A Tribute to Steve Arno, Pioneering Forester and Friend
Contributed by Bob Keane
Another brilliant light in the fields of fire and whitebark pine ecology has dimmed. Steve Arno, one of the charter members and organizers of the Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation, died on June 4, 2022, at his home in Missoula, Montana. It is difficult to put into words the influence that Steve had both on my life and on the field of whitebark pine ecology and management. But best of all, he was a genuine person that truly cared about you as an individual and the plight of whitebark pine. His wit, wisdom and creativity will be missed as we mourn his passing.
Steve’s professional life story is epic because it was both deep and wide. Steve first attended Olympic Junior College and then transferred to the forestry department at Washington State University. In the summers of 1963–65, he was a ranger and naturalist at Sequoia and Kings Canyon and Olympic National Parks. He earned his bachelor’s degree in forestry from the University of Washington in 1965 and PhD in forest ecology from the University of Montana in 1970.
After being laid off at a local limber mill, Steve secured a job with the U.S. Forest Service, which effectively launched his career. He was a guiding force in the development of the Forest Habitat Type Classification System for Montana. After that project, he embarked on a 25-year career with the USFS at the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory, conducting research in forest and fire ecology. The primary focus of his work was on how the natural role of fire shaped and sustained the forests of Montana and the inland west.
Steve is most known for his groundbreaking work in the restoration and management of the fire-dominated ecosystems of the Northern Rockies, including western larch, ponderosa pine, whitebark pine and Douglas-fir forests. He was constantly experimenting on how to apply combinations of prescribed fire, thinning and harvesting to promote sustainable forests. His pioneering research on fire history significantly advanced the knowledge on the role of fire in the Northern Rockies, and his work in restoring fire-adapted ecosystems remains incredibly important to this day. Fire folks know that Steve did most of the original fire history work in these mountains.
Steve authored more than 250 papers that span an incredibly diverse set of topics, including fire ecology, forest dynamics, timberline ecology and silviculture. Of these, he published over 100 peer-reviewed articles and 11 full-length books. Steve received countless awards and acknowledgements from organizations, such as the Montana Tree Farm Program, Montana Wood Products Association and Society of American Foresters, along with the Association for Fire Ecology’s Biswell Award for lifetime achievements. These honors reflect his lifelong dedication, passion and commitment to the forestry profession.
Steve’s private life was every bit as exciting as his professional life. He was born on October 1, 1943, to Siegfried and Grace Turner Arno. He was a naturalist from an early age and felt blessed in being able to live nearly all his life in or near the forest. From 1943–1950, his family lived on Bainbridge Island, Washington. In 1950, they moved across the water to Bremerton, where he graduated from West High School in 1961. He was raised in a forest setting, and according to his mother’s diary, he loved hiking and spending time in the forest since he was two years old. At the age of five, he began hauling large chunks of thick coastal Douglas-fir bark up a long boardwalk from their beach on the shores of Puget Sound to use for his mother’s favorite stove fuel. By age 11, he was capturing logs that had escaped from log booms using the family’s 11-foot motorboat. He quickly sawed them with a six-foot crosscut and split them into firewood on the beach to prevent the log patrol from towing them away.
Steve’s lifetime passion for forestry manifests itself in the tree farm that he and his late wife Bonnie established in 1971 outside of Florence, Montana. They spent the next 48 years managing the forest, hosting tours and sharing their experiences with the local community. His sons are proudly continuing the work on the Arno Tree Farm. Steve is survived by his two sons, Matthew (Melissa) and Nathan (Sara), four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Despite the multiple awards and honors related to his contributions to the forestry community, in the end he was most proud of his children and grandchildren.
The upcoming fall issue of the Nutcracker Notes journal will be a further tribute to Steve Arno’s legacy. If you would like to contribute a story or other remembrance of Steve for the issue, please reach out to me by email at [email protected].
Editor’s note: Last year, Steve Arno presented at H5II: The Second Conference on the Research and Management of High-Elevation, Five-Needle Pines in Western North America in a special session on historical whitebark pine research. His presentation “My Introduction to Whitebark Pine” has been made available in memoriam with permission from his family. You can also find a listing of some of Steve’s most significant publications in the resources section of this website.