John A. Zivnuska, Pioneer in Forest Economics and UC Berkeley Professor Emeritus, Dies at 86

December 02, 2002
by Sarah Yang

Berkeley - John A. Zivnuska, an internationally recognized expert in forest economics and policy, professor emeritus and former dean of forestry at the University of California, Berkeley, died on Nov. 18. He was 86.

Known as one of a handful of forest scientists who first applied the rigors of classical economics to forestry, Zivnuska developed a reputation as a strong and well-respected voice in forest economics over his 35-year career. His work, along with that of peers such as the late Henry James Vaux, professor emeritus and former dean of forestry at UC Berkeley, helped form the foundation upon which research and education in the economic aspects of modern forest policy and management is based.

"I came from Canada to Berkeley to do my PhD studies because he was here," said William McKillop, professor emeritus of forest economics at UC Berkeley. "His international renown attracted students from all over the world. John had an inquiring mind and excellent understanding of the forest sector of the economy."

Zivnuska's early work focused on the effects of long term supply-and-demand trends in establishing national goals for timber growth. He was openly critical of analyses - including those from U.S. Forest Service timber outlook studies - that failed to take such fundamental economic principles into account. Over the decades he authored or co-authored approximately 190 publications on topics ranging from forest taxation to forestry education.

Born in San Diego on July 10, 1916, Zivnuska would end up spending most of his life in California. After graduating from Berkeley High School, Zivnuska went on to receive his bachelor's degree with honors and his master's degree in forestry at UC Berkeley in 1938 and 1940, respectively. He left California briefly to get his doctorate degree in agricultural economics at the University of Minnesota in 1947.

World War II intervened between Zivnuska's graduate degrees. He joined the U.S. Naval Reserve as an ensign in May 1942 and quickly rose to lieutenant by November 1945, serving first as a gunnery officer on a tanker and a troop transport, and later as first lieutenant and senior watch officer on a destroyer in the Pacific.

In 1947, Zivnuska returned to California with his wife, Ethel Rowland Zivnuska, and three children to join UC Berkeley's faculty. Ethel Zivnuska died in 1962.

His son, John R. Zivnuska, said his father was eager to come back to his native state. "My father had a tremendous love of the Sierra," he said. "Our family was constantly up in the Sierra on backpacking and camping trips. He instilled in us a true appreciation of nature and the resources around us."

This fondness for the outdoors and teaching was evidenced by his dedication to a summer camp program for undergraduate forestry students at UC Berkeley. Zivnuska visited the camp as recently as this past July.

Dennis Teeguarden, professor emeritus and former chair of forestry at UC Berkeley, considered Zivnuska one of his most intellectually challenging instructors. He first met Zivnuska in 1957 as a graduate student in forestry.

"He employed a Socratic style of instruction that forced his students to think critically," said Teeguarden. "I sometimes developed tension headaches preparing for his graduate seminars in anticipation of the challenging discussions he would initiate and lead. He wouldn't let a single student escape from actively participating in the seminar."

When Zivnuska taught a survey course in general forestry, enrollment climbed from less than 100 students to more than 500.

By the time Zivnuska was appointed the fourth - and last - dean of the School of Forestry at UC Berkeley in 1965, the turmoil of the Vietnam War era had just begun. Anti-war rallies and unrest on campus had climaxed at the School of Forestry when more than 400 demonstrators invaded Mulford Hall in 1969. Zivnuska was also receiving angry letters from alumni, many of whom were veterans.

To diffuse the highly charged atmosphere, Zivnuska called a meeting in 1970 of all forestry students and faculty to be held at Tilden Park in the city of Berkeley. As a result of that meeting, classes continued and the students resolved to focus their efforts on restoring peace on campus and on conducting a letter-writing campaign, which included direct, written responses to the letters from the alumni.

"Holding that meeting off-site, at a park, was important in providing an environment where people could voice their concerns in a constructive manner," said Teeguarden, who was an associate professor at the time. "Zivnuska was able to bring everybody together and turn a very sensitive, tense situation into a productive discussion. He was very pleased with the process and the outcome, and later considered the event a high point during his period as dean.

"He was a great role model because of his professionalism, objectivity and wide-ranging research contributions to both economic theory and its application to forestry issues," said Teeguarden. "He was a dignified person with a great capacity for analytical thinking."

On Zivnuska's watch, the School of Forestry was renamed the School of Forestry and Conservation and continued its distinction as one of the top-ranked professional schools in the country. When the school merged into the newly formed College of Natural Resources in 1974, Zivnuska returned to full-time teaching and research until his retirement in 1982.

Zivnuska gained an international perspective on forestry through his work as consultant to the Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East, as Fulbright lecturer in forestry at the Agricultural College of Norway and as corresponding member to the Society of Foresters of Finland.

Zivnuska wore many hats at various times throughout his career, holding positions such as associate director of the Agricultural Experiment Station and president of the Association of State College and University Forestry Research Organizations. He was a member of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forestry Research Advisory Committee, a consultant to the Navajo Tribal Council and a board member of the Fibreboard Corporation.

In 1961, he organized the Section of Forestry for the Tenth Pacific Science Congress held in Hawaii.

Among the numerous honors Zivnuska has earned are the Berkeley Citation from UC Berkeley in 1982 and the Francis H. Raymond Award for outstanding contributions to forestry in California by the California State Board of Forestry in 1987.

In 1992, the Society of American Foresters honored Zivnuska with the Sir William Schlich Memorial Award for outstanding contributions to the field of forestry with an emphasis on policy and national or international activities.

Zivnuska is survived by his wife of 38 years, Marion Marliave Zivnuska; his daughters, Ann Welker of Moraga, Calif., and Louise Zivnuska of Walnut Creek, Calif.; his son, John R. Zivnuska, of Mexico Beach, Fla.; six grandchildren and one great-grandson.

The family is planning a private memorial service later this month.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the John A. Zivnuska Memorial Fund, University of California, Berkeley, University Relations, 2440 Bancroft Way # 4200, Berkeley, CA 94720-4200.