Malheur National ForestLeave review
About Malheur National Forest
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History of Malheur National Forest
The Malheur National Forest was established by President Theodore Roosevelt on June 13th, 1908. It was created out of the larger Blue Mountains Forest Reserve which was established two years earlier.
The purpose of the Forest Reserve and National Forest system, as expressed in the Organic Act of 1897, was to protect water flow and to ensure a continuous supply of timber.
The Malheur Forest was named for the Malheur River which has its headwaters in the southeastern part of the Forest. Malheur is a French word for misfortune (literally "bad hour"). The River was named by the fur trapper Peter Ogden in the 1820's when a cache of supplies hidden along its banks was taken by Indians.
Cy Bingham was the first Malheur Forest Supervisor, a position he held until he retired in 1920 to become the Grant County Sheriff. Bingham was one of the first six Forest Service employees hired in Oregon. The entire work force at this time consisted of ten employees who had to provide their own horses, saddlery, camp gear, and uniforms. They spent the bulk of the non-winter months camping and patrolling the Forest on horseback.
The first order of business for the new Forest was to set up grazing systems which would alleviate the conflicts between sheep herders and cattlemen which had sometimes erupted into gun play. Both sides knew that the land was being damaged by over grazing but they had very different opinions as to who was causing the damage. Eventually a grazing permit system was established which is still in use today.
Another important role for early Forest employees was wild fire detection and suppression. Dry lightning is common in the Blue Mountains and starts between a few dozen and several hundred fires every year. The need to control fires over such a large area, with so few employees, led to the development of a series of trails, lookouts and guard stations. The first lookouts were high points on the landscape or trees from which the upper branches were removed and a flimsy "crows nest" was built.
The original guard stations were wall tents with a few exceptions like the Muderers Creek Guard Station which is a one room cabin built around 1908. Although they were frequent, most of the fires before 1930 were relatively small and could be easily put out by one or two people. This was because the natural fire regime of frequent, light fires kept the understory clear of brush and debris which could carry the fire into the tree tops. The unintended side effect of successful fire suppression was a buildup of understory fuels which has led to increased fire severity since the 1930's. It is not uncommon today to need several hundred fire fighters and heavy equipment to contain these larger wild fires.
Most of the currently used Forest Service lookouts, campgrounds and buildings were constructed during the 1930's by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).
Timber production was a relatively minor part of the administration of the Malheur National Forest until 1930 when a substantial logging railroad was built from the town of Burns into Bear Valley at the heart of the Forest. The construction of this extensive rail network was required by the Forest Service as part of the first large scale timber sale on the Forest. The Bear Valley Timber Sale, possibly the largest volume of timber ever sold in the continental United States, was sold to the Hines Lumber Company in 1928. Timber harvest from this sale continued until 1968.
Administrating such a massive timber sales program, as well as suppressing larger fires, necessitated hiring a larger work force, at least seasonally. Timber sale planning and administration remains the largest aspect of the administration of the Malheur National Forest although the volume of timber offered for sale has reduced steadily during the 1990's.
Recreation has always been an important activity on the Forest. Traditionally, the bulk of recreational use has centered around camping, hunting and fishing. The first public campground on the Forest was built before 1916 along one of the Forest's premier trout streams. Horseback riding and hiking along the many trails used by Forest Service employees and herders has also been a popular pastime. The bulk of the recreational use of the Forest has traditionally been by people living in the local area but some hunters have come from the Willamette Valley since before 1920.
As highways and automobiles became better and more affordable increasing numbers of non-local visitors have used the Forest.
In 1975 the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness Area was set aside for non-motorized recreation. The size of the wilderness area was almost doubled in 1984 and an additional wilderness area, Monument Rock, was also declared.
Cross country skiing, snow mobiling, and mountain biking have become popular forms of forest recreation in recent years.