Tropical forestry pioneer, conservationist Wadsworth is mourned
By The Star Staff
The International Institute of Tropical Forestry (IITF) of the U.S. Forest Service and the El Yunque National Forest on Thursday mourned the death of Frank H. Wadsworth, an American ranger, forest conservationist and scientist based in Puerto Rico since 1942.
“Dr. Wadsworth was a pioneer in the study, conservation and management of forests in Puerto Rico. He humbly and compassionately shared his knowledge for the benefit of all,” said Grizelle González, IITF research leader. “His quality of person and his gift of service to the public will continue as a model for us and future generations.”
“Frank H. Wadsworth was not only the most important conservationist in Puerto Rico during his tenure, he was also able to forecast the problems facing El Yunque today,” added Keenan Adams, an El Yunque forestry supervisor. “Our success today builds on the work he put in place years ago. Frank was the personification of a public servant. We extend our condolences and solidarity hugs to his family at this time.”
Ariel Lugo, former director and emeritus scientist of the IITF, joined the statements of mourning by highlighting that “Dr. Wadsworth arrived in Puerto Rico by boat without knowing anything about the island.”
Wadsworth chose to come to work on the island, even though it was presented as a joint option to relocate to Alaska.
“Puerto Rico was the winner, since for the next 80 years Dr. Wadsworth focused his enormous energy, talent and discipline in the development of tropical forestry, which did not exist at that time,” Lugo said.
Wadsworth, born in Chicago and a graduate of the University of Michigan with a doctorate in forestry, was considered an authority on the forests of Puerto Rico. He worked at the Tropical Forests Experimental Station in Río Piedras as a research officer, and was director of the International Institute of Tropical Forestry in the United States from 1956 to 1978. After his retirement from the Forest Service, he continued to work as a researcher and consultant in several tropical countries, many of them in Latin America.
Likewise, he published 100 books and scientific articles, among them “Common Trees of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands” (1964-1989), in co-authorship with Elbert Little, and “Flora of Virgin Gorda” (1976), with Little and R.O. Woodbury.
He was also a mainstay in the management of El Yunque and the development of the recreational offering in the 1960s, including the construction of the Yokahu Tower, one of the forest’s iconic monuments. Throughout his career, Wadsworth fostered the education of Puerto Rican youth through his involvement with Listening Children of America and was a mentor to countless young people, students, and researchers.