95 Appendix D3: Report on the Survey and Examination of Forest Reserves, March 1898

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


Print this page




APPENDIX D3: Report on the Survey and Examination of Forest Reserves, March 1898


<< Previous | Table of Contents | Next >>

The Cascade Range Forest Reserve occupies a narrow and irregular strip along the crest and on both slopes of the Cascade Mountains in western Oregon, and extends from near the Columbia River to within about 20 miles of the California line. Adjoining it on the north and west is the Bull Run timber land reserve, which, for the purposes of this description, may be considered as forming part of its larger neighbor. The Cascade Range Forest Reserve has an area of 4,492,800 acres, and includes 461,920 acres of railroad land, of which 34,560 acres are now in litigation. The Bull Run timber land reserve, with an area of 142,080 acres, includes 24,160 acres claimed as railroad land, but as to which a suit is now pending. The eastern slope of the Cascade Range is comparatively dry, and the forest is generally open enough to furnish pasturage, while the forest on the western slope is exceedingly dense and affords grazing only in the numerous areas which have been burned. The trade relations of the reserve have, so far, been restricted to the cutting of small amounts of timber on the western slope and to supplying settlers and ranchers outside of the reserve from the forests of yellow and lodge pole pine east of the summit. It will be convenient to describe the two slopes separately.


The forest on the eastern slope is open and grassy in its lower part, dense and composed of smaller trees higher up, and interrupted throughout by burned areas, often of great size, on many of which grass has entirely replaced the forest. The principal trees are yellow pine and Douglas fir (red fir) in the lower portions, and lodge-pole pine and lowland fir (white fir) at higher elevations. Occasionally the latter tree predominates in a mixed forest of Douglas fir, Engelmann spruce, larch, hemlock, and mountain white pine (silver pine). The Douglas fir is here a tall tree with a long, clear trunk. In the open its reproduction is vigorous, but less so under cover. It is of much smaller size here than on the western slope. The yellow pine forms the bulk of the forest at moderate elevations. Below 4,000 feet its reproduction is generally good. It has suffered very severely from the tramping out of its seedlings, in different parts of this slope, by the hoofs of pasturing sheep.

The lowland fir (white fir) is a tall tree, with clear trunk in good situations, and good reproduction throughout.

The mountain white pine (silver pine) occurs at moderate elevations in mixture with the Douglas spruce and various firs. It is a tall tree with long, clear trunk, of great value for lumber and with good powers of reproduction.

The larch reaches a diameter of from 4 to 5 feet. A tall tree with a very short crown, it reproduces itself admirably, seeding up many burned areas, if not interfered with by sheep, to the north of the Metolius River.

Lodge pole, or black pine, here, as elsewhere, is a small tree with remarkable powers of reproduction. It occupies situations avoided by more valuable trees, but is apt to disappear and be replaced by grass and brush as the result of repeated fires.

Engelmann spruce occurs chiefly in hollows and basins. Its reproduction is excellent near seed trees, and the young seedlings bear shade well. In places it is an important factor in the forest.

The black hemlock is a subalpine tree with good reproduction, but without commercial importance at present.

The white-bark pine occurs on the summits of the mountains, and need not be considered here. Other trees are the western cedar, amabilis fir, and western hemlock.


Fires have done more injury in this reserve than all other causes put together. It is believed that fire has occurred in every township within the reserve and in nearly every section, and it is evident that many hundred thousand feet of timber have been destroyed. Fires increase, in general, proportionately to the extent of human occupation of any region up to the time when a change of public sentiment takes place. After that time the safety of the forest increases in proportion to the density of population. Protection against fire is made difficult at present by the absence of trails and by the nature of the forests.

The larger number of fires on this slope are said to be kindled by campers and Indians. Sheep men have undoubtedly been responsible for many fires in the past, and, as noted by Mr. Coville, the broken character of the forest which permits them to graze their herds on this reserve would not have existed without the agency of fire.

Fires started in heavy timber are often exceedingly difficult to extinguish. Such a fire was burning in the vicinity of the Lake of the Woods, in the southern part of the reserve, August 27 and 28, 1896, and was carefully studied at that time. At 6 p. m., although it was said to have been started on the morning of the same day, it had already burned holes from 2 to 3 feet deep, following, the roots of dead trees, and was slowly spreading along the surface. The vegetable litter on the ground was dry; but, except for the dead timber standing and prostrate in the woods, this fire would have died out of itself. It was kept alive and enabled to spread chiefly by the fallen logs. Where such a log lay on the ground the fire either crept along its under surface near the ground if the bark had fallen, or if the bark remained it moved usually beneath it, reappearing at intervals along the trunk and igniting the dry humus and litter within reach. Half-rotten logs carried the fire with bright flame even when the bark had not fallen. Dead standing stubs from 50 to 90 feet high assisted powerfully in spreading the damage, for the fire ascends such trunks beneath the bark, reappearing at intervals, and burning fiercely under the chimney-like draft established. Instead of falling at once such stubs break off high above the ground from time to time and scatter burning fragments far and wide. In heavy winds the blazing bark is detached and carried far ahead of the main fire, and so forms a powerful factor in carrying and spreading the conflagration. To extinguish this particular fire, which was said to have been wantonly started by a party of campers, would have required the labor of several men for at least a day.

Fires in the open yellow pine do much less serious damage and are far easier to control.


The effect of forests on irrigation in the lava area of the southern portion is probably not important, since all rain sinks at once into the ground and reappears in the enormous springs which dot the country here and there. Farther north the question is different. The testimony on this point is conflicting, but by far the greater weight of evidence tends to show that the flow of streams has already been seriously influenced by forest fires. The supply of water from this slope is very important to local settlements and should be protected.


I am not aware that mines of any importance have been developed or that prospects for such development exist.


Agriculture within the reserve can never be important. A few ranches are included by the boundaries, but, so far as known, little cultivation is carried on, as the climate is unfavorable.


The most important question touching the reserve at this time regards the pasturage of sheep. During the past summer about 190,000 sheep were grazed within the reserve, two-thirds of which occupied ranges on the eastern slope. The careful investigation of Mr. Coville, botanist of the Department of Agriculture, the study by Mr. Henry S. Graves under my direction in 1896, and other trustworthy evidence leave no room to doubt that the pasturage of sheep on any area constitutes, so long as it lasts, a prohibitory tax on the reproduction of the forest.

It can not be questioned that sheep grazing in this reserve owes its existence directly to forest fires. Without such fires the openings where the sheep feed would never have been made, nor, after they were made, would many of them have been kept so free from trees. It is almost equally certain that sheep herders in the past have been in the habit of setting fires, although the evidence at hand goes to show that of late years this practice has been largely discontinued. Grazing in fresh burns is apt to be followed by the discoloration and cheapening of the wool.

Sheep do not feed on the leaves or seedlings of coniferous trees, except in the way of desultory nibbling or when at the point of starvation. The harm which they do is of another character altogether. The seedlings of conifers are small and very susceptible to injury during their early life. When a band of sheep passes over an area on which such seedlings grow the trampling of the sharp hoofs not only cuts and bruises the young trees, but it also exposes their roots, and so leads directly to their destruction. On dry slopes, where reproduction is difficult at best, the passage of a band of sheep makes it simply impossible until a new crop of seedlings can replace those which have been destroyed. It is in this way, and not at all by injury to the old trees (an alleged fact frequently contradicted by sheep men), that sheep hurt the forest.

In so far as sheep tend to destroy or prevent a dense forest cover, they injure the water supply, and that they have done both to some extent, at least indirectly, is evident. The effect of their action is not believed , however, to have been seriously felt hitherto. In this connection it may be well to add that actual observations at Fort Klamath and Government Camp, quoted by Mr. Coville, indicate that snow lasts about six weeks longer in the forest than in the open.

It is believed that the reproduction of considerable parts of the eastern slope may be postponed with safety to the forest, and that in consequence sheep herding may there be permitted under suitable restrictions. The importance of this industry to the three counties where the sheep are chiefly owned (Wasco, Crook, and Sherman) is so great that its sudden prohibition within the reserve would work great hardships. Under the circumstances, the wiser course appears to be to permit the pasturage of definite numbers of sheep on definite ranges for the present, and in a tentative spirit, throwing the burden of the prevention of the forest fires upon the sheep owners, and in general following the course advocated by Mr. Coville and summarized in Part II of this report. It should not be forgotten that overgrazing will lead to the extension of the ranges by means of fire. For a more extended treatment of this subject, reference is made to Mr. Coville’s admirable report, in the conclusions of which I fully concur.


The forest of the western slope is tall, dense, moist, and rich in valuable kinds of trees. The range is more heavily timbered in its northern and central portions than toward the south, but the forest throughout is very valuable, rapid, or fairly rapid in growth, and of great prospective commercial importance.

The most important tree is the Douglas fir (red fir), which reaches in places a height of over 250 feet and a diameter near the ground of from 10 to 12 feet. It forms very extensive forests on the lower slopes, sometimes almost without admixture of other trees. The reproduction is wonderfully good in places, especially in the open. Up to an elevation of 2,000 feet this is the most plentiful tree.

The western hemlock has great reproductive powers, and young trees of this species are plentiful in the forest, especially on fallen logs and dead stumps. Its wood is valuable for lumber, but has been little used hitherto. Its average dimensions may he given as follows: Height, 125 feet; diameter, 3 feet: length of clear trunk, 40 feet.

The western cedar, while of less size here than nearer the coast, is still a large tree of great economic value. It prefers moist land, has good reproductive powers, both within the forest and in the open, and will be one of the first trees cut in many localities.

The mountain white pine is another lumber tree of importance. It does not attain large size, but has a long, clear trunk, and produces excellent material.

The lowland fir (white fir) is often not of great size, as compared with other species growing with it, but it has as excellent reproduction, and great sylvicultural value as undergrowth.

The lodge pole pine is less widely distributed on the western than on the eastern slope. It occurs chiefly in portions where its great reproductive powers give it peculiar value.

The noble fir, a valuable lumber tree chiefly known locally as larch, reaches, in exceptional cases, a height of 300 feet, with a diameter of 6 or 7 feet near the ground. It is a common tree throughout the larger part of the reserve.

The sugar pine, whose northern limit is near the center of the reserve, extends also to the eastern slope, near Crater Lake. It is a large tree of the first economic value, but its reproduction in this locality is not strong.

Other trees are the Sitka spruce and the incense cedar, neither of which is common.


Fire has done less damage on the western than on the eastern slope. Still, its ravages have been exceedingly severe, and it is of the first importance that they should be checked. Reference is made to the description of a fire in dense forest on the eastern slope. When such fires are assisted by violent winds they travel with great rapidity, and while the wind continues efforts to subdue them are ineffectual. As has already been mentioned in a previous part of this report, the object of organization against fire should be to reach the scene of a conflagration before it has had time to gather strength. Trails, therefore, are of the first importance.


Water for irrigation is of comparatively little importance except in the eastern part of this reserve. Floods are dangerous, and the protection of the mountain slopes is required on their account.


Mining is not known to have reached any development, nor to show promise for the future.


Except in the vicinity of Detroit, where the agricultural lands within the reserve are practically all taken up, the climate usually forbids development of this kind within the boundaries. No special measures are required.


About one-third of the sheep pastured within the reserve occupy ranges on the western slope. Still more than those on the east, these bands depend for their livelihood on areas which have been cleared by fire, and from which the presence of the sheep excludes all but the most meagre reproduction. The measures which seem to be required have already been referred to.


It has already been recommended in Part II that one ranger be stationed at Oregon City and another at Roseburg. Five guards at or near Summit Camp, Detroit, Sisters, Big Meadows, and Fort Klamath, with 30 fire-watchers at local points, complete the list of men assigned to this reserve under the plan heretofore described.


Actual forest management will probably first be possible in the upper Santiam Valley, on the western slope, where the character of the reproduction indicates either clear cutting in strips or a system of selection fellings extremely localized. Operations should be delayed until a stronger demand becomes evident.

East of the summit provision will be required to furnish settlers and ranchers with small amounts of timber, but the commercial development of these forests is not at present required. Forest fires and the supervision of sheep ranging throughout the reserve must form the most important objects of management for some years to come. The regulations suggested by Mr. Coville, and quoted in Part II of this report, should be adopted; and it is here repeated that unless a year is to be lost in the enforcement of this reform measures must be taken at once to carry out Mr. Coville’s plan. It is earnestly recommended that such action be taken without delay.


Study of the reserve has developed the fact that the present boundaries are far less faulty than had been supposed. Until more complete examination of them can be made it is recommended that they be allowed to remain without change.


“Report on the Survey and Examination of Forest Reserves (March), 1898,” in S. Doc. 189, pp. 69-74.