HISTORY OF THE TIMBER INDUSTRY ON THE RGNF

With settlement increasing in the San Luis Valley (SLV) during the 1860’s, an increased use and demand for forest products grew. The farm and ranch populations began their dramatic growth in the southern valley where the early Hispanic settlements were centered. Large-scale irrigation canal projects and the advent of the homestead system did much to establish a permanent farm and ranch population in all areas of the valley (Rosenberg 1976). Farming and ranching activities such as house building, barns, corrals, fences and fuelwood cutting all led to the establishment of commercial timber activities within the RGNF area (RGNF 1949).

Gold and silver were discovered in the San Juan Mountains in 1870, with resulting new towns in the Rio Grande Valley springing up as supply points and way stations for the new mines (RGNF 1949). Enduring towns such as Del Norte and Creede, as well as the shorter- lived mining camps such as Bachelor, Beartown, Bonanza, Carson Camp, Duncan, Embargo, Exchequerville, Jasper, Kerber City, Liberty, Orient, Platoro, Spar City, Stunner, and Summitville had mining as their basis or origin (Rosenberg 1976). Mining Activities were responsible for a large increase in demand for forest products within the present boundary of the RGNF
Another factor increasing the demand for timber resources was the coming of the railroad. The Denver Rio Grande Railroad’s southern line influenced the SLV area. By 1880 the railroad extended as far south as Antonito and linked to Durango/Silverton by 1883(Rosenberg 1976). During the construction phase “tie hacking” was an important economic activity on lands now the RGNF.
“Ties for the Rio Grande Railroad from La Veta Pass to Creede were all cut from government owned lands and this was also true of the narrow gauge line from Alamosa to Durango”(RGNF 1949).

The area not in the RGNF suffered many abuses pertaining to the mismanagement of timber resources prior to the inclusion into the National Forest Program. Examples follow:
The following reasons for a timber reserve were given in a report on the proposed San Juan Reserve written in 1903:

  1. Farming around the base of the mountains is dependent on irrigation, and the irrigation water all rises in the mountains. Therefore to prevent floods in spring and drought in the summer, the forest on the heads of these streams must be preserved.
  2. To insure a steady supply of timber for developing the mineral resources of the country, the forest in the mining districts should be protected from fire and theft.
  3. To prevent the overstocking of the range and total destruction of the forest floor, and to regulate the disputes between sheep and cowmen, and between Colorado and New Mexico sheep men, the summer range should be under Government supervision.
  4. To prevent and control the repeated forest fires, reserve management and administration is necessary.
  5. To insure a steady supply of timber to the local markets and prevent the control of the supply from passing into the hands of large companies, a reserve is necessary. (DuBois 1903 p. 21, 22.).

President Benjamin Harrison established 15 Timberland Reserves during his administration including the White River Plateau Timberland Reserve in Colorado, on October 16, 1891(Shoemaker, 1944). President Theodore Roosevelt established 150 reserves totaling 148 million acres, including 14 reserves in Colorado. Among those in Colorado were the San Isabel, established in 1902; the San Juan in 1905; and the Cochetopa, also in 1905 (Shoemaker, 1944). Portions of these Reserves later become incorporated into the RGNF.

The Theodore Roosevelt administration not only created many more Forest Reserves, it also established the beginnings of actual management by the federal government (Robinson, 1975). On February 1, 1905, Congress passed the Transfer Act, shifting control of the Forest Act, shifting control of the Forest Reserves from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture. It also outlined what to serve as the charter for the United States Forest Service. A letter to Gifford Pinchot, Chief Forester, from the Department of Agriculture stated:
“You will see to it that the water, wood, and forage of the Reserves are conserved and wisely used under businesslike regulations, enforced with promptness, effectiveness and common sense…”
“Where conflicting interests must be reconciled, the question will always be decided from the standpoint of the greatest good to the greatest number in the long run” (Gallacher, 1981).
“Lumber operators cut what they wanted and how they wished without any interference or regulations. They made no attempt to acquire title to timber lands, they simply moved their sawmill into the selected area and started to cut. In many instances, only the clear logs were taken out and anything with limbs were not skidded or sawed; in other words, they not only high-graded the stand, but also high-graded the logs” (RGNF 1949 p. 4).
Tie hacking activity was centered in south Fork area and involved the cutting of Douglas fir. The trees were floated down the south fork of the Rio Grande to the railroad at South Fork. Wasteful cutting methods were evident with, “in some cases, only one 8-foot tie being taken from a tree 60-feet long” (DuBois 1903). However, in some cases, portable, sawmills were brought in to cut red fir (Douglas fir) lumber using the butt logs of tie trees (DuBois 1903).
Methods of early timber cutting resulted in eliminating “practically all of the virgin stands of ponderosa pin, Douglas fir, and in the north end of the valley, lodge pole pine, that were accessible to the valley” (RGNF 1949 p. 4). Land surveys within the area were often of poor quality as is demonstrated by the following:
“One sawmill man wanted to buy National Forest stumpage. As our general policy Was not to sell to a man who owned timber himself, I asked him why he didn’t cut his own 40. He said that he had it surveyed three times and each time it was Located differently. He thought that cutting it in three different places was about enough “(Coolidge 1961p.190

EARLY TIMBER SALES RGNF

Formal timber sale activity began in 1906 while the area was part of the San Juan Forest Reserve. The first sale on record was June 30, 1906 for 396,000 board feet of Engelmann spruce and 30,000 board feet of Corkboard fir. Stumpage rate was $2 per thousand live and 75 cents per thousand dead. F. L. Warthogs bought the sale, which was located up Rock Creek on the Alamosa District (RGNF 1949).

The first large sale, (5,000 M feet b.m. of Engelmann spruce), was logged by the Creede Lumber Company in 1906.

The sale covered all the timber in Miner’s Gulch (RGNF 1949 p.5) at a stumpage rate of $1.50 per thousand board feet. The company went bankrupt after cutting only a small amount of timber.





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