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At its founding in 1907, the original purpose of the Harvard Forest was to serve as:
- A field laboratory for students
- A research center in forestry and related disciplines, including soils, wildlife biology, geography and botany
- A demonstration of practical sustained forestry
In 1914, Forestry education was shifted to Petersham, and the Harvard Forest was made a graduate school.
The Harvard Forest mission was reprioritized in 1915 to include serving as an example to the local community for the care and marketing of forests.
In 1932, the Harvard Forest was placed within Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, where it has remained since.
Directors of Harvard Forest
- Richard T. Fisher (1907-1934)
- Ward Shepard (1935-1939)
- Albert C. Cline (1939-1946)
- Hugh M. Raup (1946-1967)
- Martin H. Zimmermann (1969-1984)
- John G. Torrey (1984-1990)
- David R. Foster (1990- )