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


The Forest Reserve and the New Forest Service

The advent of the twentieth century, with its new land-use pressures, was felt not only in Sequoia and General Grant national parks, but also in the surrounding Sierra Forest Reserve. Creation of the forest reserves had left most of the southern Sierra open to nearly any use that did not involve either outright large-scale logging or sale of the land to private parties. The GLO did not ignore the reserve altogether, however, and it assigned to the giant area several forest rangers supervised by the GLO office in Fresno. But the sheer scale of the terrain involved, together with the GLO's very limited human resources, determined that attention could go to only a few selected issues.

An example of one of those issues was the GLO's attempt to prevent the patenting of the Empire Mill site in Mineral King Valley. Under the mining laws, which remained in effect on the forest reserves, individuals could claim land where they found mineral deposits and they could also claim other nearby tracts of public land for use as mill sites, where the ores from their mine could be processed. In 1904 the Empire Mine was more than two decades dead, and Arthur Crowley, who had helped to build the mining road into the area in 1879, was using some of the lands in question for a small resort. No ores were being processed but a store, hotel, barn, meat shop, post office, and cabins were all in use. Forest Reserve Supervisor Harrison White contested Crowley's application for a permit for continued occupancy, and the controversy eventually went to court. Ultimately, Crowley received not only a use permit but also a patent, which gave him fee simple title to the land. Protecting government lands in the forest reserve was not an easy proposition. [72]

Actually by the time Arthur Crowley received title to his land in Mineral King Valley a major change had been made in management of the forest reserve. On February 1, 1905, following the suggestion of President Theodore Roosevelt, responsibility for managing all the nation's forest reserves had been transferred from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture; there they were placed under the control of what had previously been called the Bureau of Forestry, but would henceforth be known as the United States Forest Service. The effort to transfer the forest reserves from interior to Agriculture originated with Gifford Pinchot, the first American to be trained in Europe as a "forester," and the head of Agriculture's forestry effort. Starting about 1902, Pinchot, a close friend and advisor of President Roosevelt, began a campaign to transfer the growing system of forest reserves to his bureau. Pinchot sought support for this move primarily by advertising that his agency would be able to carry on a more vigorous and energetic management program than had been effected by Interior's Division of Forestry.

Not that Interior had not been trying, too. In California the biggest continuing problem in the forest reserves was unregulated grazing. In 1900 Interior had issued a first set of "Rules and Regulations Governing the Forest Reserves," which had prohibited the pasturage of sheep on reserves in California and a number of other states. The regulation proved impossible to enforce however, and in June 1903 the superintendent of the Sierra Forest Reserve estimated no less than 34,000 sheep on the reserve. The Sierra Club blamed this inability to enforce the law at least in part on Interior's "venal forest rangers," who were all too often tied to local user groups. In this situation it might be better, the club thought, to transfer responsibility to a new organization. [73]

The law passed on February 1, 1905, not only transferred the reserves to the Department of Agriculture, but also set up a funding system for their management by allowing the Forest Service to retain fees collected from either resource sales or land use. On the same day that President Roosevelt signed the bill, the secretary of agriculture signed a carefully drafted policy memo to "Chief Forester" Gifford Pinchot, outlining the directions the Forest Service should pursue. Actually drafted by Pinchot, this policy charted a clear course based on turn-of-the-century Progressive thought. One sentence summarized it admirably: "All the resources of the forests are for use, under such restrictions only as will insure . . . permanence. . . ." [74]

Creation of the U.S. Forest Service, with its clear guiding philosophy, unencumbered funding, and progressive leadership, did bring new energy to the forest reserves of California, including the Sierra Forest Reserve. During the next few years the agency fought a number of critical battles, and if it lost a few, like its effort to prevent Arthur Crowley from patenting his mill site lands in Mineral King Valley, it won most of the big ones. In California the biggest battle was over sheep grazing in the Sierra. Years later William Greeley, in 1906 supervisor of the southern half of the Sierra Forest Reserve, remembered how the battle was finally won:

"No Trespass" signs in English and Spanish were put up every half mile. In the spring secret lookouts were posted at points commanding the wooly line of march. They were enthusiastic volunteers for this duty from young cow punchers. Soon dust clouds carried the news that sheep were moving up Walker Pass, and headquarters had daily reports on the location of the lead flock. This district ranger ostentatiously left his station with his pack string, for a long trip over the high country.

We waited for days while the sheep grazed along but never across the boundary. Then suddenly they moved in. We held back until the flocks had made a day's drive and a nights bedding within the . . . forest. Then the deputy supervisor rode up with three or four deputized marshals and a Basque interpreter. There were nine thousand sheep in trespass under care of a dozen herders and camp tenders. Through the bedlam of South European expostulations, the deputy made the boss herder pick three men to take care of the sheep. He arrested the others and marshaled them before the United States Commissioner at Bakersfield.

Suspicions of long standing were confirmed when top flight attorneys from San Francisco magically appeared as counsel for the sheepherders. They represented some of the largest land companies in the state. They challenged the power of the Secretary of Agriculture and all his minions to control grazing on public lands of the United States. However, the commissioner bound the Basques over to the Federal court and unwonted peace descended upon the south Sierra ranges. Many months later the Supreme Court received the case of United States vs. Grimaud, Cazaous, and Inda and settled for all time the authority of the Secretary to regulate grazing on national forests. [75]

During the last years of the century's first decade, the remaining shadows of the old Interior forestry organization were swept away. An act approved March 4, 1907, renamed the forest reserves "national forests," and on July 2, 1908, President Roosevelt, through Executive Orders 902 and 904, designated those portions of the Sierra National Forest south of the divide between the Middle and South forks of the Kings River as "Sequoia National Forest." By 1910, Sequoia National Forest was in control of its lands and resources. Tightly organized and adequately funded, the forest brought grazing under permit and even succeeded in regulating existing resort villages in places like Mineral King. By 1910, if one wanted to do something on the national forest, one had to ask permission get a permit, and pay a fee.


Challenge of the Big Trees
©1990, Sequoia Natural History Association
dilsaver-tweed/chap4k.htm — 12-Jul-2004