The Nezperce Story
A History of the Nezperce National Forest


An early resident of Florence, Judge Poe, says: "Evidence of fires was visible in many places and there were other extensive areas in which the trees were dead but did not bear any marks of fire. The most probable theory is that some time a season of unusual severity had killed the tree roots." (More likely "bugs.")

Sister Alfreda in Pioneer Days in Idaho County says: "It is recorded that a sawmill was built in 1863 near Elk City to supply flume lumber."

According to The History of North Idaho:

June 1-2, 1894, were remarkably sultry and on the evening of the second a southwest wind sprang up, ceasing about midnight. The next day at noon another wind started blowing from the same quarter, a hot wind the like of which had never before been known in the experience of the oldest residents of the country or the Indians. Its velocity reached 76 miles per hour and averaged 56 miles per hour for 4 consecutive hours. The Salmon River rose 30 inches in 24 hours. Timber in the mountains was blown down in great quantities.

It is certain that timber was used wherever and whenever needed by the miners and settlers. After the creation of the forest, there may have been some minor restrictions on timber cutting, but the need for timber was not great. Small sawmills sprang up to supply a purely local demand. The total amount of national forest timber used was relatively small until 1944. In 1944 Potlatch Forests, Inc. started cutting on the first major sale, which had been made just the year previous in the Meadow Creek drainage.

The war demands for timber were great and did not diminish much during the years following Sales in the Cove, Fish Creek, Whitebird Ridge, Kessler Creek, Berg Mountain, Clear Creek, Pete King Creek and even in the Elk City area soon followed. During the 1944-56 period over one-half billion feet of timber were cut on the forest.

It is interesting to note that the reports by Leiberg in 1900 and R. E. Benedict in 1904 show, for the approximate area now within the Nezperce, a total of about 6 billion feet of timber without giving white fir much volume.

With all the destruction by fire, insects, and cutting offset by growth over the past 50 to 60 years, the total today is not greatly different.

Leiberg states that the Selway drainage carried the bulk of the timber volume. This may or may not be true now since there have been several disastrous fires, and the entire upper end of the watershed is within the Wilderness Area and not available for commercial cutting.

A preliminary management plan put together in the early fifties showed an allowable annual cut for the forest to be about 125 million board feet. If some means of using the vast stands of defective white fir could be found, the cut could be considerably larger. At the time the pulp mill at Lewiston was being planned, negotiations were carried on with Potlatch people for a huge sale of pulp material. Hope was high that this would help solve the need to remove the less desirable material from the ground. But, when it was found that mill waste would supply the needs of the plant, the deal fell through. In any event, the past 15 years have seen the forest climb up among the top timber producers of the region.

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Last Updated: 11-Nov-2008