Echoes from the Past
HISTORY OF THE WILLAMETTE NATIONAL FOREST
January 25, 2024 | View PDF
Reprinted from McKenzie River Reflections Volume 13, October 12, 2006
Continued From Last Week
In June 1897 the Organic Administration Act of 1897 was passed, which authorized the Secretary of the Interior to “make such rules and regulations” as were necessary to ensure the objectives of such reservations. Acting on this authority, the General Land Office issued some tentative regulations on grazing, permitting pasturing on forest reserves provided that no damage was done to forest growth. However in lack of any scientific evidence about the effect of grazing, no permits were to be given except in Washington and Oregon, where ample rainfall allowed for rapid renewal of herbage; and no pasturage would be permitted in areas of public resort, such as Mt. Hood, the Bull Run area, and Crater Lake. The regulations were issued so late in the year that they were inoperative in 1897.
COVILLE REPORT ON GRAZING
However, scientific investigation was pending. Frederick V. Coville, a botanist working for the Department of Agriculture, conducted a botanical expedition across southeastern Oregon from the Snake River to the Cascade Range. On his return, he delivered an address before the National Geographic Society, which was published in the National Geographic Magazine, in December 1896. In the speech and the article, he called attention to overgrazing on public lands and suggested remedies. Henry Gannett of the U.S. Geological Survey, which was then about to engage in mapping the reserves and collecting data on their resources, asked Coville if he would make an examination of the Cascade Range of Oregon and find out what could be done. This was followed by a formal request from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture and the request was granted. Thus the first crucial step was taken in the formulation of grazing policy on national forest lands.
Coville outfitted at Klamath Falls. His party, consisting, besides Coville, of E.I. Applegate as guide and collaborator and a camp hand with three saddle horses and five pack horses, entered the southern end of the reserve on July 23 and traversed the reserve until they emerged at The Dalles on September 6. They interviewed sheep owners, packers, cattle owners, recreationists, and public officials. Coville issued a preliminary report to the Secretary of the Interior on November 22, 1897, and a final report in February 1898.
Coville’s report was a model of thoroughness and fairness. He described in detail the yearly routine of handling sheep, from the time they were brought in from their summer range in October through their wintering on the owner’s ranch, lambing and shearing season, and the spring/summer trip to the mountains.
He described the duties of herders and packers and varied practices in handling sheep. He collected statistics on the number of sheep grazing on the reserve, their ownership; the character of the grazing lands, and their locations.
This he divided into three districts; the Mt Hood District, from the Columbia River to the northern boundary of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation; the Three Sisters District, from Mt. Jefferson to and including the southern headwaters of the McKenzie River: and the Upper Deschutes District, south to Diamond Lake. Each in turn he subdivided into ranges.
These included in the Willamette National Forest, Mt. Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, Fish Lake, Mt. Washington, McKenzie River, Horse Creek, Three Sisters, Davis Lakes, and Willamette Cow Pastures. He analyzed the forage favored by sheep. Overgrazing in the Cascade Range Reserve, he thought, was limited to a few areas near Mt. Hood and a part of the Three Sisters area, though there were small local areas of overgrazing on bedding grounds near the driveways. He thought that the widely held belief that sheepmen started fires to increase range was at best unproven and at worst exaggerated, and devoted several pages in his report to the causes of fire.
In dealing with the question should sheep be permitted to graze on the Cascade Range Reserve, he analyzed the problem in detail. One problem was the fact that sheep, on their way to their summer range, devoured grass necessary for the stock at ranches along their routes. Coville felt this was a matter to be solved by local regulation and of mutual consent in using established driveways separated by a reasonable distance from ranches. Other difficulties were that sheepmen from Wasco County and Sherman County using the Three Sisters range, drove their sheep through Crook County, devouring forage belonging to stockmen of that county. Coville suggested a toll on sheep crossing county lines.
Coville believed that a new set of regulations would solve most of the problems. These would include closed areas to protect places of public resort by vacationers and sources of reservoir supply. Such areas would include the Bull Run watershed and other blocks near Mt. Hood and the Crater Lake area. Also, huckleberry patches should be preserved. Ranchers and townspeople, following the aboriginal customs of Indians,
were in the habit of taking their families to the mountains and camping out for a few weeks of hunting, fishing, and gathering huckleberries. Huckleberry patches, including several near Mt. Hood, Huckleberry Mountain near Crater Lake, and just south of the Santiam-Prineville Road, should be closed to sheep grazing.
For grazing, a system of permits should be granted. This would allow an owner to graze on a given territory for a certain number of days, with a given number of sheep, such as the area could support without detriment; to give him an exclusive right to graze in that area, but request him to confine himself to the area He would also be asked to keep the area free, so far as possible, from man-caused fires. The permit should be granted for several years, with the privilege of renewal, Coville regarded as satisfactory - and there should be cooperation with the sheep owners in having them help recommend allotment of range, adjudicate disputes, and make recommendations; and finally, there should be a fee for permits to cover costs of administration.
Coville gave as an example the Fish Lake Range in the Three Sisters area. This range Coville is divided into five smaller ranges, known as The Parks, Bald Mountain, Iron Mountain, Browder Ridge, and Blue River.
These ranges would support, without overgrazing, six bands of 2,000 head each, one band on the first four, and two on the last. In 1896 eight bands were grazing (illegally) on the Fish Lake Range. This was a larger number than the range could support, and as a result, the sheep did not come out in good condition and there was general dissatisfaction under the Coville system, the Fish Lake Range would be limited to 12,000; each sheep owner was to be given a subdivision of the range with the exclusive right to grass there. In return, he was to see that no man-caused fire occurred in the area, and if tires did occur, would notify the Department of the Interior.
If fires were set, the individuals responsible could be prosecuted under forest fire laws. Coville’s regulations were put into effect. Various areas were closed to grazing, including Bull Run watershed, and several huckleberry patches, including one near the headwaters of the McKenzie River.
A flare-up of the controversy over grazing occurred in 1899, largely due to a visit by John Muir to the Northwest, but peace on the range developed and persisted. Clashes over range use developed, but these were largely confined to the eastern Oregon reserves, which are beyond the scope of this study. The early development of regulations, plus their capable enforcement on th Middle Cascades area by able men such as Cy Bingham, Smith Bartrum, and Addle Morris, brought about a highly cooperative attitude between the community and the forest administration.