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


The Sierra Forest Reserve

With the lands of Sequoia and General Grant national parks permanently withdrawn from sale and under the summer protection of the U.S. Army, George Stewart and his valley supporters resumed their efforts to protect the remainder of the southern Sierra. Owing to a move by Interior Secretary Noble, a new tactic for forest preservation was now available. On March 3, 1891, President Harrison signed a bill that contained, among many other things, a provision which allowed the president to create forest reserves for conservation purposes. The clause had been added to the bill at the suggestion of Secretary Noble during a late-night conference session as Congress prepared to adjourn. When the two houses endorsed the conference bill, primarily an act to repeal the old timber-culture laws, few members of Congress apparently noted the reservation clause. Noble's addition gave the president the right to decree the permanent withdrawal of selected public lands from sale so that they might be preserved, as forests, in public ownership, a radical change in federal land policy. [46] President Harrison quickly exercised his new authority, when he created the first forest reserve in Wyoming less than a month after he signed the Act.

Meanwhile, Stewart was enjoying more political help than he had received during the 1890 campaign. His new allies included Robert Underwood Johnson, editor of Century Magazine, and John Muir. Muir's particular focus was Kings Canyon, the eight-mile-long glacially carved valley along the South Fork of the Kings River between Bubbs Creek and Lewis Creek. As early as April 1890, when the effort to create Yosemite National Park was just beginning, Muir had promised Johnson that he would write an article for Century publicizing Kings Canyon. Muir hoped that fall to visit the canyon, which he had last seen in 1877, but a family illness prevented the journey. The following spring, Muir returned to the project. On May 18, 1891, Muir mailed Johnson a map showing his proposal for an enlarged Sequoia National Park, which included not only Kings Canyon and the Sierra crest peaks immediately to the east, but also Mt. Whitney, and all the sequoia groves from the Kings River south through the Tule River country. [47]

On May 28, Muir finally departed San Francisco for Kings Canyon, taking with him artist Charles Robinson. On May 31 they arrived in the canyon, where they spent a wet, cold week while Muir renewed his impressions of the place for his article and Robinson sketched illustrations for the article. Muir spent much of the summer trying to provide Johnson with a concise Kings Canyon article of 8,000 words. Published in November 1891 as "A Rival of the Yosemite," the Century article, which described the region's features in detail, included Muir's map of his proposed additions to Sequoia National Park and recommended Congressional action to preserve the region. [48]

Johnson maintained excellent connections with government officials, and within a few weeks of publication of Muir's Kings Canyon article, Interior Secretary Noble himself promised Johnson that he would discuss the matter with President Harrison. [49] Actually, responding to local interest, the General Land Office had already initiated a study of the forest reserve potential of the region. In October 1891 the GLO assigned Special Agent B. E Allen to the project. Allen began work immediately, and continued his field efforts during the summer of 1892. As 1893 began, and the end of Harrison's term approached, Allen received orders to speed up preparation of his proposal so that the lame duck president could sign the decree before his successor entered the White House. Allen completed work on the draft proclamation on February 10, and Harrison signed it four days later. The day before the Sierra Forest Reserve was formally proclaimed, Secretary Noble wrote Johnson, telling him that the new reservation would contain over four million acres and protect all the areas Muir had mentioned in the Century article. [50]

Harrison's proclamation of February 14, 1893, permanently withdrew almost the entire central and southern Sierra from sale to private parties. The move was generally supported in the San Joaquin Valley, with only sheep and mining interests openly opposed. Again, as had been the case three years earlier, the farmers of the San Joaquin, pursuing protection of their water supply, together with a small number of individuals who prized the natural beauty of the area, had turned to the federal government. Creation of the Sierra Forest Reserve brought a final end to the region's pioneer era. Although a number of years would pass before the newly reserved lands were brought under actual management, cessation of federal sale of Sierran timber lands marked a profound change of direction in federal land management in the region.

At the time, most people perceived little difference between creation of the Sierran national parks by Congress in 1890, and the proclamation of the Sierra Forest Reserve in 1893. Special Agent Allen in his final report referred to the proposed forest reserve as a great national park." [51] In many ways this perception made considerable sense. After all, the law of October 1, 1890, that set aside more than 70 percent of Sequoia Park, simply decreed that the lands "be set apart as reserved forest lands." There were significant differences that Allen underestimated, however. The most critical of these was that while the 1890 acts of Congress specifically instructed the secretary of the interior to protect the natural features of the new parks, the 1893 presidential proclamation only required cessation of land sales. As a result, the relatively small portion of the Sierra designated as "national park" continued to receive military protection while the immensely larger Sierra Forest Reserve found itself under the very weak control of a tiny handful of civilian GLO agents. Under this regime, for the remainder of the decade the forest reserve continued to suffer abuse from loggers, miners, and stockmen.


Challenge of the Big Trees
©1990, Sequoia Natural History Association
dilsaver-tweed/chap4f.htm — 12-Jul-2004