d, you used your compass, a little hand compass, and you took the directions out of the county records and it’d say find this oak tree in the corner, that’s one corner, and then you’d start then say go forty chains following that compass. Now you know what you do? You get your GIS and you can boom into your satellite and it can tell you within three feet on the grand of exactly where a corner is of a property, or where the line is if you’re trying to establish a line. That’s a big thing cause in land management just, just knowing where your land is, so that you don’t, and I’ll tell you the truth, I have made mistakes in that in my career. Um, I marked trees for harvest on somebody else’s land [laughter]; fortunately we didn’t harvest them, I found out about it before we did that. It’s the kind of problems you can have if you don’t know where your land is. So that’s a huge, huge thing, that part of it. Um, Transportation of course, up north you got snowmobiles, down south you got skidoos on the lakes, all these high powered vehicles, a lot of all-terrain vehicles, will get into places that uh, you never had to worry about before cause most people are too lazy to get into too much rugged country, you know. But these things, they go, they can go anywhere and they do go anywhere. And they cause a lot of problems with erosion and, if, what if somebody’s hiking, you know, by themselves, really working hiking and here comes an ORV you know, roaring past them with all the noise, and all the dust and dirt, and you get a lot of conflict between users over that. So that’s big. I mentioned the genetics. That’s huge, both in plants and animals. Uh, all the equipment that you used to fight fire of course: the helicopters, the air tankers, that’s all changed, for the better. Golly, I can’t think of anything that hasn’t changed really [laughter] I think though, one of the best examples I can tell you though. I think you might find this interesting. Uh, this is hurricane country you know in the south. By the way Catherine where are you from too?
INTERVIEWER: Umm., my parents are both from El Salvador .
ALCOCK: Alright, This is Hurricane Country right in the south, and when hurricane Hugo 89’ or sometime hit, first it hit Puerto Rico smashed everything down there in the Caribbean NF and then moved right up here and hit into South Carolina on the Francis Marion National Forest, and it, it just, it essentially wiped out about 250,000 acres of the forest, laid if flat. So we tried to salvage the timber in there. And we used everything, in fact sadly the fellow that headed that up, I found out just passed away here in the last week. Brian Watts was his name. And so it, we used helicopters for logging, we used the usual trucks and tractors –all kinds of tractors. Right down through horses, horses. Teams of horses could get into some places that nobody else could get into. But it’s funny, I thought it was funny, uh we did a heck of a job. We salvaged millions of board feed. And we, the, one of the purposes of doing that you can’t imagine how much fuel there was. You know, the fuel on the ground after the hurricane went through and knocked everything down, probably as high as this house in places. And just one good spark you know under the, the right condition would have been a tremendous fire problem. So we were trying to salvage the timber so it didn’t create fuel for fires. And that went well. So there we used all old techniques –horses and I think there was even a couple of teams of oxen- and they were used to remove the timber, and uh, and right on up through helicopters. So that was big, big deal.
INTERVIEWER: Okay so my next question that I have for you is, how you feel about the proposal of the transfer of the Forest Service into the Department of the Interior.
INTERVIEWER: Another big controversy issue we’re touching on here.
ALCOCK: I suppose that was around my entire career. Early on into the career, you know working in the woods I could have cared less about those kind of things. But, as time went goes on you do find out there’s these, these inner agency inter departmental wars that go on forever it seems like. I have never been uh, very anxious, least while I was working, to move into the Department of the Interior. I don’t know quite how to say this politely. But there’s good agencies in government, at one point the Forest Service, I don’t know about now, but the Forest Service was ranked –and there was four agencies that were studied universities and others- and they came out to be the top agencies in government, and they were even compared to even to a lot of the best agencies in the private sector, best companies. And the FBI and the Forest Service were two of those agencies. I don’t know of anything in the Department of the Interior that ever reached that status. Please don’t say that, that I said that. I don’t mean to offend anyone, I know that it’s a turf battle I’m a Forest Service guy out of the Department of Agriculture okay. But the philosophies of the two departments are very different. And I liked it being in agriculture because it had do with growing things, harvesting things you know, using the land productively, and protecting it –sustained yield if you will. I don’t know, the interior they’ve had a lot of problems over the years with uh, with what I would call not very professional appointees, not the professional guys working out on the ground, I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about the political appointees. Which are not always expertise, they don’t always have expertise with what they’re dealing with.
ALCOCK: So there are things, there’s a lot of overlap. I mean the Forest Service does a lot of fish and game work, so does the Fish and Wildlife Service within the Interior Department. The national parks service and the Forest Service we’re totally different, each in terms of our management philosophy. There’s is preservation for the national parks, they don’t, they don’t develop oil and gas; they don’t harvest timber, [deep inhale] they don’t have any ski area-all the ski areas are on national forest in this country. Things like that. I like the productive use of land, I like that. I’m not knocking the parks, the parks are wonderful. It’s a class system in the whole world and the parks service guys do a heck of a job of managing them. This is just two different, two different management philosophies completely. So I like the idea of having the Forest Service in the department of agriculture. I’m not saying that it couldn’t be done, to put the two together. I wish to heavens we could find ways to reduce the cost of our government, which is running away at a trillion dollars a year in debt that we’re borrowing from the Chinese and everybody else. I think that is not a healthy way to live. But I don’t know, I can’t, I’m glad I don’t have to make that decision, because I’d probably be too biased to be uh, real about it. But, both, but both there’s good people in the interior department and there’s good people in the Forest Service and in the Ag side of things. We have, you know one thing that’s a lot of times overlooked, in the Forest Service we have research support. Big time research support. The parks service and others don’t have that to that extent. And uh, and I think, well I’m big on research. I think that really how you improve your management, and stay abreast with technology and all of that, so. I don’t know, two different, two different worlds there.
INTERVIEWER: I see. Okay. Um, just going to double check to see if there are any other ones, before we get to some of my final questions. Okay so my next question is, in 1911 the federal government passed the Weeks Act, the bill that allowed for the purchase of private land in the eastern US for the purpose of protecting the headwaters of rivers. Um…
INTERVIEWER: How do you feel the legacy of the Weeks act affected your career?
ALCOCK: One of the first jobs I did with the Forest Service was to try to buy land in southern Indiana, on the Hoosier National Forest. Uh, which was probably at that time uh, only about a third of the land within the proclaimed boundary of the forest was uh, national forest. The rest of it was private land. And uh, so, the number one objective was to really was to acquire land. The concept always was, willing buyer, willing seller. In other words they didn’t use the power of government through condemnation to try to, try to take somebody’s land. Now that was used at times for power lines, electric transmission lines, uh, big reservoirs like I mentioned later earlier. Those kinds of projects there was some kinds of condemnation used, which actually took people’s land. They were paid for their land, but they really had no choice about selling it. And that was supposed, and I always that that was the absolute last resort to take somebody’s property. The only time I think ever really with, a part of that is uh, in these reservoirs-water reservoirs, or maybe a couple of times with electric transmission lines. Where you get right to the end and you got one, one party that won’t sell at any price, and you got a thousand others that have already agreed and you’re left with no choice really. So, but anyway, so it’s willing buyer, willing seller. That was one of my first jobs and it was uh, interesting cause I, you’d go out and try to meet the people who owned the land. Sometimes they were living in Philadelphia and the land was in Missouri; or sometimes they were living in Florida and the land was in Arkansas. But they weren’t always right there where you can talk them, you see you had to track them down kind of like. And then a lot of times there were a thousand heirs you know to a little piece of land, big families and their scattered all over the place. And so that was fun. And I met some of the real characters that I’ve ever met in my life doing land acquisition. And uh, people, I’ll give you one example. In southern Indiana when we were building the Monroe reservoir, which is close to the university of Indiana Bloomington, uh, we had an old fellow whose name was Mr. Grubb, G-R-U-B-B, and he lived in what’s called, in what was called root cellar. There was nothing, he owned a nice piece land about 200 acres as I recall, that overlooked this brand new reservoir, it was beautiful. He lived in this root cellar, and uh, an old hermit, and uh, so I would try, I wanted to buy his land obviously. And uh, he and I kinda became friends. I would, you had to park about a mile away and walk in, and this was like a bomb shelter, there was nothing above ground, it was all below ground.
ALCOCK: He uh, And that’s where he lived down in there. I would come to his place, and I’d yell about, I’d start yelling about half a mile away, because these people would shoot you and they’d try kill you. And so you’d yell, and yell, and hope they didn’t have any dogs [laughter] cause they’re a nuisance also, and you’d go in there and try to uh, and I would find Mr. Grubb. You’d see him, he’d sticking his head up and he’d kinda wave come on in if he recognized you. So you’d go in. One time he uh, he had some stuff that he’d gotten out after I’d talk to him after a while, he said uh, “ you otta taste this new gravy I made,” and I thought, gravy you know something you put on meat. It wasn’t, it was stuff he was drinking and he had brought this bottle out, And he’d taken tomatoes and stuffed them down in the bottle, then he’d take it and he got alcohol for it somewhere and he’d shake that stuff up and it would ferment. And it had bugs in it, and everything, it was just horrible. You know in order to try to be friends, when he said, “you want a drink? I did and I’d tried to not let any of it get in me you know, it was just horrible. I went home that night and Joyce said “how was your day?” and I said you won’t believe what I went through today, [laughter] I got out a bottle booze and took care of that, that terrible taste in my mouth. Anyway, that was, you met a lot of people like that. It was such a great satisfaction when you actually got an option on a piece of land, you had the money, the appropriated money to buy it, and you’d take a map. I don’t have one here I guess [got up to see if he could find an example of forest shaded map] but you know the green of the map was national forest and all the white was, you’d finally get to color a little in on your land status map, you’d finally get to color it in green this piece of land you just bought. And you might work on that particular piece of land for decades before you finally, someone would finally get to buy it. And uh, so essentially every acre, almost every acre east of the 100th meridian, Mississippi river, has been bought that way. There were some large ownerships like in North Carolina, the Vanderbilt, have you ever been to Asheville?
INTERVIEWER: No, I haven’t been.
ALCOCK: Okay, there is this huge mansion from the Vanderbilt’s and they owned hundreds, hundred thousand acres there. Which was acquired, that’s where forestry started in this country. We bought that from the Vanderbilt’s and the first forest professional forester, Gifford Pinchot, uh worked there. And the first forestry school was there. Mr. Fernow, a German guy, was uh, was the prof who ran this little one room forestry school. First one in the country, and uh, so we restored it all, it’s all there, cradle of forestry. [sigh] Where was I? I got off on a tangent there.
INTERVIEWER: Oh no, No you did a great job describing um, the effects of the Weeks Act and helping protect, protect um these lands
ALCOCK: Can I say one other thing?
INTERVIEWER: From purchase
ALCOCK: When I, I grew up in the Eastern Region you know –Wisconsin, Indiana, Vermont, Missouri- and then down here in the thirteen states of the south, and every, and about every forest has it, was put together piece by piece by piece. And then when I went out west to Oregon, and all I had a million seven hundred thousand acre forest there. And when I got out the map and looked at it, it was all solid green. It had never been, just about all of it had never been in private ownership, it was all in the public domain. And uh, just by uh, presidential order they proclaimed these forest reserves all out west, but it was like heaven having your solid ownership rather than having a piece here and a piece there, and millions of neighbors and, sometimes good and sometimes not so good. [laughter]
INTERVIEWER: No worries, okay. So my next question um, is um so I guess just looking back what would you say some of your highlights of your career would be?
ALCOCK: Well the one thing that I always wanted to do was manage a, uh, a large wonderful piece of forest land. You know, when you go through forestry, that’s to me, that’s was what it was all about. And when I went to Oregon there was this million seven hundred thousand acres of old growth, huge, beautiful rivers, wilderness, big wilderness areas, this is what it looks like, this is it. [got up during the interview to point out some pictures] This is Oregon that was the top of my forest right there. That’s the three sisters of [Cascade Volcanic Arc] two-hundred and fifty thousand acres, this is the size of the timber, that’s me right there. We had a million seven hundred thousand acres of large cedar, hemlock, Douglas fir, and wonderful water, glaciers up high. So, that’s all I ever wanted to do was manage a wonderful piece of land like that. So that would be the highlight, the highlight to me. And I suppose you know, then eventually coming here and being responsible for a whole region. And I did that for twelve years so, that was a big job that I wore myself out doing.
ALCOCK: So, I wouldn’t t, there’s not much I would change, really. There are parts of it, we had to move a lot, that was the low part of it. That was the hard part on my family, especially my wife. So, you know we’d just get the kids settled in school and then two years later we’d be off and running someplace else. It was difficult, but we weren’t the only one doing it.
ALCOCK: IBM’d, IBM’d you know what IMB’d stands for? I’ve been moved.
INTERVIER: Oh, [laughter]
ALCOCK: And uh, they were just a lot of companies, private companies that were doing the same thing. But it was very difficult, very hard.
INTERVIEWER: My next question is, what future project would you like to see um, the Forest Service initiate in the Southeast? Now that you’ve been out, what were some of the things you were hopeful for maybe?
ALCOCK: Humm, that’s a good question. Well right now, I think the forests are not as productive as they should be. There’s, there’s, they could produce a lot more timber that this country needs, maybe we’re in a housing slump now, but we need it, we need that timber. We cannot, I don’t like the idea of having all this land in federal ownership and not having it productive. So, I would like to see a higher level of timber management which is also helpful from a wildlife standpoint, being able to, you know to do habitat manipulation, so you can create better habitat. That’s one thing I would like. Uh, I think there’s some parts of the national forest, there’s some pieces of land that probably could be returned to the private sector without any implications to the whole system. You know it’s a hundred and ninety million acres roughly, maybe a hundred ninety four now, I’ve kinda lost track. It’s huge, huge federal estate. And I’m not convinced that it’s being as productive as it should be, and especially this country needs, it needs income, there is no reason in the world when there’s oil and gas out there, that can’t be developed and done in an environmentally proper way. And it galls me that fact we just kinda, we waste it. Most countries don’t have that luxury. You know, heaven’s sakes if you had a third of your country that had resources on it you would be using it in a more productive way with in, you know mean be smart about it, don’t, don’t let it get beat up again, we did, we went through that, so we learned some things there.
ALCOCK: We can do better, so I don’t know. But as far as other things …I don’t know. I like the idea that we have some of it set aside in wilderness, which is not develop, never will be developed. I think that’s a great concept. I’ve been a part of helping to get some of those areas designated. And I’ve also fought against getting some [laughter] designated that I didn’t think were very good choices, for the, for additions to the wilderness system.
ALCOCK: So uh, I guess I, there’s a lot of recreation use, which I think is wonderful. I love it. That’s another thing, I believe in having the lands open to people. I don’t like them closed off, there better be a darn good reason why the people that own the land can’t use it right? That’s how I feel.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, great um my next question is what advice you have for current service employees. So, I guess, for the job.
ALCOCK: Laughter] ugh, gosh. I think I’ll pass on that. You know,
ALCOCK: I’ve never, I said the day I walked out the door I’m not going to be one of these guys that come back, and say, you otta do this, you otta do that.
INTERVIEWER: This, yea, okay, you’re totally fine,
ALCOCK: I’ll tell you what though, I had, I replaced a guy once. His name was Colonel Bob Collins and uh, for the first year that I took, after I took his place, he did everything in the world to irritate me. He’d open my mail; he’d come in my office and open my mail. He would go out and give a talk, representing me when I gave him no authority to do that, things like that. You know, I thought I would never do anything. [laughter]
INTERVIEWR: I understand, alright, my next question is um, what do you consider to be the Forest Service’s definitive, or not definitive, but the service’s contribution to the nation? Um, and maybe what role did you play in to carry out that mission?
ALCOCK: Hum, well it’s about a third of the country and in some states out west its uh, what 60-70% I think, some of the states like Nevada, I think Oregon’s like maybe over half of the state is public land and most of that’s national forest. So, it’s huge in some areas and, uh you got whole communities that are dependent on that land, it’s their tax base it’s everything. So, I think, one of the biggest things is that they do produce, they’re capable to produce some income. You know federal lands pay no taxes, not one dime. So if you’re in a county anywhere, or parish, or whatever, and you got most, half your land that’s not in the tax base -its owned by the federal government – you’ve really need the income. If you’re trying to run that county, you know, you really need the income from that land. You can’ just say, well, we’ll just lock it up, and we’ll just walk on it or look at it, or something. You need it to be productive. And I think the Forest Service by and large for a lot of years anyway, did a good job at producing jobs and uh, and helping small communities to be stable places, good places to live. Some places that’s changed now, so I’m not so proud of that.
INTERVIEWER: Okay so my last question, um, that I have is, let’s see…
ALCOCK: Can I say one other? This will be a little bit self-serving maybe but,
INTERVIER: No that’s fine
ALCOCK: And it does pertain somewhat to the south
ALCOCK: But I think the Forest Service has done an awful lot to try to work with minority groups. And it’s all the way form programs like I talked about earlier the Job Corps, which was just about all minority kids, uh, trying to help them get an education, learn how to work, learn how to get a trade of some kind and be productive. And that’s one thing, I think we were in terms of land management agencies that, I think we were one of the early ones to be more aggressive in trying to recruit uh, minorities and women, and to not only hire them, first we had to go out and start with high school kids, you know, and get their interested in our kind of work, which in a lot of places is not. In fact if you grew up in rural Mississippi you probably the last thing in the darn thing in the world you wanna go do is wonder on a pine plantation somewhere. And I understand all that, but we did find a lot of really good young kids. And we got them into school and they graduated and we hired a lot of them. When I retired we had 105 ranger districts in the south over thirteen states, and I hope this is right but it’s pretty close and uh, 12 of those had rangers that who minorities, women and, or minorities. And I was pretty proud of that and it took a lot of doing, you’re talking about some places where you needed some key people to help you. If you’re going to put a guy out in a tough place and he’s the first minority or she is, he’s going to need some help. Not from the Forest Service but from the community, from the churches, from the schools there’s a support group. And uh, when we did a lot of that, and when I say we I don’t mean like, what Obama said that you didn’t do that, I don’t mean that I mean, we meaning the collective- Forest Service and some very good key people in the local communities. So we did that. Now I’m very proud of that kind of work, so.
INTERVIEWER: Okay great. Um, well the last think I was going to say is
ALCOCK: I had two daughters too so you know, okay
INTERVIEWER: Uh huh,
ALCOCK: Okay, so that might have something to do with it.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah Okay sure, um, my last question that I have, really just opening up um, the rest of the time we have to anything else you want to talk about. Um, this is just a general kind of questions just to kinda get the nuts and bolts of it, but um what else would you wanna, what would you like to share your Region 8 experience? I know that we haven’t covered?
ALCOCK: I think it’s, I don’t where you’d go to, I suppose maybe there are other professions, but I count myself lucky to have met the range of people that I met. All the way from the bayous of Louisiana, to the piney woods of east Texas; and into the cities and Virginia, all over this thirteen state region. Each one of them is unique and I have been privileged to know so many great really great people around the south. I wish I could have kept in contact with them, which is totally impossible. Now I hear more about the obituaries part of it [laughter] than you do any other part, because of my age of course. I’m at, I’ll be 77 here at Christmas so, uh, it’s becoming harder and harder to keep up with people. But, I just feel like I was really blessed to have that experience, and the people part of it, but also the great variety of the land – from the tropical forest in Puerto Rico to the uh, mountains in Ouachita Mountains- huge Indian culture and Indian history, American Indians in this whole south, from uh, all the way from Florida to the Ouachitas. I don’t know, just a really rich experience I uh, I don’t know how, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, I think we have all of our questions answered. And I thank you again for meeting with me. Um, so
ALCOCK: It was fun
INTERVIEWER: I’m going to turn this off.
The Interviewee: Jack Alcock retired in 1994 from the USDA Forest Service after thirty-three years of service in the agency. Born December 26, 1935, he grew up on a small farm in Northern Illinois near Lindenwood in the mist of the Great Depression. The family farm had no indoor plumbing or electricity until 1943. On his family farm, he worked hard to produce necessities that they desperately needed. As a young boy, Alcock walked or rode a pony two miles to attend a one-room school. He attended high school in Rochelle, Illinois where he excelled in school and sports. He is an initiated member of the National Honor Society, and played high school football and basketball despite a twelve-mile walk home after practices. Alcock continued his education after high school where he attended Drake University for one year and lettered in basketball. Alcock bought his first car in 1954, a 1949 Chevy. That same year, the Army drafted Alcock into service where he spent most of his time in Germany.
From 1956-1958, Alcock worked a variety of jobs prior to his career in the Forest Service. He worked on various Illinois farms, drove a semi-truck, and took flying lessons on the GI Bill. Shortly after being discharged from the Army, he met his wife Joyce in Colorado where she attended Denver University to become a registered nurse. They married in 1958, having two daughters Jane and Julie. Alcock returned to school in 1958, where he started forestry school at Michigan State University. There he graduated with honors in 1961 and accepted a job with the US Forest Service on Hoosier National Forest, Brownstown District as a Junior Forester.
Alcock’s professional career includes various positions assignments and promotions across the United States. In 1963, he received promotion to Assistant Timber Staff on Mark Twain National Forest in Springfield, Missouri. The following year, 1964, he returned to the Hoosier National Forest as the newly appointed District Ranger. Alcock moved to Rhinelander, Wisconsin to serve as the Fire, Recreation and Jobs Corps Staff on Nicolet National Forest in 1965. The Job Corps had various centers across the United States and provided underprivileged young men the opportunity to receive a vocation and job training. Alcock served as the Center Director of the Ripton Job Corps Center in Ripton, Vermont. While serving in Vermont, Alcock received a promotion to Forest Supervisor of Green Mountain National Forest in Rutland, Vermont. His first encounter with Region 8 Southeastern Region was an appointment to Forest Supervisor of the Daniel Boone National Forest in Winchester, Kentucky. He served four years in Region 8 before his transfer to Willamette National Forest as Forest Supervisor in Eugene, Oregon. He transferred laterally to Assistant Director of Resource Planning in Washington, D.C. Alcock returned to the Southeastern region with his final appointment as Regional Forester of the Southern Region in 1982 and served in this position until his retirement in 1994.
The Interviewer: Catherine Rodriguez is a graduate student in the Department of History at Auburn University. She is completing a Masters in History with a certificate in Public History, 2011-2013.
Description of the Interview: The interview was conducted in the home of Mr. Alcock in Dunwoody, Georgia. There is one brief interruption for a phone call in the audio, some brief silences, and rustling noises. Mr. Alcock and I exchanged emails to arrange a date and time to conduct the interview. The interview was conducted Monday, November 12, 2012 at 1:30pm. The interview is approximately one hour thirteen minutes and forty-three seconds. Alcock was excited to be a part of the oral history project and enthusiastic with his responses. Alcock, after retirement from the Forest Service, remained in Atlanta with his wife Joyce. Alcock answered approximately fifteen questions with anecdotal examples for each question. Alcock overall shared his positive experiences as Southeastern Regional Forester and the projects he was a part of during his tenure. Alcock shared at the conclusion of the interview his belief the Forest Service is not doing enough to use the land for the benefit of the nation. He argued that the land should benefit American industry and can provide needed jobs in the current economic recession.
Content of the Interview: The interview is organized around two central themes –life before the Forest Service and Region 8 work experience. Alcock shared his poor upbringing on a small family farm in Illinois during the Great Depression. He shared his experience working on the farm taught him valuable lessons about land use and agriculture. These lessons he applied during his career. Prior to his service in the Forest Service, he was drafted into the Army in 1954 and later attended Forestry School at Michigan State University in 1958. Alcock describes the various positions and national forests he was appointed to. Alcock received several promotions during his career until his final appointment as the Southeastern Regional Forester in 1980. As Regional Forester he managed seventeen national forests. While reflecting upon his career, he shared his favorite appointment was Forest Supervisor of the Willamette National Forest in Eugene, Oregon. There he loved the lush and dense forest he managed. His promotion as Regional Forester brought him to Atlanta, where he remains today. In Region 8 he described his role to oversee the rehabilitation of Southeastern lands, which suffered years of overproduction. He saw the development of recreation in National Forests. Recreation programs brought economic development to rural southern communities. The Forest Service participated in the Job Corps program, and Alcock played a role in training disadvantaged young men in the program. Alcock is proud of the agency’s role to integrate minorities into the service program, and felt it was a leader for the nation. Alcock shared his concern of the potential transfer of the Forest Service from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of the Interior as to fundamentally different philosophies between the two departments, such a move could impact agency goals and industries. Alcock concludes the interview by stating the Forest Service is not doing enough to use natural resources to produce energy and goods for the nation. He believes the agency could play a larger role in production and bring jobs to the nation.
List of Southeastern National Forests – http://www.fs.usda.gov/detailfull/r8/home/?cid=stelprdb5351949&width=full
Note on Recording: An Olympus VN-7020PC digital voice recorder was used to conduct the interview. Audio was saved in a wma. file, later converted to a wva. file for later use. The audio quality is clear and both voices are audible.
Other: During the interview, Alcock points out a black and white picture in his office where he his holding a twenty-four pound bass. He also points to a second grouping of pictures from the Willamette National Forest. These images are not available online).