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Chapter 3 -- History of the Smith River Watershed (continued)

Creation of National Forests

In 1891, Congress passed the Forest Reserve Act which gave the President the power to designate forest reserves. In 1897, the Forest Service Organic Act set forth the purposes of the forest reserves: improving and protecting the forest, securing favorable waterflows, and furnishing a continuous supply of timber. On May 6, 1905, President Teddy Roosevelt set aside the Klamath Forest Reserve which included most of the mountainous area of the Smith River watershed. In 1907, forest reserves were renamed national forests. Because roads from Siskiyou County to the coast did not exist, the national forest lands in the Smith River watershed were isolated from Klamath National Forest headquarters in Yreka, far to the east (Davies and Frank 1992). Miners supported the designation of forest reserves because this prevented timber interests from acquiring the land and closing it to mining.

The Forest Service began constructing trails, roads, guard stations, fire lookouts, telephone lines, and recreational facilities. They required permits for previously unregulated activities which was unpopular with residents. Although public opinion favored controlled burning, policies for suppressing fire were adopted because this was believed to be less expensive (Keter 1995). Benefits of the national forest lands included livestock grazing and trapping. In 1910, the District Ranger encouraged ranchers to use strychnine to poison predators.

During the 1920's, automobiles were becoming common, and heavy equipment became available for road building. The Redwood Highway between Crescent City and Grants Pass was completed in 1926. The road to Big Flat was finished in 1928 (Keter 1995). Through the 1930s and ‘40s, the Forest Service extended the road system and constructed other infrastructure. They worked in cooperation with the Civilian Conservation Corps which had a work center in Gasquet. In the early 1940s, the national forest trail system reached its highest level of development. Early roads built by the Forest Service included the Siskiyou highway (along the Siskiyou Fork of the Smith River), the Hurdygurdy-Gordon Mountain road, and other roads in the redwood region (McCain et al. 1995). Fire suppression became more effective, partly due to radio communication and aerial delivery of supplies (Davies and Frank 1992).

When World War I began, the federal government subsidized the mining of chromite which was used for strengthening armaments. Chromite mines reopened and became an important industry. After the Armistice was signed in 1918, chromite production again declined precipitously.

During the depression, marginal placer gold deposits were mined by people who could not find more gainful employment. Exhausted or marginal mining claims were often used as inexpensive residences. In 1940, chromite mining boomed again as war loomed on the horizon (Keter 1995). In 1947, national forest lands in the Smith River watershed were transferred from Klamath National Forest to Six Rivers National Forest (Davies and Frank 1992).

In the 1940s, irrigation came into use on the coastal plain. By 1959, irrigated bulb and flower production was producing 50% of the agricultural income (California Resources Agency 1965), although occupying less than 10% of the cultivated land. By 1970, irrigated pastures and lily bulb farms covered about 4000 acres on the coastal plain. In the 1980's chemicals used in flower bulb production were found in the aquifers of the coastal plain.


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