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Poole, Alick Lindsay

1908–2008

Forester, botanist, public servant

This biography, written by Michael Roche, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2022.

Lindsay Poole was a forester and senior public servant who guided the New Zealand Forest Service, first as assistant director then as director, during the middle decades of the twentieth century. His career followed an upward trajectory from skilled forestry worker during the depression, to botanist in the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, to senior Forest Service administrator. He lived to see his generation’s efforts dismantled by the fourth Labour government.

Early life and education

Alick Lindsay Poole, known as Lindsay, was born at Gisborne on 4 March 1908, the second of four children born to storekeeper Matthew Loftus Peter Poole and his wife, Winifred Evangeline Lloyd Rees. Poole spent his early years at three remote rural settlements on the East Coast: Whatatutu, Tūpāroa and Pūhā. He boarded in Auckland to attend Belmont Primary School, in Rotorua to attend Whakarewarewa Native School, and in Auckland again for his secondary schooling at King’s College.

In Rotorua Poole had met government nurseryman A.H. Goudie, who kindled a lifelong love of plants in the boy. Goudie’s employer, the State (later New Zealand) Forest Service, was charged with administering state forests, overseeing the sale of areas of forest to sawmillers, and developing plantation forests to ensure New Zealand had a sustainable long-term supply of timber. After he matriculated from high school in 1925, Poole worked as a trainee at the Forest Service’s Whakarewarewa Nursery for a year. In 1927 he enrolled in the new four-year forestry degree at Auckland University College, supported by a Smith Wylie Scholarship. The course included vacation practical work at Forest Service and company plantations in Rotorua, Waikato, Auckland, the East Coast and Northland. As a student Poole met Director of Forests L.M. Ellis; Poole floundered under quick-fire questioning from Ellis, who advised him ‘to wake up if I ever wanted to become a successful forester’.1

Early forestry work

Employment opportunities were limited when Poole graduated in 1931. He joined the Forest Service as a temporary employee, working first in a tree nursery in the Kaingaroa Forest and stalking deer in state forests around Rotorua. In August 1932 he was posted to head office in Wellington, where he spent a year assisting the chief inspector of forests. Poole found this a ‘broadening experience’, and senior forester C.M. Smith commended the accuracy of his work.2 There he met the pioneer botanist Leonard Cockayne, who dictated his final papers to Poole’s colleague, Mary Sutherland, in their shared office.

In late 1932 Poole was posted to the Hanmer Springs and Balmoral state forests in Canterbury to gain field experience and supervise unemployment relief tree-planting camps. He left the Forest Service in 1934 to spend two years working at Wychwood Nurseries in Rotorua, before returning to the Forest Service in late 1936 in another temporary role. He was posted to Hokitika to work on an ecological survey of rimu terrace forest in Ianthe Forest, with a view to its permanent management as opposed to one-off harvesting, the terrace soils being of extremely limited agricultural potential. The experience proved of long-term significance.

Department of Scientific and Industrial Research

In November 1936, Poole left the Forest Service for a permanent position with the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR), a government research institute dedicated, among other things, to supporting private agriculture and horticulture by studying how crop yields might be increased, and pests, and stock and crop diseases, eradicated. He was appointed as an assistant botanist in the department’s Plant Research Bureau in Palmerston North, then was based at the Ruakura research station near Hamilton for much of 1937 and 1938. There he investigated ragwort, a weed that caused major problems for commercial agriculture, particularly for Waikato dairy pastures. Later he was directed to study flax (Phormium tenax), involving ecological surveys of the Moutoa Estate in Manawatū, acquired by the government to reinvigorate the industry and reorient it to domestic production for woolpacks.

The DSIR quickly recognised Poole’s considerable abilities as both a scientist and an administrator; his probationary reviews were outstanding, and he was nominated the department’s liaison officer with the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, London. By the late 1930s he was being identified as the likely successor to the Botany Division’s directorship, and its current director, H.H.B. Allan, was forced to fend off an attempt by the Forest Service to recruit him back. Poole, meanwhile, worked his way towards a MSc and completed a National Diploma of Horticulture in 1937. He married Zena Eveline Freeman in Hamilton on 4 June 1938, and the couple had a daughter together.

The Second World War

In January 1940, Poole volunteered for active service in the 15th Forestry Company, a unit of the New Zealand Corps of Engineers tasked with locating timber and transporting it to wherever it was required. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant and embarked for England with the unit in August 1940. The company began milling operations in Hampshire that October. The French surrender had reduced the necessity for forestry companies, however, and in May 1941 Poole was seconded to a position as assistant scientific liaison officer with the New Zealand High Commission in London. He worked on trials of New Zealand grasses and clovers, regarded as potential replacements for seeds no longer procurable from the continent, but moved increasingly into liaison with government bodies and other institutions after he became the main scientific liaison officer in the High Commission in November 1942.

In the war’s aftermath, Poole accepted a 12-month secondment to the Forest and Timber Control Section of the British military government in Germany, a home of modern forestry. He could now see in practice what he had learned in theory as a student. He inspected forests in north-west Germany, examining sustained-yield management silvicultural practices where the foresters had control over harvesting. He later described this as ‘the lesson of a life time’, and praised the enduring utility of German protection and production forestry practices for the rest of his life.3 Poole toured silvicultural and botanical research stations in Sweden, and spent two months inspecting research stations in the United States and Canada before returning to New Zealand late in 1946.

DSIR and Forest Service leadership

Poole was appointed assistant director of DSIR’s Botany Division in 1947 and subsequently its director in 1949. He completed a detailed study of New Zealand beech (Nothofagus) for a MSc thesis at Victoria University College in 1948, and the following year participated in a New Zealand–United States ecological survey of Fiordland. Poole was deputy leader and completed a vegetation survey which revealed the impact of animal browsing in the forests and further shaped his ideas. His first marriage had ended in divorce, and on 31 October 1948 he married London-born Linda Amy Moore (née O’Hagen) in Wellington. They had two children together.

In January 1951, Poole was appointed assistant director of forests in the New Zealand Forest Service, fulfilling a long-held desire to return to forestry work, though he was not the director’s preferred candidate. He was drawn back to the Forest Service by ‘an enticing array’ of new developments in the pulp and paper sector, opportunities for further large-scale afforestation, and the potential for the permanent management of indigenous forests for production and protection purposes.4 Poole had a very difficult working relationship with the Forest Service’s director, A.R. (Pat) Entrican, whom he regarded as autocratic, belligerent, unstable and divisive.

Entrican gave Poole responsibility for protection forestry, areas protected from logging to prevent erosion, mainly in mountainous regions. The depredations of animal pests in such areas concerned Poole, and in 1957 he secured the transfer of the Deer Control Section from the Department of Internal Affairs to the Forest Service. He had originally hoped to bring the entire Wildlife Division across. Poole remained troubled by the artificially low prices the Forest Service was forced to sell its timber for, fearing it would be unable to maintain an ongoing supply at the rate it was being milled. He also served as departmental representative on the Soil Conservation and Rivers Control Council, where he initiated a closer study of East Coast erosion and effected remedial afforestation efforts, and on the National Parks Authority. During the 1950s, he served as councillor and president of the New Zealand Institute of Foresters, as president of the Ecological Society, as councillor and president of the Wellington branch of the Royal Society of New Zealand, and on the council of the Royal Society of New Zealand. He was made a fellow of the latter in 1962.

In 1961, Poole became Director-General of the New Zealand Forest Service. Sure of his ground, calm and responsible, he headed the Forest Service during an important decade for protection and production forestry. His administrative agenda included ensuring the Forest Service could grow and sell timber (including timber other than Pinus radiata) to the best advantage of the state and the industry. This involved further regional planting rather than expanding the Kaingaroa plantation on the Central Plateau, and using timber pricing to encourage industry efficiency. Renewed attention was paid to indigenous protection forestry, to the enhancement of research capacity, and to good staff relations. The two New Zealand forestry schools had closed during the depression, and Poole successfully argued for a forestry school in Canterbury, which opened in 1970.

Poole presided over a second large-scale forest-planting programme in the 1960 and 1970s, which was intended to establish a further 1.2 million acres (486,000 ha) of productive plantation forests by 2000. The first of three Forestry Development Conferences (1969), initially a subset of the National Development Conference, was an important planning exercise involving the setting of state, company, and private-sector regional targets for tree-planting. Poole chaired the steering committee. This time of professional success was marred by his wife Linda’s death in a traffic accident in April 1970.

Retirement

Poole officially retired in 1971, his 40 years of government service recognised by his being made a CBE. He then became chair of the Soil Conservation and Rivers Control Council (remaining until 1978). He was married for a third time on 10 January 1976, to schoolteacher Barbara Murray in Christchurch.

In retirement, Poole turned increasingly to writing. The first edition of Trees and shrubs of New Zealand, co-authored with botanical artist Nancy Adams, had appeared in 1963. His Forestry in New Zealand coincided with the Forest Service golden jubilee in 1969, and was followed by a general account of the work of the Soil Conservation and Rivers Control Council in 1983, Southern beeches (1987), and the jointly-authored Tomorrow’s trees in 1992. Tomorrow’s trees was a restatement of the forestry principles which had informed his leadership of the Forest Service, and which environmentalists and neoliberals saw as masking hidden trade-offs and lacking transparency. His impassioned and polemical memoir, Trees, timber and tranquillity, appeared in 1998.

Poole was outraged and demoralised by the fourth Labour government’s dismantling of the forestry programme he had nurtured. In 1987, the government disestablished the Forest Service and established a Forestry Corporation to manage the exotic plantations, but this was soon disbanded in favour of direct sale of cutting rights to companies. A newly formed Department of Conservation merged protection forestry functions and national parks management. These actions were at odds with the forestry that Poole believed in and his efforts to create an ongoing forestry programme for New Zealand. Of all the surviving directors-general of Forestry, he offered the most sustained and public criticism, in open letters to the minister of forests, in articles in New Zealand Forestry, and through the co-authored book The great wood robbery? in 1999.

Poole was an honorary member of the Institute of Chartered Foresters (Britain), a life member of the Commonwealth Forestry Association, honorary member of the New Zealand Institute of Foresters, and associate of the Royal Institute of Horticulture. He was awarded an honorary DSc by the University of Canterbury in 1999. He died in Wellington on 2 January 2008, two months short of his 100th birthday, after a long and active life. He was survived by his wife Barbara and his children.

Footnotes:
  1. Quoted in K. Berry. ‘The man at the top of the tree’. New Zealand Weekly News, 16 October 1970, p. 9. Back
  2. A.L. Poole. Trees, timber and tranquillity. Wellington, 1998, p. 28. Back
  3. Ibid, p. 12. Back
  4. Ibid, p. 57. Back
How to cite this page:

Michael Roche. 'Poole, Alick Lindsay', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2022. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/6p6/poole-alick-lindsay (accessed 19 August 2022)