15 D. Administration of National Forest Reserves 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]

Congress, torn between a militant and well-organized sentiment in the East in favor of forest reservation and scientific forestry management and an irate West fighting against withdrawal and forest protection, was divided on the issue in the wake of the National Forest Commission report. These conflicting views were reflected in the Sundry Civil Appropriation Act (sometimes referred to as the Forest Management Act) of June 4, 1897, The law reaffirmed the power of the president to create reserves and confirmed all reservations created prior to 1897. However, it limited the type of lands to be reserved in the future, stating:

No public forest reservation shall be established, except to improve and protect the forest within the reservation, or for the purpose of securing favorable conditions of water flows, and to furnish a continuous supply of timber for the use and necessities of citizens of the United States; but it is not the purpose or intent of these provisions, or of the Act providing for such reservations, to authorize the inclusion therein of lands more valuable for the mineral therein, or for agricultural purposes, than for forest purposes.

The law granted the basic authority necessary for the federal government to regulate the occupancy and use of the forest reserves and guarantee their protection:

The Secretary of the Interior shall make provisions for the protection against destruction by fire and depredations upon the public forests and forest reservations which may have been set aside or which may be hereafter set aside under the said Act of March third, eighteen hundred and ninety-one, and which may be continued; and he may make such rules and regulations and establish such service as will insure the objects of such reservations, namely, to regulate their occupancy and use and to preserve the forests thereon from destruction; and any violation of the provisions of this Act or such rules and regulations, shall be punished as is provided for in the Act of June fourth, eighteen hundred and eighty-eight, amending section fifty-three hundred and eight-eight of the Revised Statutes of the United States. [25]

In accordance with the provisions of the law Binger Hermann, who had been appointed Commissioner of the General Land Office, prepared rules and regulations for the administration and protection of the forest reserves. These regulations (a copy of which may be seen in Appendix C) were approved by Secretary of the Interior Cornelius N. Bliss on June 30, 1897. Later on March 21, 1898, the rules and regulations were amended (a copy of the amendments may also be seen in Appendix C). [26]

In 1897 Secretary Bliss commented on the effect of the regulations as well as the difficulties encountered in the initial efforts of the department to enforce them. Among other things he observed:

These rules and regulations have been widely distributed, with a view to a better understanding of the subject by the public, and their publication has been secured by the agents of this Office in many of the newspapers of the West as a matter of news .

More general interest is taken in the subject of forest preservation and reservation, and as it is the more inquired into by the people directly affected, the advocates of an efficient forest administration increase in number.

The promulgation of the law and the rules and regulations has, in itself, had a tendency to create greater interest in the matter and to cause the public to observe more closely the regulations and the penalties for the violation thereof.

Since the 1st of July, 1897, under the meager appropriation at the disposal of the Department for the purpose, but six special forest agents and supervisors have been appointed for the purpose of patrolling the forest reserves and enforcing the observance of the regulations. It is needless to say that this force is infinitesimal, considering the magnitude of the work and the territory to be covered. As a region requiring more immediate attention, they were assigned to the reserves in California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, and New Mexico. it is too early to speak particularly of the work performed by them, but I am justified in saying that their presence in the reservations has already been felt beneficially by a more general observance of the regulations and by the suppression of what might have proved to be very destructive forest fires.

The duties of these forest agents are many, and it goes without saying that the force will have to be very materially increased to fulfill the requirements of the forest-reserve law. It is in the interest of economy and a wise policy to increase the force to make it effective. A well-trained force of 50 or 60 forest agents and patrolmen judiciously distributed through the several States and Territories embracing forest reserves can readily be made the means of preserving millions of dollars’ worth of public timber annually from the spoilation of trespassers and destruction by fire at a relatively slight cost to the Government, to say nothing of the importance of forest preservation and the growth and use of merchantable timber for the future generations. [27]

By July 1898 there were thirty forest reservations in the United States embracing an estimated area of 40,719,474 acres. Increased appropriations for fiscal year 1899 enabled the General Land Office to expand its forestry operations and “place a graded force of officers in control of the reserves.” The reservations were grouped into eleven districts, each under a forest superintendent. The reserves were placed in immediate charge of forest supervisors with forest rangers under them to patrol the reserves, prevent forest fires and trespass from all sources, and see to the proper cutting and removal of timber.

Instructions were developed for the forest superintendents to guide the administration of the reserves. In regard to forest fires the forest superintendents were directed:

Fire being the paramount danger to which the public forests are exposed, in comparison with which damage from all other sources is insignificant, it is desired that you will see to it that the utmost vigilance and energy are exercised by your forest force to prevent the starting and spread of fires in the reservations under your care.

Each officer should be charged to make the matter of fires in his district the subject of close and careful study, with a view to ascertaining and reporting the chief causes of fires in the different localities and devising means to prevent the same.

They should specially keep a constant watch to prevent fires occurring through the following sources:

1. Hunters, trappers, and other camping parties; more especially those made up of inexperienced persons from towns, who are known to be a fertile source of forest fires.

2. Sheep men, who set out fires to increase pasturage.

3. Prospectors, who frequently set fires to uncover the rock.

4. Parties constructing railroads or making other roadways through the forests.

5. Lumbermen, who should be required to clear the ground of all lops, tops, and other debris resulting from their operations.

The localities specially exposed by reason of settlement, railway construction, lumbering operations, sheep grazing, mining operations, or other causes, should be closely watched, and prompt action taken not only to prevent and extinguish fires, but to bring to justice all parties responsible for fires originating from either carelessness or malicious intent.

The superintendents were instructed “to further report on advisable measures to adopt in devising the most practicable system of patrolling the reservations.” Specifically, they were to report on the establishment of patrols and signal stations and telephonic connections between the two. As to sheep grazing the superintendents were “to inquire into and report upon” the “impact of pasturage on the forests,” and make recommendations to minimize such negative impacts. [28]