George H. Wirt

November 28, 1880 - November 8, 1961

Wirt was born on November 28, 1880 in McVeytown, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Juniata College in 1891, with the intent of pursuing engineering, but instead joined the field of forestry at the suggestion of his father and Joseph Rothrock. He attended the Biltmore School in North Carolina, which at the time was the only field-oriented forestry school in the United States. In 1901, he returned home and became the state’s first professional forester. His role as a forester meant he spent much of his time surveying and protecting the newly acquired forests. He surveyed 33,000 acres in Adams and Franklin counties and investigated timber trespass on state lands.

Rothrock recognized a need for trained foresters in Pennsylvania, and so he and Wirt started the Mont Alto Forestry School. In 1902, Wirt was sent to the abandoned Mont Alto Iron Works to manage 22,000 new acres of state forest, start a seedling nursery, and begin training foresters. Apprentices came to help with the work, and a year later Mont Alto was named the new forestry academy and its first class of 13 students arrived. Wirt served as its first director and was known for being tough and vigilant with high expectations for his students.

Wirt was adamant about the importance of personal character. He valued hard work, courage, and commitment. He dedicated himself to the study of forest science, translating Herman forest economics texts into English and raising the level of instruction given to his students. He wrote numerous articles on all aspects of forestry, from how to fight forest fires to the roles of forestry in everyday life.”

“Wirt was an avid forest fire fighter, serving as the State’s Chief Fire Warden. George organized one of the most superb volunteer firefighting organizations in the country, making it everyone’s civic duty to prevent and fight forest fires. His effort greatly reduced the number of forest fires we see today. He wrote legislation that created the Bureau of Forestry and the position of Chief Forest Fire Warden in 1915. Throughout his time as the warden, he encouraged and educated citizens of the commonwealth to reduce the occurrence of forest fires.

By his retirement in 1946, he had appointed 4,400 forest fire wardens with support from 30,000 crew members. Because of his efforts, the average amount of forest land lost to fires declined from half a million acres, to 25,000 annually.