Logging of the ponderosa pine forests of the American Southwest began in the 1870s and 1880s largely on the odd-numbered sections of land deeded to the transcontinental railroads for twenty miles on each side of the tracks. At first, the harvest was primarily used for railroad construction products such as ties and telegraph poles.
Gradually, as a timber industry developed, increased volume was removed to supply a burgeoning market. Some lands were completely cut over, spurring Carl Shurz, Secretary of the Interior, to criticize such logging practices as "wanton, barbarous, disgraceful vandalism" (Ashworth, p. 89). In other areas, only large, high-grade pines were cut, and vast amounts of slash and other debris left on the forest floor. There was no thought to the regeneration of the forest or for leaving trees to provide seed for it.
In 1891 Congress passed legislation giving the President power to establish forest reserves and withdraw them from public entry. The Interior Department was given power to "monitor, manage and conserve" the forests; permits were required for tree cutting on public domain, and provisions were made for sparing some younger trees and the leaving of a few seed trees.
Nevertheless, a survey of forest conditions around Flagstaff by the Geological Survey in 1904 came to the dispiriting conclusion that "excessively close logging, which is a common practice on private holdings in the reserve, does not provide for the sufficiency of seed trees to restock the denuded areas. Closely logged lands will not again bear a forest equal to the one cut off during the next 220 to 250 years."
Ponderosa pine reproduction was not occurring, and fear that overgrazed and cut-over forests were on their way to extinction led to the establishment of the first Forest Experiment Station in Flagstaff in 1908 under the direction of Gus Pearson.
Over the course of his career, Pearson published hundreds of papers and became the basic authority on ponderosa pine; he also became a bitter opponent of forest grazing practices by the livestock industry. Yet for his first eleven years at the station, no matter what he tried, he couldn't figure out how to make a new forest grow.
In 1918 ponderosa pines released a heavy seed crop, followed in 1919 by unusually warm and moist conditions. By spring of 1920 tiny seedlings an inch tall covered the landscape "thick as the hair on a dog's back."
While these young trees grew into the doghair thickets of today, new technology including chainsaws, bulldozers, and logging trucks allowed for the rapid harvesting in the 1920s and '30s of what remained of old growth ponderosa on the steeper slopes.
In the 1940s, '50s and '60s, an "agricultural" model of "sustainable" forestry favoring even-aged management became institutionalized. Dramatic increases in harvesting and road building occurred in the National Forests throughout the West. Typical harvests removed one-third to two-thirds of the available volume. At these residual stocking rates, stem density continued to increase while tree size and age decreased, further increasing the flammability of the forest.
Public concern over the state of western forests helped convince Congress to pass the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in 1969, and both the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) and the National Forest Management Act became law in 1976. The new regulations restricted many management activities in federally-administered forests.
By the 1990s, the region's timber industry had collapsed under a combination of poor market conditions, a lack of quality timber, and legal challenges by environmental groups to timber sales on public lands.
The Bush administration is seeking to revive the western timber industry through a variety of means, including the Healthy Forest Initiative and a 29% tariff on imported softwood lumber from Canada.
Ashworth, Donna. 1991. Biography of a Small Mountain. Flagstaff, AZ: Small Mountain Books.
Anderson, M. F. 1998. Living at the Edge: Explorers, Exploiters and Settlers of the Grand Canyon Region. Grand Canyon Association, Grand Canyon, AZ, 184 pp.
Avery, Charles C., Larson, F. R. and Schubert, G. A. 1976. Fifty-year records of virgin stand development in southwestern ponderosa pine. General Technical Report RM-22. USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, Fort Collins, CO, 71 pp.
Cline, P. 1976. They Came to the Mountain: The Story of Flagstaff's Beginnings. Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University with Northland Press. 364 pp.
Cooper, C. F. 1960. Changes in vegetation, structure, and growth of southwestern pine forests since white settlement. Ecological Monographs 30: 129-164.
Covington, W. W., Everett, R. L., Steele, R. W., Irwin, L. I., Daer, T. A. and Auclair, A. N. D. 1994. Historical and anticipated changes in forest ecosystems of the inland west of the United States. Journal of Sustainable Forestry 2: 13-63.
Covington, W. W. and Moore, M. M. 1994. Southwestern ponderosa forest structure and resource conditions: changes since Euro-American settlement. Journal of Forestry 92: 39-47.
Ffolliott, P. F. and Gottfried, G. J. 1991. Natural tree regeneration after clearcutting in Arizona's ponderosa pine forests: two long-term case studies. Research Note RM-507. USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station.
Finch, D. M., Ganey, J. L., Yong, W., Kimbal, R. and Sallabanks, R. 1997. Effects and interactions of fire, logging and grazing. In: Ecology and Management of Songbirds in Southwestern Ponderosa Pine Forests. General Technical Report. USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experimental Station.
Gomez, A. R. and Tiller, V. E. V. 1990. Fort Apache forestry: a history of timber management and forest protection on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, 1870-1985. Tiller Research, Albuquerque, NM, 212 pp.
Keegan, C. E., III, Wichman, D. P. and Van Hooser, D. D. 1996. Utah's forest products industry: a descriptive analysis, 1992. Report RB-83. USDA Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station.
Leiberg, J. B., Rixon, T. F. and Dodwell, A. 1904. Forest conditions in the San Francisco Mountains Forest Reserve, Arizona. Series H, Forestry 7, Professional paper no. 22. U.S. Geological Survey, Washington, D.C., 95 pp.
Pearson, G. A. 1950. Management of ponderosa pine in the southwest. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Monograph 6: 218.
Pyne, Stephen J. and W. Cronin. 1982. Fire in America: A cultural history of wildland and rural fire. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Stein, P. H. 1993. Railroad logging on the Coconino and Kaibab National Forests, 1887 to 1966. SWCA, Inc. for the National Park Service and National Register of Historic Places, Flagstaff, AZ.
Last edited June 6, 2003