CHAPTER THREE: Administered By General Land Office: 1893-1902 D. NATIONAL FORESTS UNDER MANAGEMENT ACT OF 1897

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


Conservationists continued to promote the need for a national forestry system while bills to provide for effective administration and protection of the national forest reserves languished in Congress. As a result of lobbying efforts Congress in 1896 appropriated $25,000 to defray the “expenses of an investigation and report by the National Academy of Sciences on the inauguration of a national forestry policy for the forested lands of the United States.” The funds were used to establish a National Forest Commission to be composed of leading scientists and conservationists with Charles S. Sargent as chairman and Gifford Pinchot as secretary. [22]

The National Forest Commission visited the forests on the public lands of the West during the summer of 1896. During the trip the commission members traversed the Cascade Range Forest Reserve. John Muir, one of the commission members, commented on this part of their investigation:

Thence we turned southward and examined the great Cascade Mountain Forest Reserve, going up through it by Klamath Lake to Crater Lake on the summit of the range, and down by way of the Rogue River Valley, noting its marvellous wealth of lodge-pole pine, yellow pine, sugar-pine, mountain-pine, Sitka spruce, incense-cedar, noble silver-fir, and pure forests of the Paton hemlock–the most graceful of evergreens, but, like all the dry woods everywhere, horribly blackened and devastated by devilish fires. [23]

After visiting all of the national forest reservations the National Forest Commission presented its final report to Congress and President William McKinley on May 1, 1897. The report pointed out that, under existing conditions, the United States was unable to protect its timber lands “because the sentiment of a majority of the people in the public land states with regard to the public domain, which they consider the exclusive property of the people of those states and territories, does not sustain the Government in its efforts to protect its own property; juries, when rare indictments can be obtained, almost invariably failing to convict depredators.” The report further stated that “civil employees often selected for political reasons and retained in office by political favor, insufficiently paid and without security in their tenure of office, have proven unable to cope with the difficulties of [protecting timber] . . . . The commission also noted that “a study of the forest reserves in their relation to the general development and welfare of the country, shows that the segregations of these great bodies of reserved lands cannot be withdrawn from all occupation and use, and that they must be made to perform their part in the economy of the nation.”

The report described the conditions of the forest reserves. The Cascade Range Forest Reserve, according to the commission, had

suffered severely from forest fires which have destroyed a considerable part of its most valuable timber, and from the pasturage of sheep which has been excessive, especially on the dry northern and eastern slopes of the mountains. If timber is taken from this reserve, it is only in small quantities and probably only for the use of actual settlers or the owners of small mines.

The commission found nomadic sheep husbandry to be a serious problem in the Cascades and nearby areas. The report noted:

Nomadic sheep husbandry has already seriously damaged the mountain forests in those States and Territories where it has been largely practiced. In California and western Oregon great bands of sheep, often owned by foreigners, who are temporary residents of this country, are driven in spring into the high Sierras and Cascade ranges. Feeding as they travel from the valleys at the foot of the mountains to the upper alpine meadows, they carry desolation with them. Every blade of grass, the tender, growing shoots of shrubs, and seedling trees are eaten to the ground. The feet of these “hoofed locusts,” crossing and recrossing the faces of steep slopes, tread out the plants sheep do not relish and, loosening the forest floor, produce conditions favorable to floods. Their destruction of the undergrowth of the forest and of the sod of alpine meadows hastens the melting of snow in spring and quickens evaporation.

The pasturage of sheep in mountain forests thus increases the floods of early summer, which carry away rapidly the water that under natural conditions would not reach the rivers until late in the season, when it is most needed for irrigation, and by destroying the seedling trees, on which the permanency of forests depends, prevents natural forest reproduction, and therefore ultimately destroys the forests themselves. In California and Oregon the injury to the public domain by illegal pasturage is usually increased by the methods of the shepherds, who now penetrate to the highest and most inaccessible slopes and alpine meadows wherever a blade of grass can grow, and before returning to the valleys in the autumn start fires to uncover the surface of the ground and stimulate the growth of herbage. Unrestricted pasturing of sheep in the Sierras and southern Cascade forests, by preventing their reproduction and increasing the number of fires, must inevitably so change the flow of streams heading in these mountains that they will become worthless for irrigation. [24]