The way that our forests are handled has changed through the years. The U.S. Forest Service is not much more than 100 years old and quite a lot has changed from the time it was created.
Things have changed from putting fires out quickly to letting them burn, to trying to find a balance in between.
Yet was there a deeper underlying attitude about the forests that helped lead to problems? Perhaps an attitude not solely concentrated on fire?
The Dec. 31, 1909 edition of the Arizona Journal-Miner newspaper from Prescott carried a particularly intriguing article. It was titled “Many Young Trees in Arizona Are Killed By Pest.” The headline alone is intriguing. Now here’s the story.
“W.C. Barnes, chief of grazing of the forest service, who is visiting here with friends, said his attention had been called to a recent article describing the devastation of the Alaskan forests by porcupines. The article was published originally as an interesting news feature and recommended that the forest service undertake a warfare against porcupines at once in the hope of saving a vast amount of valuable timber in Alaska, says the Phoenix Republican.
“Concerning the article Mr. Barnes says the facts related as to the destructiveness of the porcupine were correct, only they did not go far enough. The little animal is doing a great deal more damage than the article indicated and in a great many places beside Alaska. Right here in Arizona, for instance, up in the Tonto country, acres and acres of young trees are injured or killed annually by porcupines.
“But the intimation that the forest service is not alive to the facts is entirely wrong, said Mr. Barnes. On the contrary a great deal of attention is being paid to the porcupine pest and the handling of it, in this part of the country, at least, is one of the duties of Mr. Barnes’ official position. He says that the forest rangers are instructed at all times to destroy the pesky porcupines where they can be found and they are provided with poison, traps and ammunition for that very purpose. It is to be as far as possible a war of eradication, and the rangers are to leave no stone unturned to kill the varmints. They either circle or strip the bark from young trees to an extent that is in some places quite alarming.
“Half the residents of Arizona probably never saw a porcupine or at most only a very few of them, and there are doubtless many citizens who would be surprised to learn that the animal is found in this country at all. Nor are there many of them in this part of it, though in years past one has been occasionally been brought to Phoenix. Such incidents, however, are so rare that a porcupine on exhibition in a Phoenix window would be a real attraction.
“The porcupine, says Mr. Barnes, is a very retiring sort of an animal. He seems to know that he is not wanted in the best society and takes all possible precautions to keep out of it. Moreover, his destructive tastes are such that he wants to be let alone in his work, for he seems to know that fault will be found with it. Even in the forest country the animal is often hard to locate until the evidence of his whereabouts is seen on the barked trees in the vicinity, but wherever a colony of them is located it is the first duty of the forest ranger to exterminate it by whatever method he deems most effective.”
One can’t help but wonder if the mindset espoused above might have had a negative impact on the forests. After all, you can still go out today and easily find trees damaged by some “dastardly” animal. Elk rub against young trees all the time, sometimes killing them. Theoretically this “damage” may have had a positive role before it was stopped. It also shows an attitude toward trees that might lead to a “put them out quick” attitude with regard to fires. While this attitude may seem like purely a forest service one, the general tone of the newspaper article leads to the belief that it may have been a societal one; one that came out of a different time and a general lack of knowledge and understanding about how healthy forests really work.