Saturday, March 7, 2009

Politics hasn't changed

I was working on the early history of Mt. Rainier NP, especially the period 1890-1900, my favorite, leading up to the passage of the law designating Mt. Rainier as a National Park. Contrary to what people may think, it was a messy business getting Mt. Rainier designated a National Park. There were a lot of personalities and some celebrities involved, but there was one small thing that clearly showed politics doesn't change.

Up to 1891 the new national forest were designated and managed under a set of timber laws which weren't working. So Congress passed a new law, the Forest Reserve Act of 1891 (PDF), which consolidated all of them under one management and operations. The Act is eight pages, mostly taking into account all the small issue which needed to be resolved.

But the last paragraph is what changed America. It reads:

"Sec. 24 That the President of the United States may, from time to time, set apart and reserve, any State or Territory having public land bearing forests, in any part of the public lands wholly or in part covered with timber or undergrowth, whether of commercial value or not, as public reservations, and the President shall, by public proclamation, declare the establishment of such reservations and limit thereof."

Under President Harrison, only 13 million acres were designated as forest reserve under the act, specifically the Oregon Cascades, the Sierra Mountains in California, the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Yellowstone in Wyoming and the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. President Cleveland, on other hand, designated 21 million acres throughout the West, either expanding existing reserves established by Harrison or adding new areas, such as all the new forests, some parts later becoming the three National Parks, in Washington.

Some Presidents understands that some of their legacy lies in land, A simple jesture of saving forests then has propered this country more than they could have imagined and more than we could realize in all these years, one hundred and ten years later. I doubt the members of Congress realized what they had done, only a President who saw the political door unlocked.

He opened and filled the house of America's forests with its first substantial reserves. Thank you.

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