Forest reserves in the federal land in the western United States began to be set aside in the late nineteenth century in response to commercial logging and grazing that threatened timber and grassland destruction. The Blue Mountain Reserve in northeastern Oregon was set aside in 1906. The first exerpt below is from an extensive report by Forest Service Inspector M.L. Erickson describing the nature and condition of the forest and specific recommendations for forest reserve status. It is followed by descriptions from a follow-up report identifying by company and practice specific threats to forest lands in the region. An emphasis on a sound scientific practice of forestry is evident in both reports. So to is the emphasis on the commercial possibilities of the timber and grassland resources.
Except for a high altitude and exposed ridges, the reserve is covered with a forest of excellent merchantable value, of which the predominating species are western yellow pine, lodge pole pine, tamarack, red fir, Engleman spruce and white fir. There is approximately ten per cent of the area which is brush and open grass land, and the other small area comprising the Alpine type, which bears scattered specimen of Alpine fir and white bark pine, of no commercial importance, occupies the east central part of the reserve included in the Elkhorn and Powder Mts.
Yellow pine grows in excellent stands near the lower country on sides of canyon, on south slopes of ridges, and, in general, on the outer edges of the reserve bordering on the valleys and agricultural settlements. It grows tall, large and is of good quality. The trees average in the lower belt of its range four logs to the tree and 30 inches in diameter, and it cruises on the average of 10,000 [board] ft. per acre. This type is very characteristic of a large portion of the reserve, and is the kind of timber much sought after by the vigilant timber locators, who have been operating along the boundaries of the reserve for the past three or four years. Often claims, located by them, furnishes from two to two and a half million feet to the quarter section. The timber is sound, quite free from insect pests. It is a material which is being converted into lumber by the various sawmill concerns located outside of the reserve. Tamarack occurs on the upper edge of the yellow pine zone and in mixture with lodge pole pine and red fir on the lower lodge pole slopes. It forms a sort of transition type between a merge of yellow pine and lodge pole pine. It is also characteristic in that it forms a fringe forest along the edges of open meadows and parks in the interior. Tamarack furnishes excellent timber for ties and construction purposes. It will also make good dimension stuff when converted into lumber, though it is not generally so considered. It grows very tall and straight and possesses a great amount of clear length. Frequent specimen sixty inches in diameter, one hundred and fifty feet high, with a clear length of one hundred feet, a merchantable material almost to the very tip, were observed through out the reserve. Its value is fully equal to that of yellow pine, and I predict its exploitation in the near future to result in large timber sales. Tamarack is very abundant in this reserve. Red fir does not occupy a large area of the reserve, but is found general in mixture with tamarack, white fir and yellow pine lodge pole pine. It is never found in pure stands in the Blue Mountains. It is not considered of such commercial value as other species, probably because not sufficiently abundant; however, the mines use it extensively for stulls, lagging and cord wood, but outside of this use it is not exploited to any considerable extent. It is not found in its best state of development here. The trees are often limby and subject to dry rot. The general occurrence in mixture with other species is on the exposed ridges in a higher altitude...
-- M. L. Erickson, Assistant Forest Inspector, September 1, 1906
The Baker City Lumber Company, which is affiliated with the Sumpter Valley Railway Company, is the principal timberland owner and operator in the region. They have a large band-saw mill at Baker City, and one at Austin, the terminus of their railway. They own practically all the timber land tributary to the right of way, and even, it is claimed, the ranches in the Whitney Valley. It is proposed to extend the railway from Austin down the John Day River to Susanville and possibly beyond.
The cutting area of the logging operations of this company is in marked contrast to the cutting of government timber purchased under contract with the Forest Service. The area is cut clean, and brush and debris left scattered in the utmost confusion. This procedure has once or twice resulted in forest fire.
Since this company control most of the timberlands of this region outside of the National Forest boundaries, and own the railway, they are in a position to charge excessive freight rates on lumber, an opportunity which they do not neglect. The consequence is that competitors are few and sales of National Forest timber infrequent. Nearly all the timber sales of this Forest to date have been of cordwood and mining timbers to the mines and stamp-mills situated within the Forest.
In a few years, however, the Company will have exhausted the timber on their own holdings and will either have to purchase National Forest timber or build their railway across the Forest to tap other timberlands where they can purchase stumpage. At present they are unwilling to pay over $1.50 for stumpage, but this figure is ridiculously low for any timber available to their outlet, for even the poorest grades. It would in my opinion be folly to sell any timber which is tributary to their road and mills at less than $2.25 or $2.50 unless it be inferior species such as white fir, and it may be wise to reserve most to supply local demand.
M.L. Erickson, "Report: Blue Mountain Forest Reserve," September 1, 1906 found online at Historic Resource Materials, Umatilla National Forest.
H.D. Foster, " Report on the Silvics of the Blue Mountains National Forest, Oregon", April 1, 1908, found online at Historic Resource Materials, Umatilla National Forest.