Carl Wilson, the beloved Berkeley Historical Society docent, archivist and “lone” forest ranger, has ridden into the sunset on his horse named Copper. Born in the small town of Halfway in eastern Oregon, he died Aug. 21 in Oakland at the age of 94. He had been a professional forester for almost four decades and, yes, he did ride a big-toothed horse named Copper (not Silver!) while covering territory as District Forest Ranger of the Angeles National Forest.
Carl first worked in the Civilian Conservation Corps in Idaho. He earned a B.S. in Forest Management from the College of Idaho in 1939 and an M.S. from UC Berkeley in 1941. After serving in the Navy, he joined the U.S. Forest Service in 1946 and then moved to Berkeley in 1956 to become chief of the Division of Forest Fire Research at the Pacific Southwest Forest and Range Experiment Station. During the 1950s and 1960s, he worked on the development and application of chemical fire retardant, airtanker, Helitack, and fuel-break concepts. He became National Fire Specialist for the Washington D.C. Cooperative Fire Protection staff from 1973 to 1978. In 1975, Carl was assigned to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Rome where he developed fire management plans for the Mediterranean Region, Central America, and Central Africa.
He was a lecturer in fire at UC Berkeley, Riverside, San Diego, and Santa Cruz and elsewhere, including Freiburg University/United Nations University (UNU) in Germany. Johann G. Goldammer of The Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC), Fire Ecology Research Group in Freiburg recalls, “He introduced me to the world of fire management in the U.S.A. back in the 1970s. He constructed a bridge between the U.S.A. and Europe—and the results are an atmosphere of fruitful collaboration and friendship.” After his retirement, he served as part-time consultant for the California Department of Forestry and for the Ontario (Canada) Ministry of Natural Resources. He received outstanding awards in Forest Fire Management from the Forest Service, the American State Foresters Association, and from the California Department of Forestry. During his career, Carl Wilson authored or co-authored more than 40 professional and technical publications on forestry and forest fire matters. In 1998, he co-authored with James B. Davis Forest Fire Laboratory and Fire Research in California: Past, Present and Future.
Carl built his home on Maybeck Twin Drive in 1971 and became an active president of their neighborhood association. After the 1991 Oakland-Berkeley Firestorm, Councilmember Betty Olds appointed him to the Berkeley Fire Assessment Commission from 1992 to 2000, where he worked to get rid of the highly combustible eucalyptus trees in the hills. Mayor Shirley Dean proclaimed Carl Wilson Day in his honor on Nov. 10, 1998.
Carl volunteered for the Berkeley Historical Society in 1983 and served three terms as board president from 1988 to 1991. Burl Willis notes that he kept a sense of optimism during the long search for a permanent home for the society, which ended with the Veterans Memorial Building. “Carl was our first ‘pro bono’ docent. Working with him was always a joy. He was a favorite with all our regular visitors, including Country Joe McDonald.” He served as archivist and docent at the Berkeley History Center from 1993 to 2001. He wrote the BHS columns “50 Years Ago” and “75 Years Ago” for the Berkeley Voice from 1986 to 2001 and made a mark as a wry and witty author. He also led numerous sold-out walking tours of his beloved “Nut Hill” neighborhood. Linda and Steve Rosen remember Carl as a man of charm, confidence, and a gentlemanly manner, who was blessed with an outstanding memory. He teased and reminisced with us in a loving way.” Son Craig Wilson sums up his father: “He was known for his unquenchable sense of humor and kindness.”
Carl is survived by his wife of 67 years, Barbara Wilson, a son, Craig (and wife Kim) Wilson, a daughter, Wendy Wilson, a grandson, David Wilson, his sister, Elaine Gunning, his aunt Estella Summers (age 98), and four nephews and nieces.
A memorial service will be held at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, September 19, in the Fellowship Hall of Lake Park Retirement Home, 1850 Alice Street in Oakland. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Idaho Youth Ranch.
Condolences and cards for Carl can be sent to Barbara Wilson, Lake Park Retirement Residency, 1850 Alice St. #313, Oakland CA 94612 and to Craig B Wilson, 507 Kearney St., El Cerrito, CA 94530-3520.
Information about the life and acomplishments of Carl Wilson provided by Craig Wilson, Linda and Stephen Rosen, Carl Wilson Oral History, STEFEN, and Burl Willis.