It's The People...

Walter Bitterlich

John Bell, Walter Bitterlich, and Benno Hesske

During a recent trip to Europe I had the opportunity to spend some time in Salzburg, Austria, with Dr. Walter Bitterlich, world-renowned forest scientist who has celebrated his 95th birthday.

I had the honor of personally extending my congratulations and once again visiting with him in his home and office. It was a choice and heart-warming experience to be in his presence as we renewed our friendship of many years.

He disclosed to us that as a young man he had wanted to be an artist, but soon realized that it was difficult to earn a living for a family. He shared some of his very impressive paintings. We admired his artistic talent, but thought how fortunate we are that he chose to pursue forestry. I owe my career to this man. I am indebted to him for his development of angle count sampling, which has been the crux of my work.

It was my privilege to be Walter’s host when, at the conclusion of the 1960 World Forestry Congress in Seattle, Washington, he was invited to spend a week with the faculty at Oregon State University, School of Forestry. One of the events was a field trip to Eastern Oregon with a stop at a range experiment station. The speaker was extolling the virtues of a new sampling method, angle count sampling introduced by a Dr. Walter Bitterlich of Austria. People were astonished when the Dean introduced Walter and they learned that he was standing there in the group. This demonstrates his quiet unassuming nature.

We have fond memories of our first visit to Austria. Our son was 14 at the time. He remembers how important he felt as Walter included him in the technical discussions. He is a profound thinker but one who is comfortable, warm and welcoming with people. We visited again in 1988 when Benno Hesske, manufacturer of the Spiegel Relaskop hosted a world-class celebration in Salzburg for Dr. Bitterlich’s 80th birthday (see pp. 15, 143, 153 Inventory and Cruising Newsletter, a compilation of the first fifty issues).

We would like to share with our readers a brief biographical sketch of Dr. Walter Bitterlich prepared by Gerlinde Ruthner and her father, Benno Hesske.

“Son of the late Ernst and Maria Wachtel Bitterlich, Walter Bitterlich was born 19 February 1908 in Reutte, Tirol, Austria. He married Ilse Hauptmann, with whom he has four children: Gerhard, Helga, Herwig, and Sigrid.

“He went to school in Innsbruck and Salzburg, and studied forestry at the Hochschule für Bodenkultur at Vienna. A forester in the Austrian Federal Forest (ÖFB) and Reichsforste from 1935 to 1941, Dr. Bitterlich served in the German army in Russia and Normandy. He resumed his career as a forester in 1949, where he remained until 1966. In this time he published the method of Angle-Count Sampling or Point Sampling, a method revolutionizing forest mensuration techniques. The first ideas to this method are documented in his diary as early as 1931.

“Since 1950 he has worked closely with FOB, now Relaskop-Technik, Salzburg/Austria, in the industrial development of many of his patents, resulting for example in the instruments Spiegel-Relaskop and Tele-Relaskop, now in worldwide use for forestry measurements, especially inventory.

“In 1966 Dr. Bitterlich became professor at the University of Agriculture, BOKU, at Vienna. After his retirement in 1978, he continued his scientific work which resulted as well in many forestry publications, e.g. “The Relascope Idea” (1984) as in the development of new forestry instruments, e.g. the multiple use instrument Bitterlich Sector Fork.”

Dr. Bitterlich has been recipient of many awards in Austria and Germany and is an honorary member of the Society of American Foresters.

John F. Bell


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Originally Published July 2003