The Yellowstone Forest Reserve


Vol. 4 April, 1927 No. 4


Its Foundation and Development by A. A. Anderson

Its Underlying Importance

The Yellowstone Forest Reserve, founded in 1902, may be called the first large forest reserve in the United States. Surrounding Yellowstone Park on all four sides, and occupying space in three states—Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho—it covers about 9500 square miles, an area nearly twice as large as the state of Connecticut.

Apart from size, however, another important feature of the Yellowstone Forest Reserve lies in the fact that it has provided the inspiration and basic plan for the development of all our other large national forest reserves. It has proved, by its success, the great value to our country of the reserve system. In fact, the plan of management, basically sound from the very beginning, has been adopted by the others, which are conducted largely upon the same general principles.

The Conditions Which Made It Imperative

The first idea of such a reserve and its possibilities came to me with the smoke of many forest fires. From my ranch in Wyoming, situated upon the fringe of the beautiful forest which is now included in the reserve, I used to watch these fires with apprehension. I remember that one day while crossing the Lander trail south of the Park, I stood upon a high peak and counted fourteen distinct fires raging below me. It was a distressing scene; and being naturally a lover of forests, with a realization of their tremendous practical value, I was vitally impressed with the need of action.

It was evident that something more than mere coincidence lay behind the simultaneous burning of so many fires. I learned shortly afterwards that most of them had been deliberately started by wandering sheepmen, who were setting fire to the dense pine forests for two reasons: first, because it would be easier thereafter to trail their sheep; and second, because when the forest was burned the resultant weeds which sprang up would afford better pasturage.

It was also evident that where there were so many fires, more than the forests themselves were at stake. In Wyoming, for instance, all cultivation was dependent at that time upon the irrigation derived from mountain streams. The forest fires were bringing about the destruction of the valuable spongy matter beneath the trees, so that the snow which fell during the winter, melting rapidly under the first warm sunlight, resulted in flood waters in springtime and drouth in summer—a condition which meant tremendous loss to the farms. Then too, there was the problem of the wild game in whose protection I had been interested for years. With the extinction of the forests, the animals and birds would disappear, and much of the indescribable charm of that western countryside would be lost.

Clearly the situation was critical. A few wandering sheepmen were jeopardizing not only the forests and wild game but the prosperity of the farmers, the very life of the State. They were doing this at the expense of the local sheepmen, men who had a legal right to the home ranges For the wanderers, bringing their sheep across country after shearing time, could poach upon the ranges of the home sheepmen only until snow fell—a period of about two and a half months. And in that short time, their sheep rendered the home ranges useless for a period of nine months after.

Those, briefly, were the main facts which pointed to the necessity of some sort of forest conservation and control. Both economically and aesthetically, the usefulness of this portion of the Rockies was at stake. But what was to be done? State supervision seemed impossible—a great variety of factors opposed it. In fact, the only solution appeared to lie in direct government supervision. I realized it was from Washington that help must come.

How the Reserve Was Created

On my return to the East I went directly to the Capitol, feeling at home there among the Wyoming delegates. I knew President Roosevelt and had great faith in his own personal interest in conservation. I spent some three months in Washington, gradually arousing interest in the idea of a Yellowstone Forest Reserve and its imperative necessity.

But the wheels of Government machinery, as always, moved slowly. Meanwhile, considerable opposition to my plan was rising among the Wyoming sheep interests, which had a mistaken idea of the advantages they would derive from the creation of a forest reserve. Although, as I have explained, it was to their interest to cooperate, they looked upon the project with a good deal of doubt and mistrust. This was but human—an obstacle the pioneer in any movement must deal with, often put in his path by those who receive the greatest benefit in the end. But now matters were coming gradually to a head. After a lengthy consultation with the Department of the Interior and others interested in my project, I presented a tentative boundary of the proposed Reserve which would include, in my opinion, all the territory necessary for proper conservation of the vast tract of forest surrounding Yellowstone Park. I then made a map of this boundary and called to present it in person to the President. I informed him that I had previously shown it to both the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture, and that it had met with their approval.

President Roosevelt never took very long to decide any matter. He immediately dictated a letter to the Secretary of the Interior, authorizing him to issue a proclamation creating a Forest Reserve following the boundaries furnished by my map. And upon formally presenting this letter, I had the gratification of realizing that the Yellowstone Forest Reserve was now an actuality. With it came my appointment to the post of Special Forest Superintendent, effective July 1st, 1902.

This, in a word, is the story of the creation of what was really the first national forest reserve in our history. Prior to this, two little strips of forest, south and east of the Park, had been set aside—not primarily as forest reserves, but as property for a contemplated enlargement of the Park itself. These indeed had been treated by the authorities as actual portions of the Park—so that it may be said that with President Roosevelt's letter, authorizing my project which embraced the Park's whole boundary, the first national forest reserve came into being, known as the Yellowstone Forest Reserve.

Organizing the Reserve

Thus the Reserve was created and my duties as Superintendent were begun. I accepted the position with the understanding that I was to be given full authority in all matters of organization. and management. The reasons for my request were obvious; for in this vast amid wild tract of land, so far removed from Washington, any rapid or emergency communication with the authorities in the Capitol would have been impossible. There had to be someone on the spot who could act quickly and with full power. Consequently, I was given complete control, my jurisdiction extending over such privileges as the granting of all appointments and promotions within the Reserve, the issuing of cattle and grazing and timber permits, the surveying of the boundaries, etc.. I may say truthfully that the last was in itself a full-sized task, for it occupied, including myself, a party of ten men with thirty-five saddle and pack horses over a period of three months, with a change of camping ground almost every day. But the work was a privilege, and it was satisfaction enough to know that the Government was behind me, and that my duty was merely to report to Washington all that was being accomplished.

When the survey had been finished and the exact boundaries of the Reserve ascertained and marked, my next concern lay in appointing judiciously a group of executives which should form a kind of government. To facilitate this, I divided the territory into four divisions; the Shoshone, Wind River, Absaroka and Teton. Each division, virtually a military organization, was assigned its supervisor and forest rangers. The supervisor held a rank of captain, and the rangers held the ranks of lieutenant, sergeant and private. Each rank was obliged to keep in constant contact with the others and to record all facts of importance, these being reported to me, as Superintendent, weekly. In this way I was able to keep in touch with all important developments, and to forward my own reports to Washington.

There was a headquarters in each division for its officials, located in a central and strategic position. For instance, in the Shoshone division I selected a point on the North Fork of the Shoshone River, from which trails opened up to all the various positions on the Reserve; a log house was built there for the supervisor and his rangers, and the place was christened "Wapiti," the proper name for elk.

In passing, it may be remarked that these are the fundamental principles of organization which, due to the effectiveness and facility of their operation, have been more or less applied to every national forest reserve which has since been created.

The Hostility of the Sheepmen Continues

Though the work of the Reserve was now going forward, its benefits naturally could not be fully realized at the outset. The resentment of the sheepmen continued to smoulder and in several instances actually burst into flame. These gentlemen, who still seemed to consider the Reserve an attack on their interests, began to hold indignation meetings at various places.

One of these meetings was held at Meeteetse, Wyoming, and happening to hear about it beforehand, I determined to attend it myself. I found 125 sheepmen gathered angrily in an upper room over a saloon, whose intention was to protest and create resentment against the Reserve. At my entrance, the excited buzzing of the many voices ceased and there was silence. I could sense the hostility in the atmosphere, which, in a moment, was crystallized into somebody's suggesting the advisability of a rope! My situation was a bit ticklish, for most of the audience was armed and in rather a belligerent mood.

Fortunately for me, the chairman of the meeting, Col. George T. Beck, a man of broad judgment who was not himself in the sheep business, met the emergency by remarking: "I see that Mr. Anderson, the Superintendent of the Reserve, is in our midst. I'd like to call on him for a few remarks."

This was just the opportunity I desired. I let them have my ideas on the Reserve and told them, straight from the shoulder, why I considered them wrong in their present attitude. I explained how, instead of harming Wyoming sheepmen, the Reserve would be of inestimable benefit to them, for it issued no grazing permits to any but residents of the State. Thus their home ranges would be unmolested by the wandering herds.

But it was not long before, I discovered the real purpose of the meeting. It had been organized by a man who was a trader with the various sheep interests and who wished to curry their favor. He rose and described to the gathering his ability to do away with the Reserve, if they would delegate him to Washington. For the moment I seemed to fall in with his plan, and was myself appointed on the committee to raise funds for this trader's journey! The meeting ended peacefully, but immediately afterwards I wrote a personal letter to President Roosevelt describing matters pretty thoroughly—with the result that the trader had his little trip to Washington in vain, and the Reserve continued to exist.

About the same time, a meeting was called in Cody, which was largely the result of the hostility existing towards my work. But it never came to a head. A prominent rancher and cattleman in local circles, Mr. John W. Chapman, rose and told the meeting in no uncertain terms that I was his friend, and that anybody starting a demonstration against me would receive his immediate personal attention. His word was respected and the matter blew over.

But the enmity of the sheepmen did not stop there. Other incidents occurred from time to time which proved it to be far from dormant.

For instance, the following spring, while I was in the East, I received a letter from Colonel Cody, in which he wrote: "I personally advise you not to return to Wyoming this spring, because, if you do, the sheepmen will kill you." And in a postscript which amused me, he added: "But there's no use sending you this letter, you will come anyway."

Incidentally, his warning proved not entirely without foundation. That same year a fre was started at the head of the canyon south of my property, with a 60-mile-an-hour wind driving it steadily towards my ranch. It was very dry at the time, and if the wind had not suddenly changed, the buildings would have been lost. And it was not long after, that I awakened one night to find the ranch actually on fire, without apparent cause, the result of which was the destruction of half my home. The reader may draw his own conclusions.

Disciplinary Emergencies

There were occasions when definite emergencies arose with in the Reserve which called for quick and decisive action. One of these, I remember, came up when I was engaged in a tour of inspection in the Teton division. A telegram from Washington informed me that 60,000 sheep had been put into the division without permit, and it was up to me to investigate the matter. The supervisor verified the report, telling me he had not had sufficient authority to prevent this trespass. The sheep belonged to four large owners in Utah, and were herded by 40 armed men.

Thanks to our communication facilities and organization, I was able to issue orders to rangers in various portions of the Reserve to meet me the following week at a place called Horse Creek, near Jackson's Lake. About 65 of them came, in full regalia, armed, and well mounted. Erect and clean, they made a fine body of men, and I was proud of them.

Moving swiftly, we selected one band of sheep belonging to each of the four owners, and drove these to the easterly border of the Reserve which fronted upon Green River. We held them there while I sent to Cheyenne for the United States Commissioner at that point to bring an injunction restraining them from returning across the Reserve. Meanwhile the owners, learning of my action, at once began to drive the rest of their flocks as swiftly as possible towards the nearest boundary line.

It took nearly a week for the Commissioner to arrive with the injunction which was to be served upon all the owners. By that time the speediest kind of action was imperative. My first move was to serve it upon the owners of the most southerly herd—two brothers by the name of Jacobs. One of these, as a matter of fact, had gone off to Salt Lake for provisions; but the other was still in camp and was speedily dealt with. I stationed two rangers near him and his sheep in a camp across the river, and hurried north to serve the injunction on another owner who was now being detained at another point.

Meanwhile I realized that the Jacobs brothers, at least, were in a tight place. They had driven their herd to the borderline on Green River and could now neither advance nor retreat. Across the river from the Reserve they were confronted by a real menace. Cattlemen had settled there, who would allow no sheep to be driven over their ranges without a tremendous risk of life. And to return upon the Reserve meant for the Jacobs brothers the additional charge of being in contempt of the United States Court.

That their position was far from enviable was soon proved by actual events. A day or two later, one of the rangers who had been stationed near the brothers rode hurriedly into my camp and reported somewhat of a tragedy. It seems that the ranger's camp had been visited early in the morning by the other Jacobs brother—the one who had been to Salt Lake. He had a breathless and profane story to tell. He said that the night before, while he was still away, the blankety-blank settlers of Green River had come up and killed his brother and eight hundred of their sheep, and furthermore had burnt up their entire camp outfit without leaving even a sour-dough pot!

I asked the ranger what had been done about it. He told me they had gotten on their horses and ridden over to the scene of the outrage. Here it was found to be true that eight hundred of the sheep had been killed and that the camp outfit had been burned. But the brother who had been "killed" was found to have been struck over the head with a rifle and not very seriously injured. At any rate, "he sure could still swear all right!"

I saw what must necessarily happen. The Jacobs brothers would be forced to drive their remaining sheep back over the Reserve to Utah. So I gave the rangers word to allow them to proceed unmolested, while I served the injunction on the other owners and turned them loose. These also drove their sheep homeward across the Reserve, and in three days not a sheep was left within the boundaries. Eventually all owners were summoned to appear before the Court of Cheyenne and were fined for trespass. Thus the incident was closed, and from that day to this, there has never been another sheep trespass upon the Reserve.

A Visit from Gifford Pinchot

Gradually the feeling against the Reserve subsided, though opposition from the sheep interests continued fitfully. At one time these interests held the key to Wyoming politics, and some of the delegates to Washington warned President Roosevelt, who was running for a second term, that unless I resigned my post as Superintendent of the Reserve, the Republican Party in that State would be the loser.

I invited the President to have my administration investigated. Accordingly, he detailed Gifford Pinchot to investigate matters in the Reserve. Mr. Pinchot arrived accompanied by Mr. Frank Mondell, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Senator Borah. I remember how this eminent trio came to me, late one summer afternoon, at my camp in the Teton division. We had a pleasant dinner and were sitting smoking around the campfire when Senator Borah jocosely remarked to his companions: "Boys, we're wasting time here. Has anybody got a rope?"

Gifford Pinchot, after accompanying me on a tour of inspection, reported to the President that the Yellowstone Reserve was one of the best organized, patrolled and managed forest reserves in the country. It was indeed gratifying to receive a letter from President Roosevelt saying in part: "Mr. Anderson, I believe you have the right ideas in forestry matters. Go ahead and carry them out, knowing you have the Department of the Interior and the President solidly behind you."

And yet it has been said that President Roosevelt played politics! He never played anything—he was simply it, in his genuine, straightforward manner. And one of my principal reasons for giving five years of my time to forestry matters was that I felt I was aiding him in one of the objectives so dear to his heart—namely, the conservation of our natural resources. To have known such a man and worked with him even in the smallest way, in trying to carry out his high ideals, was an inspiration to me.

The Reserve as a Game Refuge

I have always cherished a love of wild life and nature, and for years before the creation of the Yellowstone Reserve I had been interested in game protection. Consequently, when the Reserve became an actuality, I was appointed Assistant State Game Warden, and made all my rangers game wardens without pay. They too were deeply interested in protecting the wild life of the Reserve—and a law was passed obliging every non-resident of the State to pay a hunting fee of $50.00, every resident being obliged to procure a regular license.

For a while, the Shoshone Indians had been permitted by their agent to hunt in the Reserve—a privilege they were exercising both in and out of season, which led to the slaughtering of a tremendous amount of game. Obviously one of the first steps toward game protection lay in the correction of this misguided zeal, and a letter from me to the Indian Department in Washington brought an end to all permits granted to Indians to hunt on the Reserve. It was a necessary step and the amount of valuable game it saved is hard to estimate.

Elk tusks furnished another problem. Formerly, these had brought only a nominal value, but since the Order of Elks had adopted them as the emblem of the society, they had been selling for $25.00 or more per pair. Naturally this provided an incentive for a general slaughter of elk for no other reason than to obtain the tusks. For instance, I remember that one day one of my rangers arrested a man named Rogers on a charge of killing game out of season. Twenty-five fresh elk tusks were found in his possession—proof enough that he had been shooting bull elk for this one trivial reason alone, leaving their carcasses to remain rotting upon the ground.

It happened that about the time this incident occurred, the Order of Elks was holding its convention at Salt Lake City, Utah. I wrote a letter to the Convention and told it the facts, stating that the high prices being paid for elk tusks were responsible for the speedy destruction of the noble animal from which the Order derived its name. My letter was read at the Convention and its purport was appreciated. A resolution was passed which abolished elk tusks as the official emblem of the Order, and which—I think I may safely assert—saved the lives of thousands of elk.

All this while the conviction had been growing upon me that the one real way to protect the game on the Reserve must be found in the establishment of a properly guarded game refuge, where shooting was forbidden at all times of the year. Game laws in themselves seemed futile, and there is no better illustration of this than the law which exists today on the statute books of the State of New York, imposing a heavy penalty for the killing of antelope or buffalo. Nor does a mere limitation of the bag help materially, for in that case there can be no real enforcement without apportioning off a warden to every hunter.

But where game refuges are definitely established and no one is allowed at any time of year to carry arms or fire a shot, game is pretty certain to increase immediately. In fact, it will increase not only within the refuges themselves but in all the surrounding country. For although the hunting will be better in the latter than ever before, the game will have a sanctuary to turn to in case of need, as the refuges are not fenced off by barriers of any kind.

It was for these reasons that I finally created a large number of such refuges on the Reserve, and as long as these are properly guarded, there can be no doubt about the future of the game. The results so far have been more than satisfactory; for there is now more large game in this portion of Wyoming than in any other part of the United States. Also, the game refuges in the Reserve take on an added significance when it is realized that the game in Yellowstone Park, because of the high altitude, must vacate in winter and seek the lower regions of the surrounding forests, where they are now secure in the refuges that have been created.

Incidentally, we have had a special law passed forbidding the killing of antelope at any time of year, and the result has been an astonishing increase in numbers. I estimate that on one part of the Reserve, in the vicinity of my ranch, there are probably as many as one thousand antelope—a state of affairs which never could have existed without this special law. Yet even now I sometimes cannot help harking back to the good old days, when this most beautiful animal of the plains roamed in such herds as to impede the cattlemen. I remember that in the Red Desert, south of the Teton division, after scattered cattle had been rounded up, the cattlemen were sometimes forced to pause for an hour or two while the multitude of antelope which had been caught in the round-up finished their grazing and sifted out through the cattle.

Well guarded refuges will always be necessary, if we are to preserve our wild life. It is astonishing how quickly birds and animals realize in which region they are being protected. On my first trip to Jackson Lake—a beautiful body of water on the Reserve just south of the Park, extending sixteen miles in the Teton range—I was amazed at the tremendous quantity and variety of bird life there. Later, when the Reserve was first created, I sailed again from one end of the Lake to the other, and during the whole journey I saw only two birds—Sheldrake ducks! How often judging by results, the guns of hunters must have reverberated across that beautiful expanse during the comparatively short time since I had been there. I was so impressed by the desolation of the scene that I requested President Roosevelt to make Jackson Lake a bird refuge. With his usual understanding of the problems and importance of wild life conservation, he complied—and when, a few years later, I made another journey to the lake, I saw that the birds had returned. There were thousands of ducks of various species. as well as pelicans, flamingoes, and countless other varieties of water fowl.

From a utilitarian viewpoint alone, the protection of game has proved of great financial value to Wyoming. It has attracted hunters there who have been obliged to pay as much as $50.00 for their licenses, besides buying camp and hunting outfits and other necessities, so that each has been in a measure contributing to the prosperity of the state. Game protection has also been instrumental in drawing tourists whose love of nature prompts them to inspect and photograph the wild life instead of killing it.

The Future

"Civilization", with its attendant cities, pressure and waste, is hurrying westward. It will not be long before our National Parks and Forest Reserves become the true playground of every real American who appreciates outdoor life and the precious heritage of our wild and romantic background. Soon every patch of wilderness that remains will be a true oasis. The Yellowstone Forest Reserve in particular, through its connection with the Park, and because it is one of the most wonderful spots in the Rocky Mountains, may play a prominent part in our country's recreation.

To me it has been a great privilege to have been able to initiate a system for the forest reserves of today and tomorrow. So long as they are zealously patrolled and guarded, always by men who have the spirit of the wilderness at heart, we shall be able not only to recall the past, but to meet the future with a greater sense of freedom.