Man of the Trees

Richard St. Barbe Baker, the First Global Con­ser­va­tion­ist

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight Reviews | Climate Change - BY BARRY SILVERSTEIN

Paul Han­ley, Univer­sity of Regina Press (OC­TO­BER) Soft­cover $27.95 (304pp), 978-0-88977-566-4

Richly tex­tured, Man of the Trees paints an in­ti­mate por­trait of en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Richard St. Barbe Baker.

Baker was a self-ad­mit­ted “tree hug­ger” who, as early as the 1920s, pur­sued sus­tain­able forestry and started Men of the Trees, the first in­ter­na­tional en­vi­ron­men­tal non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion. Paul Han­ley’s bi­og­ra­phy faith­fully fol­lows Baker as he roams the world and in­no­vates in forestry, in­sti­gat­ing a dance for the plant­ing of trees in Africa, work­ing to save the red­woods in Cal­i­for­nia, and en­vi­sion­ing the re­for­est­ing of the Sa­hara desert. The man re­vealed is pas­sion­ate, driven, and fully com­mit­ted to en­vi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion.

This bi­og­ra­phy is all the more fas­ci­nat­ing be­cause it delves into Baker’s psy­che and his per­sonal life. Han­ley care­fully doc­u­ments Baker’s love of trees, which be­gan dur­ing his child­hood in Eng­land and never stopped. It brought Baker fame when, on a ra­dio pro­gram, Low­ell Thomas named him “the man of the trees” and no­to­ri­ety when Baker in­flu­enced Franklin Roo­sevelt’s Civil­ian Con­ser­va­tion Corps.

Han­ley chrono­log­i­cally traces Baker’s pro­gres­sion as an en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist un­til his death in 1982. As with many vi­sion­ar­ies, some of Baker’s ideas were too ad­vanced for his time, but to­day they are be­ing re­al­ized. For ex­am­ple, “His vi­sion of a green front against the Sa­hara ul­ti­mately came to fruition in the twenty-one na­tion ef­fort to plant Africa’s Great Green Wall.”

Baker’s life was com­plex and at times “serendip­i­tous.” He acted as “a cat­a­lyst, a wedge, a col­lab­o­ra­tor.” His Men of the Trees or­ga­ni­za­tion was re­named the In­ter­na­tional Tree Foun­da­tion and con­tin­ues Baker’s mis­sion to com­bat de­for­esta­tion in Africa.

Man of the Trees is a finely drawn, well-ex­e­cuted bi­og­ra­phy of an im­por­tant en­vi­ron­men­tal fig­ure.

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