The Forest Service and The Civilian Conservation Corps: 1933-42

Chapter 3:
Region 1—The Northern Region

During the CCC period, USDA Forest Service Region 1 supervised work projects in Montana, North Dakota, the northern Idaho panhandle, and a small section of eastern Washington. Although North Dakota had no national forest land, Montana had 12 national forests, northern Idaho had 7, and Washington had a portion of 1 forest, the Kaniksu, which extended into Idaho. In addition to the Kaniksu, national forests in northern Idaho included the Clearwater, Coeur d'Alene, Nezperce, Pend Oreille, Selway, and St. Joe. The 12 forests in Montana were the Beaverhead, Bitterroot, Blackfoot, Cabinet, Custer, Deerlodge, Flathead, Gallatin, Helena, Kootenai, Lewis and Clark, and Lolo. [1] In 1937, it was estimated that Region 1 had 6 percent of all forest areas in the United States and 16 percent of all national forest land. [2]

Enrollment and Camp History

Civilian Conservation Corps camps in Montana, Idaho, and Washington belonged to the ninth corps area of the War Department's administration; North Dakota camps belonged to the seventh corps area. Their respective headquarters in San Francisco, CA, and Omaha, NE, were officially responsible for building and operating the camps as well as looking after the health and general welfare of the enrollees. Through this department authorizations were made for the camps operating on each forest and for the quotas of enrollees in each State.

On April 18, 1933, the first official announcement of State quotas for all the corps areas came from Brigadier General James F. McKinley, acting adjutant general. Three days later, quotas were increased. Including technical services, the quotas in Region 1 were: North Dakota, 1,500; Montana, 5,800; and Idaho, 9,600 (including Region 4). [3]

Eight days later, General McKinley approved the initial group of national forest camps where enrollees would be assigned. A total of 77 Region 1 camps were planned for the first enrollment period (table 4). [4] Fort Missoula, MT, and Fort George Wright in Spokane, WA, were commissioned as supply centers and focal points for enrollee conditioning and distribution. [5] Districts were established near these centers to facilitate camp construction and administration. Enrollment centers were also opened in Lewiston, ID; Helena, MT; and Coeur d'Alene, ID. [6]

Table 4—First period CCC camps, region 1

State National forest Number of camps
approved 4-26-33
Actual camps


Coeur d'Alene158



Pend Oreille21


St. Joe1212












Lewis and Clark21






Shortly before McKinley's second announcement, Region 1 showed its determination to launch the Emergency Conservation Work program in its area. A telegram was sent to the commanding officer of the ninth corps area requesting the immediate construction of nine forest camps. On May 5, a new list of 36 camps was filed, including the 9 original, all with a June 1, 1933, construction deadline. Because of delays, the shortened season, and the timely character of the work (e.g., white pine blister rust control), Region 1 filed a third camp listing placing priority on 21 blister rust camps to be completed by June 1 and an additional 14 blister rust camps to be built soon after June 1. [7]

The outcome of the first period construction work was a total of 67 national forest camps operating in summer and fall of 1933 (table 4). [8] According to Emergency Conservation Work policy, projects within each State were to be performed by enrollees from within the State unless an approved project required more men than were available by State quota. In Region 1, it became necessary to transfer enrollees from other parts of the country, primarily the larger cities in the eastern corps areas. [9]

The quota system did not function well in Region 1 and other Rocky Mountain States. Quotas were based largely on the size of each State's population, therefore making quotas restrictive in comparison to the land size and area needs. Quotas had been rapidly filled. Civilian Conservation Corps companies from outside the States were necessary to complete work projects. After 1936, the number of men looking for CCC positions decreased sharply, and eventually there were more positions open than men to fill them. [10]

In some ways, Idaho was in a better situation than the other States. It had almost as many camps as Montana and Wyoming combined although its area was less than either. [11]

Other States, Montana for example, complained vigorously about jobs being usurped by CCC enrollees. Although the program had been established to guard against this problem and did, in fact, bring greater economic benefits into the areas than it took away, work opportunities were biased toward younger men. Older men who were unable to secure positions as Local Enlisted Men (LEM's) were crowded out of seasonal labor pools. [12]

Work projects were curtailed during the winter periods. Only 13 of the 67 camps were operating in the second period (winter 1933-34). [13] During the winter some camps were discontinued and the men sent to more southerly regions, or camps were consolidated. During the winter of 1937-38, Camp Nine Mile near Alberton, MT, housed three companies. Containing 44 buildings and more than 500 people it was among the largest camps in CCC history. [14]

Winter work was limited by the severe weather. Extensive education and vocational training programs developed in some areas as a result of those seasonal restrictions. Weather was blamed for the defection of numerous enrollees. One winter 33 enrollees from Arkansas were given dishonorable discharges for refusing to work in cold temperatures at Camp F-79, Helena, MT. Another camp discharged 55 New York boys who refused to work in March 1941. [15]

By summer 1934, 58 camps were back in operation. While the average number of national forest camps in Region 1 continued to decline until the CCC ended, significant amounts of work were achieved by existing camps. In 1937, estimates showed that 85 percent of the region's CCC labor force was being used in national forests. [16] By the end of 1940, nearly 105,000 boys had served in Region 1's national forest camps, and approximately 6.5 million worker-days of labor had been expended. [17]

Side Camps

Early in the organization's history the issue of spike, fly, or side camps arose. It was proposed that smaller camps be located away from the base camps to achieve greater efficiency in labor and transportation and to provide project diversity. The primary constraints were cost and administration. Each regional forester was asked to comment on side camp use to date, future need for side camps, and to make recommendations for a general policy regarding their use.

Regional Forester Evan W. Kelley's response was that side camps in Region 1 had been successful over a 1-month period (July 1933). Twenty-one spikes from 17 base camps had been detached, ranging in number from 4 to 130 men. Side camps accomplished work at a distance from the base camps such as tree planting, insect control, and lookout construction. Kelley reported:

. . . the production from spike camps on truck trails, telephone lines, and other forms of improvement work was equal to or better than the best production attained from base camps, this on account of the added working hours salvaged through reduction in travel time to and from work. The grazing survey and truck trail location work could not have been accomplished without spike camps. [18]

Added costs, largely in food supplies, were compensated by savings in travel expenses. [19]

Kelley proposed that 116 side camps be used in work projects lasting from 1-1/2 to 4 months. According to the regional forester, "33.5 percent of the originally planned program cannot be touched without spike camps." [20] Spike camps were officially authorized throughout the country, although the western areas used them extensively where they were best suited geographically.

Work Projects

Civilian Conservation Corps work projects in Region 1 concentrated on transportation improvements, structural improvements, forest disease control, forest fire protection, and forest culture. [21] Under the supervision of Regional Forester Kelley and other USDA Forest Service officials, projects were designed to have optimal benefit on the national forest lands. A letter written in August 1933 by an ECW officer at the Beaverhead National Forest illustrates the variety of jobs engaged in by enrollees there. Projects included road, fence, and campground construction; grazing surveys; bridge repair; gopher and squirrel poisoning; log preparation for range cabins; and post and pole cutting, peeling, and creosoting. [22]

By 1941, considerable improvement work and maintenance of old projects had been accomplished in the region. Some of the outstanding contributions were:

  • More than 2,500 miles of forest roads constructed
  • 44,184 signs, markers, and monuments placed along roads and trails
  • 27,319 acres seeded or planted to young trees
  • 479,521 acres of white pine treated for blister rust
  • 93 lookout houses built
  • Hundreds of miles of telephone line strung
  • 371,647 worker-days fought on forest fires [23]

Blister rust control was a major activity of many CCC camps in Region 1. To be successful, ongoing treatment projects were necessary, especially in the valuable white pine forests of northern Idaho and eastern Washington. Technical phases of the work came under the USDA Bureau of Plant Pathology, which worked in cooperation with the USDA Forest Service and CCC towards eradicating the disease. [24] Because of the inaccessibility of large areas of infested pine, the CCC was unable to thoroughly control the blister rust's spread. [25]

Control of pine beetles was another conservation project of the CCC camps. Hatching beetles girdled the pine trees by burrowing beneath the bark. Control measures consisted of cutting infested trees and burning the bark prior to the adult beetles' emergence. National forest crews worked with the USDA Bureau of Entomology and Plant Quarantine as well as with various State forestry agencies. [26]

Camps in Region 1 were very active in forest fire control. Problems were encountered at first in using untrained enrollees from eastern cities. Many had never worked in such a demanding environment or job. High altitudes and mountainous terrain affected the "weak hearts" of a few men. [27] By the end of the 1935 fire season, however, Forester Kelley reported ECW crews were being used almost exclusively for suppressing the larger fires. They were also being used to supplement lookouts and fire guard forces. The effect of their work was observable in the decreased number of burned acres and the lower incidence of incendiary fires. [28] In 1940, the USDA Forest Service calculated that enrollees had become more effective because of better attitudes and more effective fire training and crew organization. [29]

Perhaps more important than actual firefighting was the CCC's work in fire prevention. Access roads, fire lanes, and lookouts were built in the back country. Special attention was given to more vulnerable areas. In March 1940, the region's Cooperative Board of Forestry sent a resolution to President Roosevelt requesting three additional camps in northern Idaho's Clearwater National Forest. The purpose of these camps was preventive fire control in valuable white pine stands where a severe fire hazard existed. [30] Secretary to the President Edwin M. Watson suggested that State Forester Franklin Girard work the problem out further with the regional forester and arrange allocation of the camps. [31]

In 1937, Acting Regional Forester Clarence Strong attempted to estimate how much money the CCC had saved the United States through timber conservation. This cost analysis was part of Region 1's recommendation for making the CCC into a permanent organization. A comparison of records from the Clearwater Timber Protective Association and the Potlatch Timber Protective Association showed traceable improvements during the CCC's existence. In the region, the loss of merchantable timber to fire for the 4 years prior to 1933 was 1,014,457,000 board feet. For the period 1933-36, the loss was only 80,613,000 board feet. [32]

Structural improvements in Region 1's national forests included a broad range of buildings. As in forests throughout the country, lookout towers, guard stations, ranger station compounds, and recreational structures were among the CCC's significant contributions to the region. For example, the Birch Creek Camp, F-60, in Dillon, MT, was responsible for building the Forest Service's Birch Creek administration building, and Company F-57 in Bozeman constructed the Squaw Creek Ranger Station. The Savenac Nursery building near St. Regis, MT, was built by Company 956 and was able to grow 12 million trees annually. [33]

Numerous types of bridges were constructed as part of the burgeoning road system being built to open the forests. Examples include the wooden Woodward Bridge on the Selway National Forest, built by enrollees from Camp Goat Creek primarily for packing purposes. Another pack or "stock" bridge was built of stringer logs by the Thompson River CCC camp on the Cabinet Forest. A large concrete vehicle bridge was constructed across the Gallatin River to the Squaw Creek Ranger Station by CCC workers. On the Lolo Forest in St. Regis, Company 956 built a stone bridge over Savenac Creek for specific use by the Forest Service nursery there. Finally, a suspension bridge, built by the Big Timber CCC camp, was located near McCleod, MT, on the Upper Boulder River. [34]

Among the more unusual endeavors undertaken by one of the region's forestry camps was the winter project of Company 1962 while stationed at Camp Nine Mile. Civilian Conservation Corps men there made pack saddles for use by Forest Service and CCC personnel in carrying supplies into forest back country. [35]

When the CCC ceased operating, most camp buildings were either dismantled and stored, or sold for public use. At least two exceptions exist in Region 1, according to Bill Sharp, a CCC alumnus who has been collecting information on Montana camps for many years.

In Montana we have two Civilian Conservation Corps camps that still have many of the buildings in use. On the Custer National Forest the people of Eklaka keep the camp for the 4-H, Boy Scouts, and community affairs. On the Beaverhead Forest a church group has a special use permit for the Birch Creek CCC camp. [36]

In 1939, the Birch Creek CCC camp consisted of 15 permanent buildings, representing a non-intrusive architecture and a uniformity of style. These structures included the Mess Hall, the Welfare Building, the School Building, the Forestry Office, the Blacksmith Shop, the Army Supply Building, the Latrine and Laundry, and the Garage and Repair Shop. . . . The Birch Creek CCC camp represented a typical permanent camp constructed in Montana. [37]

Eight of the 15 original buildings at the Birch Creek camp are still intact. The site has been nominated to the National Register of Historic Places by the Beaverhead Forest, and plans have been made to restore the camp as part of the facilities for Western Montana College at Dillon. [38]

The Clearwater National Forest reports that there are only two known buildings left there from the CCC camps. One is a small shed located at the Cayuse Landing Field on Kelly Creek Road. The other building, at the Powell Ranger Station, is used as a cookhouse, recreation hall, and limited living quarters. "The building still exhibits original tongue-in-groove siding and original windows, but the interior has been extensively remodeled." [39] An additional CCC building, once a barracks at the Musselshell Work Center, was moved in November 1981 to Weippe, ID, where it is in use as a public library. [40]

Reference Notes

1. CCC camp directories, 1933-42. Located at: National Archives and Record Service, Washington, DC; Record Group 35-13, 888, 889.

2. Percent distribution of population in forest areas, and work load by regions, CCC (table). 1937. Located at: National Archives and Record Service, Washington, DC; Record Group 95-144, 21.

3. ECW relation of work in prospect to State enrollment quotas (map). April 22, 1933. Located at: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, Hyde Park, NY; Official File 268, 1.

4. James F. McKinley. Letter to commanding generals in VII, VIII, and IX Corps Areas concerning approval of work projects on national forests in the VII, VIII, and IX Corps Areas. April 26, 1933. p. 7. Located at: National Archives and Record Service, Washington, DC; Record Group 35-6, 907, vol. 1, no. 58.

5. Initial enrollment areas and numbers (map). April 6, 1933. Located at: National Archives and Record Service, Washington, DC; Record Group 35-6, 908, no. 787.

6. James Austin Hanson, "The Civilian Conservation Corps in the northern Rocky Mountains," (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wyoming; 1973). pp. 27, 29.

7. R.F. Hammett and John Guthrie. Historical record concerning ECW and the Forest Service. 1943: pp. 58-60. Located at: National Archives and Record Service, Washington, DC; Record Group 35-6, 907, no. 782.

8. CCC camp directory—first period, 1933. Located at: National Archives and Record Service, Washington, DC; Record Group 35-13, 888.

9. McKinley, letter to commanding generals, p. 1.

10. Hanson, "The CCC in the northern Rocky Mountains," pp. 48-50.

11. Hanson, p. 51.

12. Hanson, p. 528.

13. CCC camp directories—second and third periods, 1933-34. Located at: National Archives and Record Service, Washington, DC; Record Group 35-13, 888.

14. The log for Camp Mine Mile, Fort Missoula District. March 1938. Located at: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, Hyde Park, NY, Official File 268, 13.

15. Hanson, p. 267.

16. See reference note 2.

17. "National forests gain much from CCC," U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Region Press Service, Missoula, MT. December 10, 1940. p. 1. Located at: National Archives and Record Service, Washington, DC; Record Group 95-144, 5.

18. Evan W. Kelley. Memorandum. July 29, 1933. p. 1. Located at: National Archives and Record Service, Washington, DC; Record Group 95-144, 221.

19. Kelley, pp. 1-2.

20. Kelley, pp. 2-3.

21. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. Statistical tables, April 5, 1933 to July 31, 1942. Located at: National Archives and Record Service, Washington, DC; Record Group 35-112.

22. Anonymous letter attached to letter from Colonel Major to Louis M. Howe. August 14, 1933. pp. 1-2. Located at: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, Hyde Park, NY; Official File 268, 6.

23. "National Forests gain much from CCC," pp. 1-2.

24. Hanson, "The CCC in the northern Rocky Mountains," p. 218.

25. James J. McEntee, Annual report of the Director of the CCC (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office; 1941). pp. 42-43. Located at: National Archives and Record Service, Washington, DC; Record Group 35-3, 899.

26. Hanson, pp. 23-231.

27. See reference note 22, p. 2.

28. Evan W. Kelley, "Use of CCC in fire control in Region 1." December 12, 1935. p. 1. Located at: National Archives and Record Service, Washington, DC; Record Group 95-144, 9.

29. Federal Security Agency. Memorandum for the press. October 26, 1940. Located at: National Archives and Record Service, Washington, DC; Record Group 95-144, 5.

30. C.A. Bottolfsen and Franklin Girard. Resolution and letter sent to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. March 28, 1940. Also: Edwin M. Watson. Letter to Girard. March 28, 1940. Located at: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, Hyde Park, NY; Official File 268, 11.

31. Ibid.

32. Clarence Strong. Letter to Fred Morrell. April 13, 1937. pp. 3-4. Located at: National Archives and Record Service, Washington, DC; Record Group 95-144, 21.

33. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. Missoula district forestry work projects. Fort Missoula CCC district annual, 1940. p. 4. Supplied to the authors by Bill Sharp, Bozeman, MT.

34. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. Fort Missoula CCC camp annual, 1939. pp. 48-49. Supplied to the authors by Bill Sharp, Bozeman, MT.

35. Ibid.

36. Bill Sharp. Letter to Forest Supervisor, George Washington National Forest, Harrisburg, VA. August 1, 1974. p. 1. Supplied to the authors by Bill Sharp, Bozeman, MT. Also: Bill Sharp. Personal communication with the authors. January 20, 1983. Located at: Pacific Crest Research and Services Corporation, Corvallis, OR.

37. Joan L. Brownell, National Register nomination for Birch Creek CCC camp. March 1982. p. 2. Located at: Forest Supervisor's Office, Beaverhead National Forest, Dillon, MT. Also: Joan L. Brownell, Personal communication with the authors. September 10, 1982. Located at: Pacific Crest Research and Services Corporation, Corvallis, OR.

38. Ibid.

39. Karl Roenke. Message 242, USDA Forest Service conference line to Mike McIntyre, Angeles National Forest. March 15, 1983. Located at: Forest Supervisor's Office, Clearwater National Forest, Orofino, ID.

40. Ibid.

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