Forest Service starts with 1907 declaration

June 01, 2001 12:00 am
Foresters battle a fire in 1975. ().
Foresters battle a fire in 1975. ().

Protection and manage-ment of the forest lands has always been the major responsibility of the U.S. Forest Service. The Siskiyou National Forest, of which the Chetco Ranger District is a part, dates back to 1898 when Binger Herman, commissioner of the General Land office in the Interior Department, authorized a survey of the watershed of the Coquille, Rogue and Umpqua River areas to determine the suitability of transferring public domain lands in the area into Forest Reserve Status.

Considerable opposition to that idea developed, and much politicking followed. In spite of that, however, the withdrawal was affected by President Theodore Roosevelts proclamation creating the Forest Reserves on March 2, 1907.

Two days later an action of Congress dropped the old term "Forest Reserve" and adopted instead that of "National Forest"

Work during 1907 consisted mainly of field examinations and reports on timber and stone claims, many of which were fraudulent. Work also was done on boundary and admin-istrative site surveys, then and in 1908. A few minor timber sales were made in 1910 to mining companies.

About 1912 a large number of homestead entry surveys and settlement cases began to require considerable work of the early Rangers. Much of their time, however, was spent on trail construction and maintenance and on building headquarter stations. During the summer months fire prevention and suppression consumed most of their time.

Phones came in 1913

Prior to 1913 there were only 33 miles of telephone lines in the Siskiyou Forest, the only means of communication between Lookout Stations and Ranger Stations. In that year an additional 123 miles of phone lines were strung. The next year telephone lines were built to a number of Lookout Stations, and the Chetco line was extended over Long Ridge. A shake shelter was built on Bald Knob by the lookout man at a cost of twenty-five cents for nails.

Two large forest fires burned that year on the north end of the forest that cost, as Ranger R. I. Help put it, The "enormous sum" of $3,500 to put out. Ranger Jones of the Chetco District rode 28 hours from Packsaddle Mountain Lookout to a fire near McKinley Mines, with only a stop to eat and rest a few minutes along the way. Typical of Jones, he said when he arrived that "the saddle was tired."

In 1916 Ranger Jones and "Chess" Moore constructed a log stringer bridge across the Chetco River. The 38 by100-foot logs were hand-logged by the two men and floated into place. The bridge was built at Mill Creek. It lasted only a couple of years.

First major sale

The year 1916 saw the first major timber sale in the Jack Creek drainage area, and went to the California and Oregon lumber company in Brookings. That year the fire season was a bad one, and Forest Service forces had to work short-handed due to the World War I prices and low salaries. Other war work such as draft registration, military road reports , red cross drives, and Liberty Loan drives brought added burdens. The Siskiyou Forest record shows 247 fires in 1917 burning over 105,000 acres 173 of those fires were incendiary in origin.

In those days fires were fought by hand with hazel hoes, shovels, axes. Crosscut saws, wedges and sledges. There were no bulldozers, power saws, hose lines, smoke jumpers or any of the modern equipment now in use.

There were no roads leading into the interior of the National Forest where most of the fires occurred. Fire fighters often walked 25 to 30 miles to reach the fire, and many were tired out when they got there. These fires tried the guts of the man in charge, who usually fought them shorthanded. He had to look out for everybody, and usually worked harder that anyone else. Oregon Historical Quarterly, March 1975.

Large fires, no action

This was not the whole story, as Ranger Jones at Chetco reported. Large fires in the interior of his district were burning in low value area on which no action was taken at all. One such fire started near McKees cabin on Bald Face Creek and ran west to Bear Creek, laying waste a strip of country one to three miles wide and 10 to 12 miles long. Ranger Jones and Ranger Costelloe fought it inside. Sparks blowing through the shakes set fire to their beds several times. They had a hard time saving their horses, which were badly singed. This was in October. A similar fire in June had burned all of the country west of Jack Creek between the Winchuck and Chetco Rivers, destroying six residences, three barns, a hotel and miles of fencing.

A lady lookout was employed that season on Bald Knob, the first women lookout on record in the Siskiyou National Forest.

The highlight of 1920 was the conviction of old Simon Si McKee for setting forest fires on Diamond Creek. McKee had been charges with responsibility for fires in the Bald Face Creek, Upper Chetco, and North Fork Smith Rivers for years, and undoubtedly was the cause of the great burns in those areas. After his death a few years later, there was a noticeable change in the fire situation.

That year considerable work was done on the Chetco Trail at a cost of $800 per mile. This trail would eventually extend up the Chetco River by the way of Gardner Ridge, over and up Long Ridge to Quail Prairie Mountain and along the ridge to Vulcan Peak, then on to Chetco Peak , and thence to join the Wagon Road on its way to OBrien, Oregon. Work was also continued on the Winchuck Road.

Station moves

In 1962, George W. Beers remembers when the Ranger Station was moved:

In September 1926 the Ranger Station at Westmore was discontinued as the Ranger Headquarters. The headquarters was moved to Harbor, Oregon, on the point across Benham Lane and above the (Harbor Branch) Oregon Coast Veneer on Old Mill Road. These quarters were rented from Mr. Benham at $10 per month furnished.

An office and tool room was needed. The C&O Lumber Company was selling its tool houses which were on large skids. These were being sold for $15 each, and were 12 foot by 24 foot. The old C&O Railroad ran near the rented quarters, and they offered to move the building from Brookings to a site on the railroad right of way near the house. This was accomplished by their train and their crane. The $15 was paid to them by the U.S. Forest Service, John R. Hill, with a four-horse team, dragged the building to within some 20 feet of the rented quarters.

In 1930 the upper low water bridge, first in the region, was built to cross the Chetco River. Five years later the Brookings Ranger Station, which had been located in Harbor, was moved to Gold Beach.