Early Days in the Forest Service
Volume 2

January 1955

By G. I. Porter
(Retired 1942)

Naturally, one who lived in this Northwest prior to the establishment of any of the forest reserves, and took some part in the early activities of the Bureau of Forestry, from the outside, and the Forest Service from the inside, is certain to have had some experiences and observed events which remain in his memory — some pleasurable and some painful, and some unsuited to publication.

As a prospector and miner in the territory now covered by the Nezperce National Forest, I, together with others of my ilk, was resentful of the restrictions imposed upon us by the regulations of the new Bureau of Forestry. We had been accustomed to locating any character of land under our interpretation of the mining laws, cutting timber at will, without reference to the good of the forest, or viewing without alarm the frequent fires destroying timber, watershed cover and range.

Our intolerance (as I did not see it then in the nineties) was not mitigated by the character of administration of the lands withdrawn. Some — not all, be it noted, — of the higher officials were totally unacquainted with the land and the inhabitants thereof, and some of the local officials were more interested in padding their expense accounts than in the proper performance of their duties.

The records of those early days are full of instances of arbitrary actions on the part of such officials. Further, some of the minor employees detailed for local administrative duties were politically appointed, without reference to fitness or knowledge of the land or the people.

To instance one such event: In 1900 a company which had been operating for several years, had been accustomed to cutting timber for buildings, flumes, etc., without restriction. All lumber used prior to 1900 had been obtained from timber cut before 1891 and therefore was not cut in trespass. By 1900 the flumes were damaged, and it became necessary to cut 100,000 feet b.m. of lumber. Application was made through the local supervisor for this lumber. The mine manager accompanied the supervisor in a casual preliminary inspection of the area from which other timber had been cut, and the official submitted the application with his recommendation. I still wonder what his recommendation recommended, since the application was denied in Washington, the reason given: the stumpage value would not cover the cost of surveying and administering the sale. The mining company went out of business, thus depriving the community of benefits accruing from employment of a number of men. "I vas dere, Sharlie." I was the manager.

This long-winded dissertation may be indicative of the attitude of the "old timer" toward the early trials of the forest officers, which attitude, in time, and through the efforts of the Forest Service, was changed - first, to tolerance, and then to intelligent acceptance and cooperation.

I trust that my belief that I may have had some small influence in that change of attitude is not entirely unfounded. I entered the Service on May 1, 1901, under John Barton, Supervisor, who was immediately replaced by Major Fenn, and for 35 years I was happily associated with the finest lot of fellows one could possibly meet, the finest, I believe, in any of the Government services.

Abandoned silver mining town of Castle, Montana. Deserted after silver depreciation of 1893. Lewis & Clark National Forest. 1927.

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Last Updated: 15-Oct-2010