Crater Lake National Park: Administrative History by Harlan D. Unrau and Stephen Mark, 1987

 CHAPTER THREE: Crater Lake Administered By The General Land Office As Part Of The Cascade Range Forest Reserve: 1893-1902


During the 1870s and 1880s conservationists in the United States focused considerable energy on a movement to repeal the Timber Culture Act of 1873 and the Timber Cutting Act of 1878. At the forefront of this movement were conservationists interested in forestry such as Charles S. Sargent, John Muir, and Robert V. Johnson, aided by the General Land Office of the U.S. Department of the Interior and foresters in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Considerable fraud was associated with these laws, and as a result much valuable timber land was lost as it fell into the hands of large corporations and timber speculators. The two acts were ostensibly intended to provide for forest conservation. The Timber Culture Act of 1873 authorized any person who kept forty acres of timber land in good condition to acquire title to 160 acres. The minimum tree-growing requirement was reduced to ten acres in 1878. The Timber Cutting Act of 1878, on the other hand, allowed bona fide settlers and miners to cut timber on the public domain free of charge for their own use. [6]

In 1890 a committee of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, with Thomas C. Mendenhall, Superintendent of the U.S. Coastal Geodetic Survey, as chairman, presented President Benjamin Harrison with a petition recommending that a commission be established to ”investigate the necessity of preserving certain parts of the present public forest as requisite for the maintenance of favorable water conditions.” The petition further urged that “pending such investigation all timber lands of the United States be withdrawn from sale and provision be made to protect the said lands from theft and ravages by fire, and to supply in a rational manner the local needs of wood and lumber until a permanent system of forest administration be had.” [7]

President Harrison and Secretry of the Interior John W. Noble endorsed the proposals. Provisions of the bill to accomplish these ends were drafted by Edward A. Bowers, a special agent and inspector in the General Land Office, with the advice of John Muir and Robert V. Johnson. Bowers’ bill was attached as a “rider” to the Sundry Civil Appropriations Bill and passed by Congress without debate. [8]

The Forest Reserve Act (26 Stat. 1095), signed into law by President Harrison on March 3, 1891, repealed the Timber Culture Act of 1873 and the Timber Cutting Act of 1878. Section 24 further provided:

That the President of the United States may, from time to time, set apart and reserve, in any state or territory having public land bearing forests, in any part of the public lands, wholly or in part covered with timber or undergrowth, whether of commercial value or not, as public reservations, and the President shall, by public proclamation, declare the establishment of such reservations, and the limits thereof. [9]

While the law did not define the objectives for setting aside the forest reservations the ostensible purposes, according to the House Committee on Public Lands, were the protection of “forest growth against destruction by fire and ax and preservation of forest conditions upon which water conditions and water flow” were dependent. The new policy was based on the perception “that a forest-cover on slopes and mountains must be maintained to regulate the flow of streams, to prevent erosion, and thereby to maintain favorable conditions in the plains below.” The policy of reserving forest land was thus “confined mainly to those localities in which agriculturists” were “dependent upon irrigation.” The overriding goal of the reserve policy was “to maintain favorable forest conditions, without, however, excluding the use of these reservations for other purposes.” [10]