It would be presumptuous to call this a history of the Forest Service in the Southwest, for no single volume can tell the whole story. Better to call it a chronicle "of and by a few of the men who quite literally blazed the trail, and of the fulfillment, frustration, and fun they found along the way," as Edwin A. Tucker phrased it.
Several years ago Fred H. Kennedy, then Regional Forester, authorized Tucker to undertake twin historical projects: a history of Region 3 and the establishment of the Forest Service Museum at the Continental Divide Training Center. Both assignments were accomplished.
For nearly a year, Tucker tape recorded interviews with early-day Rangers and other officials, some retired, some still in harness. And from newspapers and official sources he gleaned news items, letters and reports concerning early activities and people. When the material was typed, it covered more than 1500 typewritten pages—four big volumes—far too bulky a manuscript for publication as a trade book.
This book then is a distillation of that material, plus such other material and chapters that were needed to clarify and bring up to date the story of some of the people of the Forest Service in the Southwest.
Tucker has spent his adult life in the Forest Service, beginning during the period when many pioneer conditions still prevailed in the Southwest, and he knew and worked with many of the old timers and of course with the new breed of professionals who now guide the destiny of the Service.
"However spectacular the changes in the Service," Tucker wrote in a foreword to his interviews, "they were nevertheless possible only because of the kind of men involved, men who responded to the challenge of their particular environment and time. In the earliest days, for example, the men for the times were necessarily tough; they had to be to survive. At that stage, ruggedness and resourcefulness, not technology, were the requisites. Despite public apathy and users' antagonism to regulations (sometimes violent), in the face of political pressures, in the absence of guidelines and for the most part with little formal education, the earliest Rangers and Supervisors did the job that was needful at the time. They performed their work with exceptional devotion and loyalty, and with a surprising awareness of the problem of that era and their relation to the future."
Regretably, all of the interesting experiences and histories of the early-day Rangers could not be included. Insofar as possible, the material chosen for inclusion is representative of various Ranger Districts, happenings and people. Tucker compiled material that reflected not only the spirit of the times, but also the special "flavor" that was a quality of the individual involved. Every effort has been made to retain that special flavor in the historical chapters. The current operations of the Forest Service are explained briefly so that the general reader may have an overall picture of the Forest Service, not only of its beginnings and growth but its complex management operations today.
Much of the material deals with Rangers as the focal point of the narrative—but in a sense all of the employees of the Forest Service are "Rangers." A remarkable circumstance of research for this volume was the discovery of the high degree of dedication of Forest Service people—whether the title is Ranger, fire guard, clerk, Supervisor, or Chief of a Division. They are wedded to their jobs and dedicated to the philosophies of the Forest Service even when they differ personally as to the best ways to carry out the policies of the agency.
The Forest Service is a complex organization of many kinds of specialists, but the Ranger District is the principal component, and as one Supervisor put it, "the Ranger is the key to success of the Forest Service."
Today's Ranger differs from his counterpart of forty, fifty, and sixty years ago in that he is better educated in the technology of his job, and he is more of a business executive, with trained specialists to help him accomplish the job. But he is still an outdoorsman. Though he has less opportunity to do so, he can still ride a horse—and in the Ranger Districts of the Southwestern Region, horses are still plentiful. But the Ranger also calls on modern technology when needed, whether it be planes, helicopters, electronics, or computers, or all of them.
And like his predecessor who rode tall in the saddle, today's Ranger is still a man who matches the mountains.
Gifford Pinchot was the first Chief of the Forest Service which was organized in 1905. Pinchot and President Theodore Roosevelt worked together in setting up the National Forest System as it exists today.