June 14, 2005

The Forest Service - I

Earlier this month there was a little celebration of the 100th anniversary of the US Forest Service up in Westcliffe, the county seat. A little history: Westcliffe once had its own district ranger station as part of the San Isabel National Forest. Then during the consolidation of the 1960s, the office was moved to Cañon City. Consequently, FS staffers put in a lot of "windshield time" actually getting to the national forest. Finally, in the 1990s, an office was reopened in Westcliffe. with one staffer.

This one staffer was supposed to present two movies the Sunday before last and discuss some historic equipment--pack saddles, and like. I did not go; I grew up with all that. Being a Forest Service brat means that not until my twenties could I disentangle the agency itself from personal stuff. After all, if Dad was a district ranger, and Dad, to my kid's eyes, could do anything, then everyone else in the agency must be as cool as he was to the 8-year-old me.

One thing that the Forest Service cannot seem to do well is preserve institutional memory. Back in 1948, the author of the FS official publication, Black Hills National Forest 50th Anniversary wrote of pre-1905 records, "The fact remains, however, that all these records have disappeared--been destroyed, perhaps. They would have included information about the first Supervisor, H.G. Hamaker, whom [Gifford] Pinchot dealt with not too kindly; and Seth Bullock, second Supervisor, appointed by his friend Theodore Roosevelt."

Yes, how many people watching HBO's Deadwood realize that Timothy Olyphant's Seth Bullock becomes a national forest supervisor, with a lookout tower named after him?

That booklet was published in 1948; you can see that they are not even sure when to start counting from.

1891-Congress gives the president power to establish forest reserves

1897-Grover Cleveland signs law creating Black Hills Forest Reserve, and administration begins the next year, hence "50th anniversary".

1899-"Case No. 1," the first managed federal timber sale, made to the Homestake Mining Co. from the Black Hills forest.

1905-reserves transferred from Dept. of the Interior to Agriculture; Bureau of Forestry renamed Forest Service. ("We're tree farmers," Dad would say.) That date gives the current centennial.

More to come


Audrey said...

Do you have or know of photos of H. G. Hamaker?

Chas S. Clifton said...

No, I do not. The FS has terrible institutional memory. Non-FS sources might be better -- local museums, Library of Congress, etc.