Perhaps forests and trees are not the first images one conjures when thinking about Nebraska. Indeed, an old joke claims the Nebraska State Tree is a wooden football goalpost. Yet Nebraska has a unique forestry history. Pioneers of the mid-nineteenth century moved into what was popularly known as the Great American Desert, and they rolled the dice that this semi-arid land, seemingly incapable of sustaining trees, could somehow grow crops. After winning that gamble, the settlers yearned for the trees they had grown accustomed to in the Eastern United States. They missed the beauty of the wooded areas and the respite of a shade tree. Moreover, they needed windbreaks to slow soil erosion and crop damage. Homesteaders would take advantage of timber claim opportunities and plant trees 40 acres at a time. Nebraska would become the “Tree Planter’s State”. J. Sterling Morton would found Arbor Day. And Nebraskans would toil in their own blood and sweat to create the nation’s largest hand-planted forest reserve.
This incredible tale is now chronicled in a new book by author Tony Foreman. In "The Great Undertaking: The Unique History of the Nebraska Forest Service" Foreman intricately pieces together the role of trees in the Arbor Day State. From the high-profile days of forestry research, to the largest wildfires in the state’s history, this book is just as much about Nebraskans as it is about trees.