Recent discussion on this blog has regarded the restrictions governing recent and proposed changes in planning for our National Forests. Some concern has been raised that current regulations have veered far from the intended path of the original founders of the National Forest System. The “Organic Act of 1897,” for example (30 Stat. 34-36; codified U.S.C. vol. 16, sec. 551), stated that the purpose of the forest reserves was for “watershed protection and timber production.” The Act further states (note: the following quotes, bold texts, and legal citations are mostly courtesy of the “Family Guardian” website):
“…but it is not the purpose or intent of these provisions of the Act Providing for Such Reservations to authorize the inclusion therein, of lands more valuable for the mineral contained therein and for agricultural purposes, than for Forest Reserve purposes…”
Settlers were allowed to cut firewood, fencing and building material, and mining and prospecting were specifically authorized within forest reserve boundaries, but grazing was not mentioned. Statutes at Large, vol. 30, p. 36; U.S.C. vol. 16, sec. 478 provided that nothing in the act would “prohibit any person from entering upon such national forests for all proper and lawful purpose, including that of prospecting, locating and developing the mineral resource thereof . . . such persons must comply with the rules and regulations covering such national forests.” The section also provided that the Secretary of the Interior to “make such rules and regulations . . . as will insure the objects of such reservations, namely, to regulate their occupancy and use and to preserve the forests thereon from destruction.”
Less than one month after passage, the General Land Office “promulgated regulations” that allowed grazing in reserves. In 1896, restrictive Forest Rules regarding sheep grazing were challenged in United States v. Tygh Valley Co., 76 F. 693. The Forest Rules were upheld on the basis that closely herded sheep were damaging the resources; (see also Dastervignes v. United States, 122 F. 30; 1903; and Dent v. United States, 76 P. 455, reversing 71 P. 920; 1904.) According to Colorado Judge Ethelbert Ward, The Legal Aspect of the Grazing Problem, these were essentially civil cases by injunction to prevent damage to property “and would apply as well to the individual as to the United States. They are founded on the law of the land, and do not depend on rules and regulations.” (Forest Service Law Office Correspondence RG 49, Drawer 16, National Archives.)
The grazing system devised by the Bureau of Forestry in 1902 issued the first grazing permits for sheep. A circular issued by the department of Interior on January 8, stated livestock on the forest reserve would receive preference in the following order: 1) Stock of residents within the reserve; 2) Stock of persons who own permanent stock ranches within the reserve, but who reside outside of the reserve; 3) Stock of persons living in the immediate vicinity of the reserve, called neighboring stock and 4) stock of outsiders who have some equitable claim.
So, we can see from the outset that the Forest Reserves were intended entirely for “watershed protection” and “timber production” — excluding all lands better suited for agricultural and mining purposes — and the principal issue of the day seems to have been livestock grazing. Is any of this still relevant today in regards to current National Forest planning efforts?
We can also see a very specific attempt to define “local” in regards to pre-automobile livestock owners; was that perspective still accepted during the construction of the 1905 “Use Book”?