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Gentle, Stanley Wallace (Wal) (1932–1989)

Citation for N. W. Jolly medal, 1989

Stanley Wallace Gentle was educated at Tamworth High School where he graduated Dux in 1948, with first position in New South Wales at the Leaving Certificate in Combined Physics and Chemistry. He joined the Forestry Commission as a trainee forester in March 1949. His education included basic sciences at University of Sydney, compulsory forest field work and graduation in specialised forest science subjects from the Australian Forestry School, Canberra, where he graduated in 1954 as B.Sc. Forestry, with Diploma of Forestry. He then worked in specialised areas of forestry from 1954 to 1957 inclusive, including ecological assessment of conifer and hardwood forests, engineering survey and construction to logging highway standard, and in general forest administration and management.

During this period he conceived, developed and applied a new method of calculating intermediate (thinning) yields from pine plantations based on the measured reduction of basal area, (Basal area is the sum of cross sectional areas of individual pine stems measured at a reference height above ground). This provided a degree of accuracy and predictability in forest yield estimation not previously achievable except in intensively measured research work. On his return from doctoral studies Dr. Gentle was able to develop this method using rapidly developing computer technology to aggregate results from small forest units to whole regional areas of forest.

Dr. Gentle won a Fulbright Travel Grant and an Agnes Anderson Fellowship to the University of Washington in 1957 to pursue his doctoral studies. He did post-doctoral work in the Radiation Biology Laboratory of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in both cases studying tree physiology with particular emphasis on the circulation of organic and inorganic nutrients.

During the 1960’s Dr. Gentle worked as a New South Wales Forestry Commission research scientist on work largely associated with fertilizer application to pine plantations. This included developing assessment techniques to determine the naturally available nutrient levels of land planned for forestry, identification and classification of these lands, the levels of yield response obtainable with fertilizers, the economic thresholds of response and the durability of fertilizer response under forest conditions. This work led inevitably into basic considerations of soil/fertilizer reactions. Much of this work revolved around the role of exchangeable aluminium in forest soils and in ways to avoid undesirably strong (and therefore uneconomic) reactions between soil aluminium and fertilizer phosphorus. In time this led to land-buying strategies which allowed the Forestry Commission of New South Wales to acquire potential pine planting land from pastoral ventures which had failed because of the inability of exotic grasses and clovers to tolerate active soil aluminium.

Dr. Gentle was the first to recognise boron and sulphur deficiencies in pine plantations in Australia and the first to see that as these nutrients were supplied as mobile anions it would probably be uneconomic to use fertilizer supplements. Before leaving research work he mapped the strategies, particularly those using tree breeding for less susceptible genotypes to minimise these problems.

Drawing on his experience and training in U.S.A., Dr. Gentle designed and installed the first forest hydrological experiments at full catchment scale in Australia. Paired experimental catchments comparing the effect of pine and native eucalpyt forests on water yield were set up in 1961/62 with the aid of Water Research Foundation funding in association with the University of New South Wales in the upper Warragamba Dam Catchment near Lithgow. They have continued to yield valuable information of forestry significance on such diverse subjects as areal fall-out from Wallerawang power station and improved sulphur nutrition of forest trees as the result of industrial pollution.

In the 1970’s Dr. Gentle was directed by the Public Service Board as chief scientific officer to the new New South Wales Department of Environment, the first such venture by an Australian government. He was instrumental in introducing environmental assessment to New South Wales in this role in 1971-72. Subsequently he served as environmental adviser and later as chief policy adviser to Ministers from all three major political parties.

In 1976 the Government of Tasmania sought Dr. Gentle’s services for the conduct of a Royal Commission (Board of Inquiry) into private forestry in that State. He conducted this with the Hon. Mervyn Everett, Q.C. (now Mr. Justice Everett of the Supreme Court of Tasmania). Its recommendations were adopted successively by incoming Governments of both political persuasions. The result has been to give Tasmania the best private forestry framework available within the British Commonwealth, recognising private rights within moderate self-imposed standards of practice recently (1985) codified as forest practices legislation by mutual consent of private and public sectors.

During his administrative career as Assistant Commissioner and Commissioner for Forests from 1979 to 1989 Dr. Gentle concentrated on two aspects of forestry, the scientific and environmental base and the commercial base.

Under his strong leadership, the Forestry Commission of New South Wales has developed as an efficient and profitable enterprise. It is widely recognised as one of New South Wales most efficient government organisations. It is recognised internationally as being at the forefront of public forest management accounting practice and this has resulted directly from Dr. Gentle’s motivation.

To determine commercial realities it has been necessary to develop sophisticated management accounting systems to encompass the long time spans of forestry and the uneven flow of products over that long period. This has been done according to historic accounting conventions and in an accrual base within the confines of a department of government. This achievement was recognised in 1987 when Great Britain’s Standing Committee on Commonwealth Forestry asked the New South Wales Forestry Commission to convene the first definitive workshop held on this subject. The United Stated attended by invitation to give the meeting a complete core of English-speaking forestry nations. The Forestry Commission’s 1985/86 and 1987/88 Annual Reports received national Bronze Medal in part reflecting advanced reporting of commercial and other undertakings.

Dr. Gentle served on the Australian Forestry Council’s Standing Committee on Forestry, of which he is a past Chairman, and by invitation as a Member and Executive Committee Member of the tripartite Forest and Forest Products Industry Council. On the latter he has been active in preparatory work for the Forest Industries Growth Plan now with the Commonwealth Government.

Dr. Gentle has maintained a strong interest in science and science education. He has been a strong advocate of the Forestry Commission’s research division and ensured adequate resourcing of that area. He is a member of the Advisory Committee to the Australian National University on Forestry Education and has taken a strong and active interest in the development of the forestry curriculum. He has been for more than ten years a member of the New South Wales Public Service Board’s Qualifications Committee which assesses scientists for progression to the Research Scientist classifications of that Service. He was the administrator responsible for devising and setting up the New South Wales Science and Technology Council in 1975176, the first of its kind in Australia, and has served as a member of that Council.

Dr. Gentle was honoured by the University of Washington Foresters Alumni Association with the presentation at the University of its inaugural Distinguished Achievement Award in 1985. The citation accompanying the Award states that “achievements in technical forestry, forest policy and administration, and political action with respect to forestry, make Dr. Gentle a worthy recipient for this first Distinguished Achievement Award”.

As Commissioner for Forests in New South Wales, Dr. Gentle became, without much doubt the leading professional forester in Australia, and is recognised as such by his professional colleagues.

Original Publication

  • Australian Forestry, vol 53, no 3, 1989, pp 216-17

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Citation details

'Gentle, Stanley Wallace (Wal) (1932–1989)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/gentle-stanley-wallace-wal-12532/text30054, accessed 21 June 2019.

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