Forest History

Links to Documents | Forest Leadership | Timeline of Highlights 

Early days of the forest

Fishing, Columbia National Forest, 1937The origins of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest are firmly rooted in the national conservation movement that swept this country at the beginning of the 20th century. Working together, Gifford Pinchot, Chief of the Forest Service, and President Theodore Roosevelt set aside millions of acres of new national forest lands.  In 1907 President Roosevelt established the vast Rainier National Forest along the Cascade Range in Washington. To better administer these lands, the southern portion of the Rainier became a Columbia National Forest in 1908 when President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 820. Encompassing 941,000 acres, the boundaries extended along the crest of the Cascade Range from Mt. Adams to the Columbia River, and west to Mount St. Helens. 

A strong leader was needed to manage the Columbia National Forest: someone with formal training in forestry, a relatively new field of study. Forest Service Chief Pinchot looked among the ranks of his Washington Office staff and found H.O. “Hoss” Stabler. Stabler was working in the Forest Service Division of Lands and had spent much of the previous year traveling the American West establishing boundaries for new national forests. In the late summer of 1908 Stabler headed west to set up the new headquarters for the Columbia National Forest in a downtown Portland.

During its first year, the headquarters had a staff of three: Forest Supervisor H. O. Stabler, Forest Assistant Arthur Wilcox, and Julia Boardman, Clerk. Wilcox later recalled that, “Only a small amount of improvement work had been done on this Forest before its separation from the Rainier. There were only one or two Ranger Station cabins, no pastures and no improved trails.” For administrative purposes, the Forest was initially divided into nine districts, each the responsibility of a seasonal Forest Ranger or Forest Guard:

  • District 1 – Glenwood (Homer Ross, Ranger; C.W. Combs, Guard)
  • District 2 – Guler (O.W. Pierce, Guard)
  • District 3 – Peterson Prairie Ranger Station (Harry DeVoe, Guard)
  • District 4 – Oklahoma Ranger Station (Frank Miller and Donald Campbell, Guards)
  • District 5 – Hemlock Ranger Station (Elias Wigal, Ranger; W.F. Jebe, Scaler)
  • District 6 – Dole (Charles Freudenburg, Guard)
  • District 7 – Upper Lewis River (Mac Wright, Guard)
  • District 8 – Cougar (Fritz Sethe, Guard)
  • District 9 – Spirit Lake (Erasmus Robertson, Guard)

A 1909 inspection report characterized the workforce as “an energetic, enthusiastic lot of men who are willing at all times to perform their duties under the most severe and trying conditions.”

And their duties? While protection of forest resources was a primary responsibility, most of the work in 1908 was oriented toward construction of improvements that would make the job of the rangers and guards a little easier. The men built new ranger stations, trails, and wagon roads. Fire protection was the priority and horseback fire patrols an almost daily routine. The Forest Homestead Act had recently opened many national forest lands to new settlement. Across the Forest, rangers and guards made inspections of homesteads to assess the validity of claims. Job duties for Ranger Wigal in the Wind River Valley included the administration of a large commercial timber sale, one of the first on the national forest. The duties of Homer Ross, on the east side, emphasized grazing regulation.

The letters of H.O. Stabler describe the difficulties of travel to the Columbia National Forest in an era before interstate highways and automobiles. From his office in Portland, Stabler would walk to the steamer landing at the foot of Oak Street. From there, a sternwheeler would take him up the Columbia River to Ashe, a landing near Carson. A ranger or guard would be waiting with an extra horse, and together they would ride the twelve miles to Hemlock Ranger Station. Another trip might involve a journey downriver to Castle Rock, then up the Toutle River by horse to Spirit Lake. For Stabler, a trip to the Columbia National Forest nearly always meant three or more days away from the office. It would be more than a decade before the Forest acquired its first motorized vehicle.

Despite proximity to the urban centers of Portland and Vancouver, public use of the Columbia National Forest in 1908 was very limited. Indian peoples continued the traditional use of their summer camps in the extensive berryfields west of Mt. Adams. Prospectors worked their mining claims in the Spirit Lake region, East Fork Lewis River basin and upper Washougal River with little success. Sheepherders from Klickitat County and the Yakima Valley brought thousands of sheep to the high mountain meadows for summer forage. Loggers from the Midwest, living in camps along the Wind River, cut timber that would be milled into lumber for houses back east. Within a few years, as access improved, others would find the Forest as a place to get away, relax and enjoy the clear mountain air.


Forest Leadership

Gifford Pinchot National Forest Supervisors:

  • Granville F. Allen: 1905-1908 (Mount Rainier Forest Reserve, headquarters in Orting, WA)
  • Herbert O. Stabler: 1908-1913 (Columbia National Forest, headquarters in Portland, OR
  • Anson E. Cahoon: 1913-1916
  • Fred H. Brundage: 1916-1922 (Shirley Buck served as Assistant Supervisor between 1920 and 1922, and Harry White served as Assistant Supervisor between 1920 and 1927)
  • Adam H. Wright: 1922-1924
  • Kirk P. Cecil: 1924-1927
  • Floyd V. Horton: 1927-1929
  • John R. Bruckart: 1930-1935 (Lester Moncrief served as Assistant Supervisor from 1931 to 1934)
  • Kirk P. Cecil: 1935-1950 
  • Lawrence O. Barrett: 1950-1953
  • Homer J. Hixon: 1953-1957
  • C. Glenn Jorgenson: 1957-1961
  • Ross W. Williams: 1961-1973
  • Spencer T. Moore: 1973-1976
  • Robert D. Tokarczyk: 1976-1983
  • Robert W. Williams: 1983-1991
  • Ted Stubblefield: 1991-1999
  • Claire Lavendel: 1999-2008
  • Janine Clayton: 2009- 2015
  • Gina Owens: 2015-2019
  • Eric Veach 2020-present

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History highlights

  • 1894 Pacific Forest Reserve established
  • 1896 Gifford Pinchot visits (soon to be the first Chief of the Forest Service)
  • 1897 Rainier Forest Reserve established
  • 1898 First Ranger hired on the Rainier Forest Reserve
  • 1902 Yacolt and Cispus fires
  • 1905 Forest Service created
  • 1906 First District Office at Hemlock in the Wind River area
  • 1907 First Spirit Lake Guard Station built
  • 1907 Rainier National Forest established
  • 1908 On July 1, 1908 Columbia National Forest established (containing area of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest)
  • 1908 First District Office at Trout Lake
  • 1910 Wind River Nursery created
  • 1912 Wind River Arboretum planted
  • 1913 Wind River Experimental Forest established
  • 1927 Columbia National Forest headquarters moves from Portland to Vancouver
  • 1932 Handshake Treaty with Yakama Nation
  • 1933 Cowlitz Valley added to Columbia National Forest
  • 1933 Civilian Conservation Corps Camps established on forest - 2008 is the 75th Anniversary of the CCCs. 
  • 1937 Hemlock Training Center completed
  • 1949 Columbia National Forest renamed to honor first Chief of the Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot.
  • 1964 The Wilderness Act signed into law. Mt. Adams and Goat Rocks Wildernesses designated.
  • 1980 May 18th Mount St. Helens erupts
  • 1982 Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument established by Congress
  • 1984 Glacier View, Indian Heaven, Tatoosh, Trapper Creek and William O. Douglas Wildernesses designated under the Wilderness Act of 1984
  • 1997 Johnston Ridge Observatory opens
  • 2004- 2008 Mount St. Helens re-awakens
  • 2008 Gifford Pinchot National Forest Centennial

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