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The 4,000 acres of land that comprise the Harvard Forest, in Petersham (Nichewaug), Massachusetts, are within the unceded homeland of the Nipmuc people.

Following the tragic genocide and forced removal/assimilation of Indigenous people in this region, Nichewaug was colonized by European settlers and incorporated as the town of Petersham in the 18th century. The incredible resilience of the Nipmuc people through this period has led to their ability to thrive into the modern era, and means that we are able to collaborate today.

The original 2,000 acres that make up the Harvard Forest were donated to Harvard University by James Brooks for the purposes of establishing a field-based classroom for Harvard's new School of Forestry. At its founding in 1907, the original purpose of the Harvard Forest was to serve as:

  1. A field laboratory for students
  2. A research center in forestry and related disciplines, including soils, wildlife biology, geography and botany
  3. 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.

Today, the Forest hosts educational programs (courses, internships, and field trips) for thousands of students a year, from Harvard and around the world.

The Harvard Forest is also now among the most studied forests in the world. While its dual mission of research and teaching has been largely unchanged since its founding, the Forest’s land baseresearch scope, and range of collaborators have expanded considerably, and the Forest now serves as a critical node in nearly every national ecological network (see LTER, NEON, and ForestGEO).

Directors of the 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 (1990-2020)
  • N. Michele Holbrook (2020- )