New Zealand’s State Forest Service and the forest management policies it implemented were shaped by its first director, Canadian Leon MacIntosh Ellis. Ellis was a strong proponent of plantation forestry and one of his most noticeable legacies, still very apparent today, is the extensive plantation forests of the central North Island.
Ellis was born on 17 July 1887 in Meaford, Ontario, Canada. He graduated with a BSc (Hons) in forestry from the University of Toronto in 1911. In 1919 he was interviewed for the Director of Forests position in New Zealand’s newly created Forestry Department, and arrived to take up the position the following year.
Within a year, he had a comprehensive Forests Act (1921–22) introduced and a new State Forest Service established. This was achieved despite public service resistance to the creation of new government departments and the employment of specialists. He set out to persuade politicians and the public alike that forestry was more than just tree planting. In his view, it also involved the sustained management of indigenous forests and should recognise recreation as a legitimate forest use.
From 1921 to 23, he conducted a national inventory of forest resources, which convinced him that state plantation of exotic forests was required to meet future timber demands. In 1925 he announced a visionary plan for a 300,000-acre planting programme, to be accomplished within a decade in order to secure long-term timber supplies.
In 1928, having achieved most of what he had set out to do in New Zealand, Ellis suddenly and without explanation announced his resignation (though a likely factor was ongoing dissatisfaction with remuneration). He migrated to Australia with his family, and established himself as a forestry consultant in Sydney. However, he maintained an ongoing and active interest in forestry in New Zealand. He died in Melbourne on 25 November 1941, having transformed forestry management in New Zealand.
Sources: ‘Ellis, Leon MacIntosh 1887 – 1941’. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, by Michael Roche; Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand
See a further article by Michael Roche about Leon Ellis in the Environmental History in New Zealand Journal.
Photo: Leon MacIntosh Ellis. Not to be reproduced without permission from Alexander Turnbull Library, ref 1/2-190387