Challenge of the Big Trees
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Chapter Four:
Parks and Forests: Protection Begins

BY THE LATE 1880S local groups began to compete for resources. Increasingly, the actions of loggers and stockmen in the mountains threatened the activities of farmers and city residents in the valley. From these controversies would emerge a new set of rules governing the use of the Sierra and new controlling groups. Significantly, resolution of these issues would fall to the federal government, which would itself undergo revolutionary changes in its land management policies during the period.

As the agricultural communities of the southern San Joaquin Valley grew in the 1870s and 1880s, their attitudes toward the mountains began to diverge from those of the men who were actually living in and exploiting the highlands. Initially during the pioneer era, the grazing, mining, and lumbering enterprises in the mountains to the east only served to increase economic activity in towns like Porterville and Visalia. Eventually, however, valley towns developed stronger economic bases, founded largely on the spread of irrigation farming, and residents of the valley began to discover reasons to oppose limitless resource consumption in "their" mountains. Opposition centered on two issues—the impacts of grazing and lumbering on stream runoff, and the effects of these activities on mountain recreation and scenery.

From the beginning both concerns were inextricably linked. In the days before large reservoirs were constructed on the rivers of the Sierra, irrigation farming depended completely on natural stream flow. As logging, sheep grazing, and wide-ranging fires often set by sheepmen changed the nature of Sierran vegetation, so too were seasonal stream flow patterns changed. Generally, to the settlers of the time, it seemed like less water came from the mountains, especially during the dry season. [1] Changes in seasonal stream flows made little difference to mountain loggers and sheepmen, but they could be critical downstream, where survival of a field crop in August could make or break a farmer. Significantly, too, as the number of valley residents traveling to the mountains for pleasure increased, so did their concern over the state of the mountains. The intense heat of July and August in the San Joaquin sent many families to the high country seeking relief. There, all too often, they discovered their favorite camping areas logged, or their favorite meadow areas denuded so thoroughly by sheep that a horse party could find no feed for its stock.


Challenge of the Big Trees
©1990, Sequoia Natural History Association
dilsaver-tweed/chap4.htm — 12-Jul-2004