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Tahoe National Forest established in 1909

TIM OMARZU, Sun News Service

When President William Howard Taft created the Tahoe National Forest in 1909, it was “favorably received” by ranchers who used the forest for summer pasture.

However, the press and local public officials remained skeptical that the national forests would accommodate “homeseekers, prospectors, farmers and lumbermen.”

That’s according to the official history of the Tahoe National Forest, which shows that conservation issues haven’t changed all that much over the years.

The first supervisor of the Tahoe National Forest was Madison B. Elliott, a native Californian from a ranching family near Clear Lake. Elliott established his own ranching business as a young man and for some years operated a sawmill.

“Forest Service range policy was favorably received” under Elliott, who addressed issues like building fences, reseeding ranges and predatory animal reduction.

“Of sixty-four stockmen polled … in 1908, sixty responded that the method of grazing under government regulation was preferable to the old ways,” the Morning Union reported in that year.

However, a controversy arose over Elliott’s proposal to expand the forest west near Nevada City. Mining interests feared that a large number of unpatented mining claims would be hampered by governmental restrictions.

In spite of reassurances that mining wouldn’t be hurt, Congressman Englebright killed the proposal, after being petitioned to do so by constituents.

The roots of the TNF stretch back as far as 1864. That was the year that George Perkins Marsh published “Man and Nature,” an influential book that showed forests were critical for soil and water conservation.

By the 1880s, “writers, professionals and scientific groups began to threaten that the country would face a ‘timber famine’ if steps were not taken to stop the plunder and destruction of the country’s forest,” the history reads.

In 1891, the Forest Reserve Act – passed as a “little-recognized rider” to a bill – allowed presidents to set aside timber reservations. Presidents Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland set aside 11 million acres of timber land, including the 4 million-acre Sierra Forest Reserve, stretching from Yosemite National Park to the south. The northern Sierra remained unprotected.

The resources on these forest reserves were “essentially locked up,” the history reads.

In 1897, another federal act passed with strong Western support, said that no new forest reserves could be created “unless it would improve and protect the forest, the water flow and establish a continuous supply of timber.”

The 1897 act also allowed use of timber and stone for firewood, building, mining, milling and irrigation.

In 1899, President William McKinley created the 136,335-acre Lake Tahoe Forest Reserve, a “forestry reserve and public park” on the California side of the lake.

By the mid-1890s, the recently organized Sierra Club had started “campaigning for protection of the forest range in the northern Sierra.” And there was talk of turning Lake Tahoe into a national park.

Local residents and business interests were alarmed, especially in El Dorado County, arguing the reserve would reduce the community’s taxable property, hurt sheep grazing and threaten lumbermen’s jobs and investments.

The Placerville Mountain Democrat editorialized that the reserve would serve no purpose except to become “a shady resort for Forest Commissioners and nonproducing loafers.”

When President Theodore Roosevelt greatly enlarged the Tahoe National Forest Reserve in 1905, local newspapers didn’t voice opposition, the TNF history reads.

The Mountain Messenger in Downieville noted that the enlarged forest reserve – the forerunner of the Tahoe National Forest – would help mining interests by providing a permanent supply of timber.

Later, in 1904, Roosevelt established the Yuba Forest Reserve and greatly enlarged the Tahoe Forest Reserve. He also created the Klamath, Lassen Peak, Plumas, Shasta and Trinity reserves.

His successor Taft created the Tahoe four years later.

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