The National Forests of the Northern Region
Living Legacy—

Chapter 9
Challenges of the Postwar Years

At the end of World War II, conservationists were concerned that the global conflict's insatiable demands for wood products had reduced American forests for the next generation. The Forest Service and the American Forestry Association undertook separate appraisals and confirmed that their worst fears were well founded. The Nation's timber holdings had declined about 43 percent in the past generation, and mills were cutting timber one and one-half times as fast as it was being grown. Furthermore, there was a marked deterioration of the quality as well as the quantity of the timber coming to market.

The reports showed that cutting practices on private lands were a major concern. They described 64 percent of private timber harvesting as poor, 28 percent as fair, and only 8 percent as good. The surveys concluded that the United States had ample forest land to supply all the timber that was needed, but better forestry practices and more intensive management would be required to build up the growing stocks to supply the increasing demands in the next generation. [1]

The Third American Forest Congress, which met soon thereafter, devoted most of its attention to increasing timber production. The most obvious place for improvement was in the small holdings and farm forests. In comparison, both the lands managed by major timber companies and the national forests administered by the Forest Service were relatively well managed. Chief Forester Lyle Watts used these findings to push for larger public forests and congressional approval for Federal regulation of cutting practices on private lands. Watts urged the regional foresters to place emphasis on increased forest management, tree planting, and timely harvesting of mature, diseased, and damaged timber within their regions. The word went down to the forest supervisors and district rangers that the goal of the next decade would be for larger timber reserves, more intensive management seeking greater sustained-yield production, and more effective protection of the forests from fire and disease. [2]

The Northern Region and Weyerhaeuser's Potlatch Forests, Inc.

The Northern Region's Percy D. Hanson, Regional Forester since 1944, was in complete accord with Chief Watts' program. Born in New Brunswick, Canada, Hanson moved to the west coast of the United States and obtained a degree in forestry at the University of California, Berkeley. He remained at the university for a year, where he taught in the Forestry School before joining the Forest Service as a ranger in 1926. He worked his way up through the ranks, enjoying good relations with officials in Washington and with fellow foresters in the region. An outdoorsman, Hanson fished, hunted, and explored the mountains, often combining such recreation with an inspection trip. He placed his priorities for the postwar decade on tree planting, fire protection, and the building of access roads into remote parts of the region so that mature and damaged timber could be harvested. [3]

He and his staff maintained regular and important contacts with the leaders of the lumber industry in the Northern Region. In Idaho, the largest and most important timber owners were the Weyerhaeuser family and associates (mentioned earlier in Chapters 3 and 4), who had consolidated their numerous and scattered interests into Potlatch Forests, Inc., with John P. "Phil" Weyerhaeuser as president. Postwar economics made the lumber business in northern Idaho very difficult, even for an industrial giant. One company officer claimed that the combination of rough country, light stands of timber, unfavorable freight rates, and high capital costs (including the building of roads, railroads, flumes, chutes, and camps) made profitable operations precarious. [4]

In spite of all the difficulties, or perhaps because of them, Weyerhaeuser moved to expand and upgrade mills, equipment, and marketing techniques. The key leaders on the scene at Potlatch were Charles L. "Bill" Billings, Fritz Jewett, William P. Davis, and (after 1958) Robert E. Bundy. They enlarged the sawmill at Potlatch, converted to electric power, and automated the operation, increasing the capacity to 350,000 board feet per 8-hour shift. Under Davis, the headquarters for the Idaho operation gravitated to Lewiston, which initially had only a pulp and paper mill, producing its first products in 1950, Davis and his successor enlarged and improved this plant so that its capacity quadrupled in 12 years. They introduced debarkers, riderless carriages, and a machine to peel white pine logs into rolls of veneer. They built a plywood plant at Lewiston in 1958, and thereafter white pine chips produced at the mill at Potlatch went by truck to supply the plant at Lewiston. [5]

Davis, an innovative engineer and restless entrepreneur, never stopped planning for growth and improvement. He had Potlatch acquire mills in California, Washington, and Arkansas, and he increased the company's timberlands nationwide to about 800,000 acres. By 1960, Potlatch had plants in 12 States and catered to markets from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In addition to quality lumber, the company produced milk cartons, package boxes, paper cups and plates, cellophane, rayon, writing paper, newsprint, and various fabricated boards. [6]

Although Potlatch was by far the largest timber owner in northern Idaho, its holdings were intermingled with lands of the Forest Service, the State, and homesteaders—because of the checkerboard system of land surveys and sales designed by Congress in the early 19th century. To protect their forests, Jewett and Davis worked out a cooperative conservation and fire control program with Regional Forester Hanson and with State officials. On occasion, Potlatch bid on and cut timber from national forest lands to supplement that from its own lands. Generally, however, Weyerhaeuser sought to be self-sufficient and operate on a sustained-yield basis that would provide a viable forest for future generations. At the same time, the Forest Service preferred to sell to the small operators who truly depended on the national forests for their resources. [7] In all, Potlatch maintained good relations with the Forest Service, which in turn recognized that Weyerhaeuser was important, not only to its stockholders and employees but to Idaho and to the agency itself. [8]

Regional Forester Hanson was more than a casual observer of the metamorphosis of Potlatch, Idaho—from a company town to a small independent city. In 1950, the directors of Potlatch Forests, Inc., determined that the days of the profitable "company town" were over, they sought to end their involvement. The company owned 267 houses, 2 apartments, 13 business buildings, 1 school, and 2 churches. Residents bought most of the houses, new business people came in and bought the central buildings, and the company deeded the school to the county and the church buildings to their congregations.

The town incorporated in 1953, complete with a city council and mayor. Although Potlatch remained a one-industry town, the new owners improved their homes and property, making Potlatch an attractive little city. The mill continued to operate and to provide employment to hundreds of workers. The decision of the company to divest itself of the town brought fears that this was the first step in closing the entire operation, but that was not the case, The Potlatch mill continued to operate until the 1980's. [9]

Arranging Timber Sales

Arrangements for timber sales from the national forests were a regular part of foresters' activities, especially during the winter and spring months. As a rule, district rangers or forest supervisors handled the details of negotiations and the drafting of contracts, but for some major sales, the regional forester assisted in the arrangements. In the spring of 1951, the Forest Service offered for sale 188.5 million board feet of timber (mostly white pine) at the headwaters of the North Fork of the Clearwater River. This was located in a remote region of the Bitterroot range along the Montana-Idaho border. The purchaser had to build an access road (meeting Forest Service specifications) and dispose of slash and debris. The buyer would have until 1969 to completely remove the specified timber. Hanson pointed out that this was normal procedure—to cut mature and overmature stands before fire, wind, and disease destroyed them. [10]

The Diamond Match Company (the only bidder) successfully offered a bid for this timber by agreeing to the Forest Service specifications. For the first 5 years of the cutting period, the agreed price was $21.10 per thousand board feet for white pine in remote parts of Idaho and $30.30 in Montana. The agreement listed other species at lesser prices. According to Hanson, this sale opened up one of the few remaining undeveloped timber areas in the Northern Region and was part of the long-range development plan of the Forest Service. [11]

Hanson took pride in announcing the increased timber production, which had been made possible by improved management and by following long-range sustained-yield plans. The Forest Service timber receipts increased 36 percent from 1950 to 1952; they grew another 7 percent in 1953. The 1955 cut again broke records. At the same time, the Forest Service was planting new trees as rapidly as funds allowed. [12] Principal concerns of foresters in the Northern Region centered around forest management, including a cutting and replanting schedule, fire prevention, the opening of more of the national forests by building additional access roads, and the careful nurturing of public relations (local and national). Heavy snows and hard winters were recurring seasonal concerns for all personnel.

Felling large Douglas-fir with powersaw. Flathead National Forest. 1952.

Snowshoes, Snow Courses, and Sno-Cats

In the winter of 1950 (an unusually severe year), Hanson directed a special snow study to determine the depth of the year's snow pack and estimate the expected spring streamflow. Two-man crews went by snowshoes and skis to remote forest lookouts and recorded snow depth at strategic points. Henry Viche and Walter S. Peterson were among those who helped develop and service the "snow courses," which until the mid-1950's were accessible only on snowshoes. Peterson remembered one exceptionally hard winter when he and Clyde (Scoop) Scovel worked their way arduously to Strawberry Cabin on the Swan Range of the Flathead National Forest, only to find the cabin under 15 feet of snow. They worked their way into the cabin, spent a wet, cold night, and continued their measurements the next day. One site scheduled for measurement held 30 feet of snow; however, 13 feet was the norm at most sites, where the water content ran from 55 to 64 inches. Later, such expeditions, which required several weeks of wilderness survival under the most difficult conditions, maintained contact by shortwave radio and were resupplied by airplane drops. By the end of the 1950's, the snow courses could be reached by mechanical means or had been phased out. [13]

The first "sno-cats" were introduced in 1951, and Hanson was enthusiastic about their use. These light half-ski, half-tractor vehicles were seen as "friends" of the forester. Hanson predicted that they could eliminate long, wearying snowshoe trips to isolated areas and also serve in rescue work. They could carry four people up to 10 miles per hour, and the enclosed cabs had heaters and radios. However, the sno-cats could also be dangerous. In 1952, William E. Schmidt was cruising in the upper St. Joe valley when his sno-cat sank in soft snow, the cab disappeared from view, and the exhaust was covered by snow. Schmidt was soon overcome by carbon monoxide fumes, and only the quick work of Cecil Sanford, Idaho game and conservation officer, saved his life. For this action, Assistant Forest Supervisor Dave Kyle presented Sanford with the President's Medal, awarded by the National Safety Council. [14]

Visitors From Home and Abroad

In the late summer of 1951, the region hosted a group of 36 foreign foresters from countries as varied as West Germany, Brazil, and Thailand. Escorted by retired Regional Forester Evan Kelley, the group visited Region 1 to study fire control methods and firefighting techniques. They toured national forest installations for 2 weeks and were impressed by the smokejumper exhibitions, bulldozers, two-way radio control, and aerial photography. [15] About 44 junior foresters attended a 5-day session at the Forest Service Remount Depot, which stressed forest management, safety, communication, and opportunities for a career in the Forest Service. [16] Almost every year, Senate or House committees toured the region. Other visitors included Boy and Girl Scout groups and, of course, thousands of tourists. [17]

Fire Prevention and Control

The region's attention was never diverted from the problems of fire prevention and control. In an article published in April 1953, Percy Hanson asked, "How do you suppress 10,000 forest fires?" He responded that it cannot be done by only a few men. Forest fires in the Northern Region were everyone's business; at least half of them were caused by humans (although only a few were deliberately set). The chief causes were smoking, debris burning, campfires out of control, and hunter fires left burning. As fire frequency increased during the postwar period, the Forest Service had to redouble its efforts. [18]

To facilitate the efforts of smokejumpers in a major emergency, Hanson directed the construction of an Aerial Fire Depot at the Missoula Airport. The training center for smokejumpers was set up at Camp Menard, 25 miles west of Missoula. The depot provided a central assembly station that would accommodate about 150 personnel by the spring of 1954 and serve as a "hub" to speed the "get away" time for firefighters. [19] About the same time, the Montana State Forestry Department and the Forest Service cooperated in organizing the Montana Rural Fire Fighters Service. Several thousand made up the volunteer crews that protected the areas between the urban sites and the national forests. They formed a valuable reserve force for fire emergencies. [20]

Hanson took pains to encourage and praise the region's Native Americans as firefighters. The Crow and Cheyenne agencies had selected young men for training as firefighters and made them available in emergencies. Howard Welton, who grew up between 1917 and 1931 at the Deep Creek Ranger Station on the Helena National Forest, where this father, Earl V. Welton, was district ranger, began his work with the Forest Service in 1933 through the auspices of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Welton transferred to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1955 to work as fire control officer on the Northern Cheyenne and Blackfeet Reservations to recruit and organize the Native American fire crews. In that capacity, he worked closely with the Northern Region in fire suppression work. Hanson praised the work of these fire crews and credited them with quick suppression of a fire on the Gallatin National Forest, among others. [21]

Remembering the Mann Gulch fire of 1949, which burned 5,000 acres of forest land and cost the lives of 13 men, foresters never ceased to improve firefighting capabilities and communications in the Northern Region. It was something of a milestone when Hanson could report that in 1954 (which was incidentally a "wet" year) a total of 73 forest fires burned less than 1,000 acres. This was the lowest total acreage burned since the region began keeping records. To both Hanson and fire specialist A.E. Spalding (assistant regional forester), this record could be attributed to the speed of trained personnel in attacking fires, favorable weather, and the cooperation of forest users who were responding to the Smokey Bear campaign. [22]

Red Skies Over Montana

The unique fire experiences of the Northern Region resulted in the production of a dramatic Hollywood movie in the 1950's. New to Forest Service employees was the opportunity to appear in and advise on a motion picture. The feature film, made in 1952, depicted the work and heroism of the forest smokejumpers and starred well-known actor Richard Widmark. Hanson devoted the region's full cooperation on location. Fred L. Stallings, Supervisor of the Clearwater National Forest, served as technical advisor. Released as "Red Skies Over Montana," the movie provided an opportunity for people all over the country to become familiar with the role of the smokejumpers in fighting forest fires in the Northwest. [23]

Just as "Red Skies Over Montana" memorialized the story of firefighting in the region, a more sobering summary of the role of fire is provided by the data in Table 9.1.

Table 9.1 - Region 1 Forest Fire Statistics
(click on table for a PDF version)
*Because of a change in the interregional transfer of Forest Fire funds, this figure does not include the use of regional crews, equipment, and aircraft not paid through Region 1, but does include funds spent by Region 1 in support of other regions and agencies.

Insect and Disease Control

Closely akin to the fire menace was the never-ending battle against insects and disease on valuable forest trees. After inspecting a major infestation of the spruce bark beetle, Hanson observed that, if unchecked, this little red and black beetle, only a little larger than a grain of wheat, might eventually cause greater loss than the landmark 1910 fires. He organized a cooperative attack to treat endangered stands and to speedily log and remove infected timber. Where feasible, the Forest Service used aerial or surface sprays to combat the various insects and parasites that plagued the timber. White pine blister rust, pole blight, western pine beetle, gypsy moth, spruce budworm, tussock moth, and many more varieties that only a trained entomologist could identify were studied and programs mapped out to combat them.

Blister Rust Control

Many foresters, such as Floyd R. Cowles on the Kaniksu National Forest, spent a good part of their professional careers in blister rust control work. During the depression, Civilian Conservation Corps crews and, after the war, contract labor crews consumed an enormous amount of energy and money in the war against blister rust damage. Warren Benedict's History of White Pine Blister Rust Control—A Personal Account, published in 1981, offers an excellent historical and technical overview of blister rust control work. [24] Chapters 7 and 8 contain additional information on earlier and later aspects of blister rust control work in the region.

In brief, postwar blister control work programs derived from a 1948 report by two Forest Service economists, Don Matthews and Blair Hutchison, who advised that blister rust could be controlled, but only under certain eradication guidelines. The host Ribes suppression standards were lowered to 5 feet of live stem per acre. This required more intensive blister rust control work and involved considerably higher costs. Herman Swanson was named assistant regional forester for blister rust control work in the region in 1953. Despite expanded activity, blister rust was an elusive, costly, and difficult disease to subdue. By the end of the 1960's the Northern Region had begun experimenting with antibiotic fungicides and the breeding of rust-resistant strains of pine through genetic manipulation. [25]

For a time, new chemicals seemed to offer the Forest Service a means for controlling some of the more destructive forest diseases and insects. For example, DDT had entered the market in the late 1940's, and the Forest Service used it extensively. Although its use would later be banned, during Hanson's administration no considerable protest arose against its employment. That would come later.

Changing Forest Boundaries and Changing Foresters

In 1954, in an effort to consolidate administrative functions, Chief Richard McArdle announced the abolishment of the Cabinet National Forest following an executive order from President Eisenhower authorizing the action. The forest, a separate unit since 1907, thus ceased to exist and its 2 million acres were distributed among the neighboring Kaniksu, Kootenai, and Lolo National Forests. The same year, Clarence C. Strong, Assistant Regional Forester for State and Private Forestry since 1946, accepted a 2-year appointment under the Federal Point IV program to advise on forestry and range in Afghanistan, with headquarters at Kabul. Hanson regretted Strong's departure, praising him as "one of the most effective and courageous leaders of the Forest Service who would be missed very much." [26]

The next year (1955), Range Conservationist Thomas Lommasson announced his retirement after 35 years in the Forest Service, mostly in Region 1. Recognized as an authority on range management in the Northwest, Lommasson had received a national award in 1952 for "Superior Service." Hanson was sorry to see him retire; he had contributed much to the range industry and had won the respect of ranchers in the region. [27]

Then it was time for Hanson to move on. In November 1956, after 12 years as Regional Forester—the second longest tenure (after Evan Kelley) of anyone in that position in the Northern Region, Hanson transferred to Region 10 headquarters at Juneau. [28] With the retirement and departure of so many key officers, many Forest Service employees felt it was the end of an era.

Charles L. Tebbe

The new regional boss was Charles L. Tebbe, who transferred from the Eastern Region. At 48, Tebbe was at the height of his long and varied career. He was a native of Weed, California, and the son of a lumber company doctor. After earning a B.S. degree in forestry at the University of California, Berkeley, he worked for the Red River Lumber Company and then Caterpillar Tractor. He next managed a tropical forest in the Philippines. He joined the Forest Service in 1935 and soon went to Washington as Assistant Chief of the Division of Information and Education. He worked with Acting Chief Earl Clapp in writing and publishing "New Forest Frontiers" (1941), which sought to popularize public-private cooperation and reasonable public controls. [29]

After serving as liaison officer for the Forest Service and the War Production Board during World War II, Tebbe became the Director of the Rocky Mountain Experiment Station in Missoula. There, he made use of available aircraft to experiment with seeding clouds to induce rain and later to "bomb" forest fires with water and chemicals, under the supervision of Harry Gisborne and Jack Barrows of the experiment station. He was also interested in grazing problems and experimented with the effects of different kinds of vegetation on the weight and habits of cattle. [30]

In 1950, Tebbe returned to Washington as General Integrating Inspector for the Forest Service. [31] As Tebbe explained his new job, the Forest Service had always placed great emphasis on inspections, because of the many tasks the agency performs, the large number of employees in the organization, and their widely scattered distribution. Rangers inspect their district personnel and job performance, the forest supervisors inspect the rangers, and the regional foresters inspect the national forests under their jurisdiction. Every 3 or 4 years, the Chief performs a general integrating inspection of all the regions. [32]

Tebbe returned to the field again in 1952 as the head of Region 7 (Northeast). He had seven national forests in 14 States—large populations, but little commercial timber. These were lands that the Government had purchased (most during the Great Depression) and planted with fast-growing species to produce second growth forests in the region. One of Tebbe's problems involved coal mining in the area, which had turned from shaft mining to strip mining and threatened to destroy the fragile new forests above the coal seams. After much controversy and many appeals, the Secretary of Agriculture, Ezra Taft Benson, upheld the Forest Service position and "in a very real sense saved the Cumberland National Forest." [33]

When Tebbe became Regional Forester of Region 1, he was no stranger to the area, the personnel, or the City of Missoula. In contrast to his previous post, he now had a vast region that stretched from eastern Washington to northern Idaho, Montana, and the Dakotas. It included 16 national forests, 100 ranger districts, and the national grasslands in eastern Montana and the Dakotas. The Regional Office occupied three-quarters of a city block in Missoula, and the employees numbered in the hundreds. Among the assistant regional foresters on the Tebbe team were Axel Lindh (timber management), Ernie de Silvia (fire control), Wally Dresskell (range and wildlife), and Harvey Robe (operations). Tebbe had known these men before, and he felt at home. [34]

Because Tebbe had spent much time in Washington, it was not surprising that many Federal officials visited him in Montana. Chief Lyle Watts and Tebbe had an excellent fishing trip on the South Fork of the Flathead River through the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Secretary of Agriculture Benson spent a month in Region 1, with his headquarters on the Priest River in northern Idaho. Benson was an interested and impressed spectator at a Forest Service aerial spraying operation in the Madison River country. After only two runs by the spraying plane, literally millions of larvae fell from the trees. It was an extremely effective demonstration. [35]

At the request of the Montana congressional delegation, in 1959, Tebbe prepared a pamphlet titled "The Full Use and Development of Montana's Timber Resources." It was presented by Senator James E. Murray on the Senate floor and published as a Senate document. In it, Tebbe pointed out the need for specific types and locations of manufacturing plants to make the best use of existing resources and the need for modern roads to provide the needed access to those resources. The pamphlet represented the best professional and political thinking for developing the potential of Region 1's forest resources during the last third of the 20th century. [36] Today, however, this pamphlet is largely an archival item.

As had most regional foresters, Tebbe had many significant contacts with the loggers of the region. The J. Neils Lumber Company at Libby in northwestern Montana had large private timber holdings, but it also bought timber from the national forests. In negotiating timber contracts, the Neils representative was often contentious, but he and Tebbe remained quite amicable. The Diamond Match Company often haggled over details of contracts, but its officials and foresters usually remained in good humor. Tebbe also took care to resolve complaints from small buyers, such as Jack Buchanan, a stud mill operator who protested that his 2 by 4's were too full of knots. Tebbe allowed him to take somewhat larger trees. [37]

The Big Earthquake

Near midnight on August 17, 1959, a severe earthquake shook southwestern Montana; its effects were felt in eight States and in British Columbia. The quake centered in the Madison River canyon area, just west of the northwestern corner of Yellowstone National Park. Much of the quake area lay in the Gallatin National Forest, and it was summertime, so hundreds of people were camped in the forest and along the river, which afforded excellent fishing. High winds accompanied the quake and literally blew campers and camps away and caused mammoth earth slides and avalanches. These cut off and isolated the area from outside. Many families were buried in the slides.

The force of the quake seized the Hebgen Lake basin like a giant saucer and tilted it to one side, sloshing water around and making people fear that the dam had broken. After the quake, large sections of shoreline on the north side of the lake were under water, and on the opposite side, land was exposed that had been part of the lakebed. Further downstream, just west of Lake Hebgen, a huge slide that dammed the river formed a new body of water. This is called Earthquake Lake. [38]

The Forest Service provided immediate aid and evacuation for those trapped in the area. George Duvendak and W.E. Fry, Supervisors of the Gallatin and Beaverhead National Forests, respectively, organized their personnel to begin rescue operations and reestablish communications. Assistant Regional Forester Harvey Robe was in the earthquake area and at once took charge of the rescue efforts and coordinated the disaster relief. He communicated with Fry, who relayed information to Tebbe at Missoula. Near dawn, Tebbe dispatched a team of smokejumpers under the direction of H.E. Hammond. They parachuted into the area between Beaver Creek and the landslide. This was a skilled team equipped with medical supplies, radios, and emergency rations. They aided the lost and marooned, gave first aid to the injured, and set up headquarters to evacuate people by helicopter. Meanwhile, Robe marshaled the volunteers and available forest service personnel. By the 18th of August, search parties were scouting along the slides, canyons, and mountain slopes looking for survivors and bodies. [39]

The final toll was gruesome. Nine bodies were recovered and 19 more lost (probably buried in the mud slides) and presumed dead. There were about 250 people trapped for a time, many of them seriously injured. North of Hebgen Lake, the town of Ennis (with a population of approximately 600) was evacuated for fear that the Lake dam would break and a wall of water would descend on the town. Most returned to their homes by the 19th.

In all, 104 Forest Service personnel engaged in around-the clock search-and-rescue efforts. Not until August 25th, 8 days after the quake, did the Forest Service dismantle its emergency operation. Led by Tebbe and Robe, the agency demonstrated its effective emergency capabilities through the trained, equipped, professional personnel of the region. Chief Forester Richard E. McArdle praised their efforts at a memorial service a year later at the site of the quake. He also established a special place called the Madison River Canyon Earthquake Area, which has been a popular tourist attraction in more recent years. [40]

During Tebbe's tenure as Regional Forester, Region 1 reported that net receipts for national forest resources had increased from $5.5 million to more than $10 million. Recreation visits jumped from 2 million to 4 million; timber harvests rose from 750 million to more than 1 billion board feet; and 3,000 miles of access roads were added to the National Forest System in the region. [41]

In 1960, while in Washington, D.C., on official business, Tebbe suffered a paralytic stroke and was forced to spend several months in the hospital. When he returned to duty at Missoula, he found that the demands of his position were too great for his diminished strength, so he retired as of March 31, 1961. Popular and respected at all levels, he received gifts and a party from his coworkers. The Montana senators praised his contributions in speeches on the Senate floor. [42]

Boyd L. Rasmussen succeeded Tebbe. He arrived from the Washington Office, where he had served as Deputy Assistant Chief for National Forest Resource Management. Earlier, he had been Assistant Regional Forester in Region 4 (Ogden, Utah). The year of his arrival (1961) was unusually hot and dry. High winds added to the fire danger, and Forest Service personnel were well aware of the powderkeg-like situation. All lookouts were manned, and special crews were placed on the various districts for quick action whenever a fire would break out.

The Sleeping Child Fire

In the southwestern corner of Montana, east of the town of Darby, a remote section of the Bitterroot National Forest presented a special hazard. In the 1920's, pine beetles had attacked a large stand of lodgepole pine and left thousands of acres of mature lodgepole pine standing gaunt and lifeless. High winds during the intervening years and especially a "blowdown" in 1949, which had affected most of the region's forests, had toppled these insect-devastated trees so they lay in confused masses on the forest floor, providing fuel for a great inferno when a spark was added. [43]

On August 4, 1961, a violent thunder-and-lightning storm set off a small fire in this section of the Bitterroot, where access was limited to trails. At first called the "Mine Fire" because of its proximity to a fluorspar mine, it officially became the Sleeping Child fire. Men from the mine and Forest Service fire crews dispatched from the Darby Ranger District station soon recognized that this fire would require a major effort. It spread rapidly and burned a major portion of the headwaters of four drainage areas—Sleeping Child, Rye, Cameron, and Martin Creeks.

On the 5th, the weather center at Kansas City issued a "red flag" alert, forecasting severe turbulence along the Idaho-Montana border. Strong, gusty winds fanned the spot fires and set off a major blowup. At nightfall of the 4th, firefighters reported a burn area of only 300 acres, but by the next evening, the fire encompassed 9,000 acres. Regional Forester Rasmussen, Montana Governor Donald Nutter, and the commandant of the regional U.S. Army post mobilized all available forces to fight the conflagration, which raged out of control for 2 weeks. Most of this time, more than 1,000 individuals were deployed on the fireline, with a peak of 1,721 on August 14. Forest Service officers brought in 41 bulldozers and used 4 helicopters to ferry personnel and supplies into the area and take the injured and exhausted out. They used planes to bombard the fire with retardants and also tankers and pumpers whenever possible. Not until the 14th could the Forest Service report that a line had been established and the fire contained. By then, 28,000 acres of heavily timbered forest had burned, an area 9 by 5 miles. Fortunately, no lives were lost in this emergency. [44]

Salvage operations on the fire site began in the fall of 1961. The lumber companies in the area purchased and cut salvage timber totaling approximately 90 million board feet by the fall of 1964. Forest Service personnel applied tons of grass seed to reseed the area and minimize erosion. The agency also built or had built nearly 200 miles of road into the area, of which about 70 miles were permanent and maintained as part of the national forest transportation system. The Regional Office estimated that it cost more than $11 million to suppress fires in 1961, making it the most expensive fire year in the history of the Forest Service up to that time. The agency also spent about $160,000 for initial watershed restoration. As with previous major fires, the Sleeping Child fire brought new situations and problems, which led to the development of new techniques to better cope with fires in the future. [45]

The National Grasslands

A continuing problem during the tenure of several regional foresters was the administration and disposition of the Federal range and grazing lands. These lay east of the Rocky Mountains in eastern Montana and the Dakotas and, at times, were incorporated into the Custer and the Lewis and Clark National Forests.

Much of this land had been homesteaded late—some as late as the 1910-1920 era. Mild winters, more than average rainfall, and high wheat prices during World War I encouraged settlers to borrow more money to buy more land, purchase more and larger equipment, and plant more wheat. Then, in the 1920's, grasshoppers, dust storms, and the collapse of farm prices wiped them out. The entire operation was a high-stakes gamble, with severe winters and hot and dry summers stacking the odds against the homesteader. One writer called it the "great next year" country, for optimism continued long after reasonable expectations had disappeared. [46]

One of the first professionals to call for Federal intervention in this deadend cycle was Henry L. Lantz, county extension agent at Malta, Montana. For years, he had watched farmers struggle in vain to make a living on 160 acres of land, which was the usual homestead. Lantz advocated Federal aid, diversification of crops, and irrigated fields. He and others organized the Malta Commercial Club in 1925 and sought to do something about the erosion of life and soil. Farmers should develop the best land, provide their crops with water from impounded lakes, and transform the rest into grazing land with better grasses while regulating the number of cattle allowed on each pasture. [47]

During the Great Depression, among the bright young people with ideas who went to Washington to serve in the "New Deal" was Montana State University agriculture professor M.L. Wilson, who became Assistant Secretary of Agriculture under Henry A. Wallace. An advocate of the Domestic Allotment Plan, Wilson called Lantz to Washington to help draft such legislation as the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) and the Resettlement Acts.

As a result, Lantz became the manager of the Milk River Resettlement Project in northeastern Montana. The plan called for the Federal Government to buy the land from the farmers who could not operate on their own and to reseed the land with grass, preferably a strain of Russian crested wheatgrass. Those who wanted to continue farming would be resettled in the Milk River Valley, where an irrigation project was constructed. The irrigated fields would produce alfalfa, soybeans, and other livestock feeds for the winter months. At the same time, Lantz organized grazing districts that would control and regulate the use of the range and improved pastures. This type of program was put into effect over large areas of the West, particularly in eastern Montana and North and South Dakota. [48]

In 1937, the Resettlement Administration transferred this land, called land utilization project land, to the Farm Security Administration. By this time, the land was showing evidence of becoming stabilized and producing grass and cattle, not wheat for the public. In 1941, these lands were transferred again to the Soil Conservation Service, where they helped produce meat and other foodstuffs during World War II. [49]

The Forest Service acquired these lands by executive transfer in 1954, when Glen Mueller was manager of the land utilization project at Malta and Bernie Alt was his assistant. Headquarters for other land utilization projects in Region 1 were at Miles City, Lewiston, and Dickinson, North Dakota, and at Lemmon, South Dakota. Doc Dyson managed the project at Lemmon and had been there since its inception. In all, there were more than 4 million acres of land utilization project lands, which now are recognized as some of the best grazing lands in the arid West. [50]

The Montana land utilization acreage was transferred in 1958 to the Bureau of Land Management (Department of the Interior) despite the protests of the Forest Service, especially Johnny Forsman, Supervisor of the Custer National Forest, who termed the move "a tragic mistake." The rest remained with the Forest Service, which in 1961 renamed them the national grasslands. Alt was one of the Forest Service people who had followed these lands through their various homes. A graduate of the University of Montana Forestry School (1951), he had been close to the land utilization question during his early years and became ranger in charge of the project at Medora, North Dakota, in 1961. There, he found the land in excellent condition, with the farmers planting more fairway crested wheatgrass, which made better hay—and the cattle preferred it. He had some difficulty with the Forest Service administrators in Missoula; they were not familiar with the evolution of these lands and the function of the grazing associations. For example, they were confused that he had only two permits to graze in the entire district (these were the two grazing associations). [51]

In 1970, Region 1 had responsibility for the Little Missouri National Grasslands (headquarters at Medora and Watford City), the Cedar River and Grand River National Grasslands (headquarters at Lemmon), and the small Sheyenne National Grasslands (headquarters at Lisbon, North Dakota, near the Red River). All were administered by the Custer National Forest. [52] The cooperative relations between the Forest Service and the grazing associations that use the national grasslands are discussed in Chapter 14.

Lolo Pass, boundary between the Clearwater National forest and the Lolo National Forest. 1926.

Public Lands Access Association, Inc.

A major problem for the citizens of Montana and the Forest Service in Region 1 during the postwar era related to maintaining or regaining public access to remote areas of the public lands surrounded by privately held lands. Many of these areas were east of the Continental Divide, where there was little commercial timber. Public lands included those administered by the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the State of Montana. Of the approximately 23 million acres of public lands lying east of the Continental Divide, the general public had lost legal access to about 13 million acres, not including lands designated as wilderness or national parks. Private landowners who held adjoining properties had fenced, posted, and closed down old unimproved roads and trails leading to large acreages of backcountry lands of the public domain. [53]

To cope with this ongoing problem, individual foresters, led by Gene Hawkes, organized the Public Lands Access Association, Inc. (PLAAI), a legal, nonprofit corporation. Its purpose was to inform the public about the deteriorating access situation and to take a lead in regaining the right of public access to all the public lands within the State. [54]

As more people moved into Montana, both permanently and part time, and purchased ranch or recreation property, the problem became more severe. PLAAI drafted a series of recommendations as successive steps to regain the public's right to use these remote lands. The first step would be a request for the donation of access routes by the private landowner. Owners, however, were unlikely to comply inasmuch as they enjoyed exclusive use of their own and isolated public lands. A second step would be a purchase of a right-of-way. If this should fail, the public agency could propose a land exchange to acquire the needed access route. If all else failed, another step would be the use of eminent domain by the Government to acquire the necessary land for roads and trails. PLAAI also urged local citizens to research the county records and petition the county government to reestablish control of previously designated county roads and to take legal steps to enforce the public's right to use such routes.

Although PLAAI has been instrumental in reopening many roads and in regaining access to some lands, the problem continues to agitate the large number of people who would like to use the public lands for recreation, camping, hiking, or sport. [55] The local concerns about public access to public lands soon became eclipsed by the environmental movement, which affected all the regions of the Forest Service.

The Beginning of the Environmental Movement in Region 1

Neal M. Rahm, who had come up through the ranks, replaced Rasmussen as Regional Forester at the end of 1963. A native of California, he studied at the University of California, Berkeley, receiving a degree in forestry in 1937. He entered the Forest Service the same year and served successively as a district ranger, Assistant Regional Forester (Region 2), and as Associate Deputy Chief. While serving in the Washington Office of the agency, he developed policies for forest resource management under the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960.

At Missoula, Rahm was an active and concerned citizen serving on the Board of Visitors of the University of Montana's School of Forestry and various civic organizations. As Regional Forester, he looked forward to managing the national forests and grasslands according to Forest Service regulations and as directed by the Chief Forester. At the same time, he expected to enjoy his tenure by interspersing work with hunting and fishing trips, as had his predecessors. Times were changing, however, and he would find the direction of the region much more frustrating than satisfying. [56]

Rahm's appointment coincided with the eruption of the environmental and ecology crusade in all parts of the United States. The publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962) set off a wave of protests against the indiscriminate spraying of pesticides, the management of the national forests primarily for timber production, and the disturbance of wildlife by certain standard forestry practices—especially clearcutting and replanting to an even-age single-type forest. The environmentalists charged that the large-scale spraying of damaged nontarget plants and animals and its effects contributed to the ills of the people in nearby towns or hamlets. Where Agriculture Secretary Benson had been impressed with the effective use of DDT against the larvae of the spruce budworm, new ecologists protested against aerial spraying and demanded that the Government ban the use of DDT and similar pesticides entirely. This disenchantment coincided with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The protests took the form of a back-to-nature movement—stressing natural forests, the protection of wildlife, and increased wilderness areas.

To some, the goals of the Forest Service seemed to conflict with those of the new environmentalists. In 1964, Congress passed a National Wilderness Act, which provided for the establishment and designation of a limited amount of true wilderness. Following the doctrines of Aldo Leopold and Bob Marshall, the established wilderness areas should be spacious and quite separate from the main portion of national forest land that would be managed under the multiple-use principle. Environmentalists soon found that they could use the Wilderness Act to push for remote regions to be redefined as new wilderness. The Forest Service feared that such an approach would destroy effective management programs and create a number of snippets of land designated as wilderness that were not actually wilderness.

Environmental advocates pressured Congress on single issues. Congressmen found it easier to submit to vocal groups than to set policy standards. Environmentalists discovered that they could bring suit in Federal courts on specific pleas that, on the surface and by themselves, seemed reasonable. In Region 1, the celebrated conflict between environmentalists and the Forest Service began with the Scapegoat-Lincoln Back Country Area. [57]

The Scapegoat-Lincoln Back Country Controversy

Lying in the northern part of the Helena National Forest, approximately 75,000 acres of rough, lightly forested mountain land was an ideal hunting and fishing hideaway for local and regional sportsmen. This area lay south of the million-acre Bob Marshall Wilderness and was separated from it by the Scapegoat Mountains. In 1957, the State of Montana had completed a paved road from Missoula (Route 20) by way of Ovando and Lincoln to Great Falls. This brought traffic, new business, and a sawmill to the little town of Lincoln, which was the "jumping-off place" for backcountry sportsmen and outfitters leading groups into the Bob Marshall. Regional Forester Rasmussen proposed that the Forest Service build a road into the backcountry (there was already a dirt trail along the route), which would improve its recreational potential, assist fire protection and control, and incidentally open up stands of spruce and larch for harvesting. He did not anticipate the local reaction. [58]

In Lincoln, still in many respects a frontier town, many local residents viewed with distrust the "progress" brought by the new highway and certainly opposed any opening up of the backcountry that would destroy the secluded and idyllic characteristics of the area. Led by Cecil Garland, a hardware and sporting goods store owner, a group of citizens formed the Lincoln Backcountry Protective Association to oppose any and all Forest Service plans to further disturb the primitive nature of the forest. Joining him was Tom Edwards, a former teacher, who was an outfitter for wilderness expeditions. Both Garland and Edwards proved to be eloquent spokespersons for the association. They frequently spoke of the "hush of the land" that would be "crushed forever" if the Forest Service plans were carried out. [59]

In the spring of 1963, Rasmussen decided to run a limited survey for a "flag line" road into the backcountry. He sent an engineer and equipment, including a bulldozer, to Lincoln to begin as soon as weather permitted. In response, Garland called his Representative, James Battin, and begged him to intervene and at least delay the start of the road building. Battin called Rasmussen and, according to a reliable account, asked for a 10-day delay so he could send an aide to assess the problem and report back to him. Rasmussen, short of temper, replied that he did not have 10 days. The engineer and bulldozer were in place and costing money every day they were idle. Battin reportedly swore that he "had better have 10 days." [60]

The supervisor of the Helena National Forest held a series of public meetings, which were jammed by opponents of the Forest Service plan to open up the Scapegoat area. Garland by this time had enlisted the support of Senator Lee Metcalf, an old friend of former Regional Forester Tebbe, who asked for a delay of several months. This was the situation inherited by Neal Rahm when he succeeded Rasmussen. [61]

About the same time (late 1963), Robert Morgan became Supervisor of the Helena National Forest. A graduate of the University of Montana Forestry School, Morgan had risen in the Forest Service from smokejumper to ranger and through various staff positions. He soon advised Rahm that there was little or no local support for developing the Scapegoat area; to push it through at this time would be at a large cost in public goodwill. He suggested that the Forest Service delay until the need for development became generally apparent. Although Morgan had initially supported the Forest Service plan and his boss, he gradually became more sympathetic to the arguments of the environmentalists and eventually supported their views. Much later, after the controversy ended, Morgan accepted an award from an environmental group [62]

While the Regional Office wanted to get on with the plan as drafted, the association secured further delays and drew valuable allies, such as the Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club, and the Montana Fish and Game Department. In 1965, Montana congressmen introduced bills that would set aside as wilderness portions of the backcountry ranging from 75,000 acres to more than 200,000 acres. At public hearings on the proposed legislation, the Forest Service took a beating; most speakers attacked at least one aspect of the plan. Both Senators Mansfield and Metcalf and Representative Battin supported a wilderness bill, and Garland was a frequent visitor to their Washington offices. Rahm became increasingly frustrated as every revised and modified proposal was rejected. He exclaimed:

We have lost control and leadership in the sphere of wilderness philosophy. Why? The Forest Service originated the concept back in the 1920's and, practically, has been standing still since about 1937....Why should a sporting goods dealer in Lincoln, Montana, designate the boundaries of the Lincoln Back Country addition to the Bob Marshall Wilderness?...If lines are to be drawn, we should be drawing them. [63]

The Lincoln-Scapegoat bills encountered various procedural delays, but by 1972, Congress finally created a separate Scapegoat Wilderness that included more than 200,000 acres. The all weather access road was never built, and the mature spruce and lodgepole pine were never harvested. The enlarged area came from the Lolo, Lewis and Clark, and Helena National Forests.

Rahm, who had served 34 years in the Forest Service, advancing through the grades to become Regional Forester, chose to retire in 1971 at the age of 62. He was respected and well liked by his associates, and the region would miss his counsel and leadership during the difficult years ahead. [64]

The Lincoln-Scapegoat controversy was in part evidence of the changing uses of the forest resources of the Northern Region. Wilderness, recreation, and environmentalism began to rival fire management, timber production, and grazing as major concerns of the Northern Region.

Reference Notes

1. Thomas R. Cox, Robert S. Maxwell, Phillip Drennon Thomas, and Joseph J. Malone, This Well-Wooded Land: Americans and Their Forests From Colonial Times to the Present (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985), p. 238; Highlights of Conservation (Washington, D.C.: USDA Forest Service, 1976), p. 34.

2. Cox et al., This Well-Wooded Land, pp. 238-39; Highlights, pp. 34-35. See the Anderson-Mansfield Act (1949), which provided funds for more rapid reforestation and revegetation of national forest lands.

3. Press Releases, Region 1 Regional Office, Missoula, 1950-1956, and see especially, August 28, 1956.

4. Ralph W. Hidy, Frank Ernest Hill, Allan Nevins, Timber and Men: The Weyerhaeeuer Story (New York: MacMillan Press, 1963), pp. 520-521.

5. Ibid., p. 577; Robert R. Milodragovich, Chairman, Retirees History Advisory Committee, to Henry C. Dethloff, July 24, 1989, Intaglio Collection, University of Montana Archives, Missoula, MT.

6. Ibid., p. 527; Cox et al., This Well-Wooded Land, pp. 257-258.

7. Hidy et al., Timber and Men; Cox et al., This Well-Wooded Land, pp. 257-258. In all, Potlatch maintained good relations with the Forest Service, which in turn recognized that Weyerhaeuser was important, not only to its stockholders and employees but to Idaho and to the agency itself.

8. Hidy et al., Timber and Men, pp. 530-534.

9. Keith C. Peterson, Company Town: Potlatch, Idaho and the Potlatch Lumber Company (Pullman: Washington State University Press, 1987), pp. 199-207.

10. Press release, Region 1, May 24, 1951.

11. Press release, Region 1, August 27, 1951.

12. Press releases, Region 1, May 3 and May 29, 1952 (and see following months).

13. Press releases, Region 1, May 5, 1950, April 21, 1952, and April 23, 1954.

14. Press release, Region 1, January 9, 1953.

15. Press release, Region 1, September 18, 1953.

16. Press release, Region 1, January 21, 1953.

17. Press releases, Region 1, September 9, 1953, September 15, 1953, and October 20, 1953.

18. Press release, Region 1, April 27, 1953.

19. Press releases, Region 1, July 2, 1952, and April 28, 1953.

20. Press release, Region 1, April 23, 1952.

21. Press release, Region 1, August 1, 1953; Memorandum, Howard Welton to Henry C. Dethloff, February 22, 1989, Intaglio Collection, University of Montana Archives.

22. Press release, Region 1, August 1, 1953.

23. Press releases, Region 1, August 29, 1952, September 10, 1952, and January 29, 1953; Memorandum, Floyd R. Cowles to Henry C. Dethloff, October 14, 1988, Intaglio Collection, University of Montana Archives; Daily Missoulian (January 15, 1952); Robert S. Maxwell interview with smokejumper Thomas McGrath, March 21, 1989.

24. Warren V. Benedict, History of White Pine Blister Rust Control" A Personal Account, FS-355 (Washington, D.C.: USDA Forest Service, March 1981), pp. 1-47; Milodragovich to Dethloff, July 24, 1989.

25. Ibid.

26. Ibid.; Richard C. Davis, ed., Encyclopedia of American Forest and Conservation History, two vols. (New York: Macmillan Company, 1983), Vol. 2, p. 749; Press release, Region 1, August 10, 1954.

27. Press release, Region 1, August 18, 1954.

28. Daily Missoulian (November 22, 1956).

29. "Tebbe," unpublished autobiography of Charles L. Tebbe, 1980, historical files, Regional Office, Missoula, MT.

30. Ibid., pp. 49-65.

31. Ibid., pp. 68-69.

32. Ibid., pp. 69-70.

33. Ibid., pp. 75-77.

34. Ibid., pp. 80-81.

35. Ibid., p. 85.

36. Ibid., pp. 87-89; Letter, James E. Murra, Mike Mansfield, Lee Metcalf, and LeRoy Anderson to Charles Tebbe, July 31, 1958; Letter, Tebbe to Murray, Mansfield, Metcalf, and Anderson, December 31, 1958; Letter, Tebbe to Metcalf, January 22, 1959, copy in Intaglio Collection, University of Montana Archives.

37. "Tebbe," pp. 89-90.

38. Roger M. Peterson, "Madison River Canyon Earthquake Area, August 17, 1959," January 1988, Region 1 Information Office, Missoula, MT, p. 276.

39. Ibid., p. 4.; Letter, Harvey O. Robe, Las Vegas, NV, to Henry C. Dethloff, June 11, 1988, in Intaglio Papers, University of Montana Archives.

40. Ibid., pp. 6-7; Bozeman Daily Chronicle (August 18, 1959); Salt Lake City Desert News, Special Earthquake Edition (September 1959).

41. Press release, Region 1, March 1, 1961.

42. "Tebbe," pp. 93-96; Congressional Record, Senate (March 29, 1961), p. 4881, (February 9, 1960), p. 2100. Although Tebbe retired for disability, he recovered and lived a long life, dying in 1984 at the age of 76. See press release, Region 1, August 18, 1984.

43. "Sleeping Child Fire History," historical files, Region 1, Missoula, copies in Intaglio Papers, University of Montana Archives.

44. Ibid.

45. "Sleeping Child Fire Fact Sheet," September 1971; "Management History, Sleeping Child Fire Area," Regional Office, Missoula, MT; "Bitterroot National Forest, August 4, 1961, Administrative Fire Analysis of Mine (Sleeping Child) Fire," in historical files, Region 1, Missoula, MT.

46. Letter, Bernard W. Alt to Henry C. Dethloff, March 21, 1988, Intaglio Papers, University of Montana Archives.

47. "Evolution of the National Grasslands," n.p., historical files, Region 1, copy in Intaglio Papers, University of Montana Archives.

48. Ibid.

49. Ibid.

50. Bernard Alt to Dethloff, March 21, 1988.

51. Ibid.; "Evolution of the National Grasslands."

52. Wilson F. Clark, "A General History of the Custer National Forest," Billings, MT, 1982; Forest Service Northern Region Recreation Guide (1985), n.p., in Intaglio Papers, University of Montana Archives.

53. Neal M. Rahm, biographical (1964), historical files, Region 1; press release, Region 1, March 2, 1971.

54. Cox et al., This Well-Wooded Land, pp. 247-253; Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982), pp. 220-226.

55. Dennis Roth, The Wilderness Movement and the National Forests (College Station, TX: Intaglio Press, 1988), pp. 29-36.

56. Ibid.

57. Ibid.

58. Ibid.

59. Ibid.

60. Ibid., p. 35. Rahm's talk was made on March 13, 1969.

61. Ibid., pp. 31-35; press release, Region 1 March 2, 1971.

62. Ibid., pp. 33-34.

63. Ibid., p. 35.

64. Ibid., p. 35; interview, Henry C. Dethloff with Bob Morgan, Bitterroot National Forest, August 18, 1988.

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Last Updated: 10-Sep-2008