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

Chapter 7:
Region 5—The California Region

From 1933 to 1942, there were 19 national forests in the State of California, known as Region 5. Today it is called the Pacific Southwest Region and includes Hawaii. Forests in California during the 9-year period were the Angeles, Cleveland, Eldorado, Inyo, Klamath, Lassen, Los Padres, Mendocino, Modoc, Mono, Plumas, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, Sequoia, Shasta, Sierra, Stanislaus, Tahoe, and Trinity. In 1937, Region 5 contained 6 percent of the total forest area in the United States and 16 percent of national forest land. Seventy-two percent of California's forested area was in national forests. [1]

Enrollment and Camp History

Civilian Conservation Corps enrollee distribution and camp administration in Region 5 were directed by Army Corps Area 9. Headquarters for the corps area was San Francisco, where conditioning and distribution were supervised at the Presidio. Harbor Defense, Fort Barry, and Fort McDowell provided additional space for CCC operations in the San Francisco area. Centers in the southern part of the region included Fort MacArthur, March Field, and Fort Rosencrans. [2]

On April 22, 1983, Acting Adjutant General James F. McKinley announced that Region 5's enrollee quota would be 31,500 men. [3] The U.S. Labor Department designated California's Department of Social Welfare to carry out the enrollment. [4] Even this number, however, was small for the amount of work planned in the State, so recruits from outside the region were eventually transported into California project areas. [5]

On April 26, 1933, McKinley approved 166 CCC camps to start work in the region's 19 national forests. [6] Of this number, 128 camps on 19 forests actually began working in the summer and fall of 1933. [7] Regional Forester S.B. Show was instrumental in getting his region assigned more camps for the initial enrollment period than any other. [8] During a 1933 meeting between President Roosevelt and regional foresters, Show argued that because of its preparedness and well-developed plans the California Region could immediately accommodate many camps.

Because of mild climate, and Show's efforts, the number of camps did not differ significantly during winter periods, although the total number did decline during the 9 years. The number of forests with camps also decreased. In the second enrollment period, winter 1933-34, 95 camps were operating on 18 forests; in the third period, summer 1934, 37 camps were operating on 15 forests; and in the sixth period, winter 1935-36, 54 camps were operating on 18 forests. Only 13 camps were operating in 1942, the CCC's final year. [9] Relations with local communities were very positive, and racial and ethnic tensions seem to have been minimal, although many camps had black enrollees.

Side Camps

During the first project period, Region 5 contributed information to the establishment of the official CCC policy on side camps. In August 1933, Regional Forester Show reported to the Chief Forester in Washington, DC, on California's successful utilization of side camps. According to Show, his area had already made a cooperative agreement with ninth corps area officials to run and equip side camps. Seventy side camps had been working out of 50 main camps; 45 of these were national forest camps, and the remaining 5 were private land camps. Side camp work had covered fire suppression, erection of various structures, construction of firebreaks and fire lines, construction of truck trails, telephone lines, campgrounds, foot trails, and drift fences, maintenance of forest improvements, and larkspur eradication. [10]

Show made a strong recommendation the side camps be allowed to continue, saying any arguments against them were weak.

First Camps

Among the first camps established in Region 5 was the Buck Meadows Camp, F-82, in the Stanislaus National Forest east of Groveland, CA. The camp was occupied on May 20, 1933, by a 200-man company from the San Francisco Bay area. [11]

Enrollees at the Buck Meadows Camp were initially housed in tents. Later in the summer these were replaced by simple buildings of tar papered siding. By fall, barracks, a mess hall, and a recreation building had been given additional plywood siding and insulation. [12]

Among the important work projects of Camp F-82 were fire suppression, truck trail and bridge building, boundary surveys, and range management. According to former enrollee Clair Nelson, "A whole new area was opened up with completion of the road into Tuolumne River Canyon, and after the Lumsden Bridge was finished." [13] The Lumsden Bridge was built in 1933-34 and is still in use. A large barn was also constructed by enrollees of the Buck Meadows Camp at the ranger station nearby. Nelson further notes:

With LEM's (locally employed men) for teachers and crew chiefs, the boys cleared roadsides, built campgrounds and picnic areas, cut firewood, cleared brush, and planted trees. Building firebreaks was a continuing job that required the efforts of many men. [14]

Relations between the Buck Meadows Camp and local inhabitants were tentative at first due to the urban origins of company personnel. "Although the hill people were somewhat dubious about allowing city types into their circle, recent interviews with local citizens suggest that once the strangeness wore off, city-bred enrollees were accepted and were even, in some cases, popular." [15]

The Buck Meadows Camp remained occupied until the early part of 1941. Currently the only evidence of the camp is a standing chimney and building foundations. A barracks was converted into apartments and is now on private land. [16] Buildings at Pine Crest CCC camp were taken over by a lumber camp.

Work Projects

Statistics for 1942 on Region 5's national forests show CCC concentration on transportation improvements, forest fire protection, recreation, structural improvements, and forest culture. [17] By 1941, transportation improvements included 64,640 miles of truck trails and minor roads and several airplane landing fields. Structural improvements included 1,585 bridges; 405 lookout houses and towers; 30,217 feet of telephone lines; 1,545 springs, water holes, and small reservoirs; fences; and sewage and waste disposal systems. They included more than 8,000 "other" buildings such as administrative and storage facilities. [18]

Looking back on his CCC days, former enrollee Jim Condon recently described his work experiences in the Bouquet Canyon on the Angeles National Forest in southern California. Many of his experiences were typical of the region.

During my months in the Canyon camp, I helped widen vital roads to fire lookout towers, string telephone lines and replace washed out bridges. . . . I thinned trees and built barbecue pits. Some crews constructed check-dams and contoured badly eroded slopes. Others developed wildlife refuges with animal shelters and nesting sites, and stocked the reservoir behind the earth-back Bouquet Canyon Dam with sport fish. [19]

Forestry work included seed collection, tree seeding and planting, nursery jobs, and timber stand improvement. [20] Elimination of tree diseases and problematic insects were necessary measures to protect the forested areas. Ribes bush was grubbed out in northern California to protect sugar pines from blister rust. [21] Between 1933 and 1941, some 80,000 acres of blister-rust infected forest were controlled in California. Ponderosa pines in other parts of the State were treated for infestations of bark beetles. [22]

Preventing and fighting forest fires were major activities in the California forests. Preventive work involved building firebreaks and fire lines, clearing roads and trails, and cutting down snags. The cost of firefighting in California's national forests was to have been reduced by 80 percent during the CCC's first year. [23] The year 1936 was particularly difficult; dry conditions caused the Matilija fire and numerous others. [24] Despite the difficulties, Regional Forester Show said forest fire losses had been reduced by more than one-half. [25]

The largest project undertaken by the CCC in California was the construction of the nearly 800-mile Ponderosa Way firebreak and truck trail. The project, first proposed by the regional forester in 1929, was made possible only by the extra labor provided by the CCC. On July 21, 1933, Show told national forest supervisors in the proposed Ponderosa Way areas about his plan to construct "a real fire line with a truck trail along it down the length of the Sierra and the north Coast Range located near the lower edge of the present timber lands." [26]

After an initial survey in the fall of 1933 by Associate Regional Forester Clarence E. Dunstand and Associate Silviculturist A. Everett Wieslander, CCC crews from State and National forest camps began construction of the firebreak. J.E. Elliott, supervisor of the San Bernardino National Forest, was placed in charge. By May 1934, 440 miles of the predicted 768 miles had been completed. Starting in the north at the Shasta Bear Lookout, the Ponderosa Way eventually ended in the south at the Kern County boundary. [27]

In regard to the CCC's total work on timber conservation, Regional Forester Show indicated that the organization had advanced development in California between 10 and 20 years over its earlier rate of progress. [28] Public opinion in the State was described as very positive toward the CCC and its work. [29] Also mentioned were the intangible benefits being acquired by the enrollees themselves, in the areas of physical, spiritual, and moral development, and responsible citizenship. Safety and training programs were conducted. [30]

Along with the improvements relating to forest culture and protection were those dealing with recreation on the national forests. Particularly significant in Region 5 was work on the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, a hiking trail extending from Canada to Mexico via the Cascade and Sierra Nevada Mountains. Near Arroyo Seco on the Angeles Forest, the CCC improved some 20 trail camps for recreational use. [31] Other hiking trails, such as those on Mount San Jacinto in southern California, are now being improved by members of the "California Conservation Corps, a new CCC established in the 1970's. This new CCC employs young Californians to work and follow in many of the same footsteps as their predecessors." [32]

In addition to building recreation trails, the original CCC was active in building campground and picnic areas to make the national forests more usable by the public. Examples of this work can be found around Lake Tahoe, CA, in the Tahoe National Forest. [33]

In the Angeles National Forest, 10 companies of enrollees contributed to recreational development, the major work of the CCC in that forest. Among the CCC's accomplishments were picnic and campground improvements at the Fish Hatchery Public Camp, Bouquet Canyon, Elizabeth Lake Canyon, the South Fork of Big Rock Creek, Chantry Flats, Charlton Flats, Chilao, and along the San Gabriel River. Improvements included construction of stoves, tables, and wells, as well as ground clearing for picnic and camping units. A scenic overlook and picnic area on Glendora Mountain Road were built as well. [34]

Inventory of Existing Camp Structures

In an effort to document the significance of two original CCC camp structures, a mess hall and a barracks, Mike McIntyre, archaeologist on the Angeles National Forest, has started to inventory all existing structures in Region 5 national forests. To date the inventory includes responses from eight forests in the region. The general impression is there are few structures left, and of those remaining, extensive modifications have been made. It is noted, however, that a greater quantity of camp evidence exists than was predicted by forest culture resource specialists prior to their recent research. In several forests, further research is necessary to document specific sites. [35]

Reference Notes

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

2. John Guthrie and C. H. Tracy. Initial enrollment areas and numbers (map). 1943. Located at: National Archives and Record Service, Washington, DC; Record Group 35-6, 908, no. 787.

3. Ibid.

4. Press release. April 13, 1933: p. 1. Located at: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, Hyde Park, NY; Official File 268, 1.

5. 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.

6. 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, vole. 1, no. 58.

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

8. C. Raymond Clar, California government and forestry-vol. II. (Sacramento: California Department of Conservation, Division of Forestry; 1969) p. 240.

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

10. S.B. Show. Letter to Chief Forester, USDA Forest Service, Washington, DC. August 1, 1933: pp. 1-2. Located at: National Archives and Record Service, Washington, DC; Record Group 95-144, 221.

11. Claire Nelson, "Remembering the CCC: Buck Meadows, California, 1933-34," Journal of Forest History. October 1982; 26(4): pp. 184-191.

12. Nelson, pp. 185-186.

13. Nelson, pp. 189.

14. Nelson, p. 190.

15. Nelson, p. 187.

16. Randy T. Milliken. Message 140, USDA Forest Service conference line from Region 5 Office, San Francisco, to Mike McIntyre, Angeles National Forest. June 21, 1983. Also: Telephone notes taken by Mike McIntyre from Dan Connors, Stanislaus National Forest, regarding Buck Meadows Camp. Supplied to the authors by Mike McIntyre, Angeles National Forest, Pasadena, CA.

17. USDA Forest Service, Statistical tables, April 5, 1933—July 31, 1942. Located at: National Archives and Record Service, Washington, DC; Record Group 35-112.

18. "CCC observes 8th birthday, California Region." 1941: p. 1. Located at: National Archives and Record Service, Washington, DC; Record Group 95-144, 7.

19. Jim Condon, "Growing up in the CCC," Modern Maturity. October 1982; 25: pp. 70-71.

20. Ibid.

21. "Forests protected by the CCC—the silent enemies." 1938: pp. 8-9. Located at: National Archives and Record Service, Washington, DC; Record Group 95-144, 239.

22. See reference note 18.

23. "The CCC and forestry." p. 4. Located at: National Archives and Record Service, Washington, DC; Record Group 95-144, 9.

24. "CCC in emergencies." 1942: p. 2. Located at: National Archives and Record Service, Washington, DC; Record Group 35-6, 908, no. 788.

25. S.B. Show, "The CCC forestry program in California." February 14, 1936: p. 2. Located at: National Archives and Record Service, Washington, DC; Record Group 95-144, 9.

26. Clar, California government and forestry, pp. 252-253.

27. Clar, pp. 255-256.

28. S.B. Show. Memorandum for the press from Federal Security Agency, CCC, Washington, DC. October 26, 1940: p. 3. Located at: National Archives and Record Service, Washington, DC; Record Group 95-144, 5.

29. Ibid. p. 4.

30. Ibid.

31. J.G. Kern, "A few leaves from the campground history book," Trails Magazine. Spring 1936; p. 13.

32. Thomas A. Bass, "A reborn CCC shapes young lives with an old idea," Smithsonian. April 1983; 14(1): pp. 57, 65.

33. William C. Tweed, Recreation site planning and improvements in national forests, 1891-1942 (Washington, DC: USDA Forest Service; 1980) p. 22.

34. John W. Robinson, The San Gabriels (San Marino, CA: Golden West Books; 1977) pp. 140, 194, 205. Also: Kern, "A few leaves," pp. 12-13.

35. Mike McIntyre. Personal communication with the authors that included responses from forest archaeologists that had been collected by McIntyre via telephone on the Forest Service conference line over a period of several months. June 21, 1982. Located at: Pacific Crest Research and Services Corporation, Corvallis, OR.

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Last Updated: 07-Jan-2008