Protecting Olympic's Forests During World War II

Though the National Park Service (NPS) was only 25 years old at the outbreak of World War II, the agency found itself fighting a battle on the homefront. With little precedent to work from and dwindling budgets and staff, the NPS strongly defended its parks against a flood of demands to log, mine, graze, drain, and take over national parks.  Virgin stands of Douglas fir and Sitka spruce became early targets of a battle for the protection of park natural resources during the War.

The needless sacrifice of this scenic and cultural heritage during the war would deprive the American people of some of the most potent symbols of their national greatness... pride and love of country. Wartime NPS Director, Newton Drury

Olympic: The Frontlines in a War for Resources

Olympic National Park became the first major battle in a long homefront war over natural resources.  Olympic was added to the national park system in 1938.  As early as 1940, Olympic National Park’s began fielding requests for timber.   Though not yet involved in the war, the UK and other allies made urgent requests for the US to provide them with raw, natural resources.

Over the next two years, as the nation mobilized for the war effort, the pressure to log Olympic reached a fever pitch. In wartime reports, NPS Director Newton Drury noted that Olympic’s  “ substantial quantities’ of Stika spruce became the ‘center of this attack.”Sitka spruce was the most desirable source of lumber for use in the manufacture of airplanes at the time.   Most of the accessible stands of Sitka spruce had been used up my airplane manufacturers since the First World War.The Hoh River and Bogachiel River areas within Olympic National Park were particular on the radar of industry.

To save the park proper, NPS officials came to the conclusion in 1943 to permit the logging of 3,000,000 board feed of Sitka spruce from a tract of land known as Queets Corridor.  Though now part of Olympic National Park, at this time Queets had only been purchased by the Federal Government from ‘Public Works funds for parkway purposes’ are were not yet part of Olympic National Park.  At the time, this meant the lands were not yet subject laws that prevent commercial sales of timber from national park lands.  

“It was its duty to save the park from mutilation if it could, but at the same time it could not lay itself open to the charge of sabotaging the war effort’, reflected NPS Director Newton Drury, but that ’ once the logging of timber is introduced the area no longer exists as a superlative virgin forest.’

Congress met in July 1943 to hold committee hearings on logging Olympic and local Chambers of Commerce passed resolutions to open the park up to logging of all species. NPS staff busily researched options for stands of Sitka spruce and Douglas fir in British Columia and elsewhere as alternative locations for logging.

In the end, the War Production Board came to the conclusion that logging of Sitka spruce in Olympic was not necessary at the time to meet war aircraft needs.  C-76 cargo planes were no longer being constructed of wood and the increase in the supply of aluminum available for aircraft production had helped the situation.  In June 1944 issue of The Timberman the board was quoted as stating that there will be ‘no more spruce delivered to the United Kingdom. Thus the threat of “invasion” of Olympic National Park by logging appears to have been safely outridden.’

Last updated: November 19, 2015