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With need for ANF outlined, first supervisor identified priorities for early forest management

Loren Bishop, the Allegheny National Forest’s first supervisor, made a compelling case for the vision and purpose of the ANF.

He needed to make that argument because when he wrote in 1925 there were still a couple hundred thousand acres that hadn’t yet been purchased.

So while the advocacy would appear to have benefits in that space, it also reads like a genuine effort to convince the local communities that this relative forest experiment would be good for them.

If nothing else, he knew where his bread was buttered.

“In a very definite way, a national forest… is public property,” he wrote. “It is owned by the people, their tax money was used to buy the land and is being used to protect and develop it. It is intended that the benefits of the forest shall accrue to the public.”

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service In some sense, early Allegheny National Forest planners had a blank slate to work with. These images show the status of the ANF in the early days. 2023 marks the ANF’s centennial.

While we’re surrounded by forest today, the rampant over-harvesting of timber in the late 1800s and early 1900s had to have made this point harder to sell.

Put another way, imagine looking at a forest that wasn’t a forest anymore and being asked by government bureaucrats to trust that they would make it a thriving forest again.

But Bishop knew that the support of the public was essential – “except such benefit is brought about there is nothing to command the project and it must of necessity fail.The more that the public knows about, is interested in, and takes advantage of, the National Forest, the greater will be its usefulness.

“It is most important that the public come to feel the sense of ownership as to the Allegheny National Forest. In no other way will it be possible to satisfactorily protect and develop it.”

But what will that usefulness be? And, more importantly, how would the forest be managed to ensure those objectives are met?

“The aim of the Forest management plan will be the production of the greatest amount of material of the highest class in the shortest length of time,” Bishop wrote. “Permanent industries and communities are desired. Material will be sold only as fast as more is produced by growth. In other words, once the plan gets going, that amount of stumpage will be sold each year that can be sold every year.”

He got into the minutiae of how much timber could reasonably be expected, details that are beyond my expertise. This is probably the best way that he explained it – “the plan will be to market approximately the same amount of stumpage each year. Small continuous operation will be given preference. Stable industrial conditions will thus be encouraged.”

At the time, there were still any number of industries operating in the area that required a flow of the raw material the ANF could produce – furniture factories, saw mills, tanneries, chemical plants, handle factories, planing mills, etc.

“The more of the material needed by these plants that can be produced locally the longer the plants can be assured a supply,” Bishop concluded. “It is necessary that we grow all the timber we can and in addition make the very best use of what we now have and shall be able to produce.”

He admitted that the goal was for as many people to live around the forest as possible (though he referred to those residents as “settlers” which seems a more appropriate term for the 1790s than the 1920s, when the county’s population was over 40,000). “It is never desirable to depopulate the Forest,” he wrote. “Men are needed to aid in the protection and development of the area and to work up the material grown. Resident labor is much more satisfactory.”

While he was clear to make the point that the timber benefits of the ANF might not come into play for decades, there were more immediate management objectives.

“The relationship between forests and stream flow is most definite – the results of forest denudation are inescapable,” he suggested. “The effects of a forested watershed may be summed up in a few words as follows: A forest cover means more water in streams during low water stages, less water in them during flood periods, less erosion of hill-side lands and less sediment, sand, gravel and debris carried by the streams. A forest cover, whether composed or immature or mature trees, is the very best kind of protection for a watershed. The destruction of forest conditions on stream catchment areas is largely responsible for the occurrence of disastrous floods during wet periods and for the failure of streams during dry weather. As forest conditions are re-established on the Allegheny River watershed, the flow of the river will become more uniform.”

Prioritizing those areas was of particular importance, he asserted, because of the communities who then relied on the ANF as a water source – half of Warren’s water (all from Morrison Run which was by then part of the forest) as well as Sheffield, Kane, Ridgway, Ludlow, Marienville, Tionesta, Kinzua and Bradford.

While Bishop acknowledged that forestry as a science was “one of the newer sciences,” management of the ANF from the outset would include “forestry practices… if our national timber requirements are to be provided for.”

That meant research, as well.

“On account of the length of time required to produce a forest such work must of necessity cover a span of years,” Bishop wrote. “Thus is it important that some organization that guarantees continuity concern itself with the working out of forestry problems. No agency is better fitted to do this than is the federal government.”

“The National Forests serve their greatest usefulness as experimental forests,” he continued, “proving grounds for forestry practices, and demonstration areas of what has been determined to be best in the management of wood lands.” He was optimistic that what could be learned on the ANF would translate to other areas, as well.

And by 1925 – when the ANF was just 2-years-old – he was able to identify some of the research questions that already stood out: How would thinning work? How can white pine production be encouraged? What hardwood species are best and how can they be enhanced? When and where is planting best conducted?

He was also confronted with environmental threats including white pine blister rust and the decline of chestnut trees, billions of which were blighted across the nation in the first half of the 20th century.

Bishop devoted some time to explaining how the ANF would function from a staffing perspective.

The regional office was in Washington D.C. (it’s now in Milwaukee) and the local headquarters were in Warren. Bishop identified the location as the “Pierce Building, 304 1/2 Third Ave.” (The Struthers Library Theatre is 304 W. Third so I’m not sure where he’s referring to).

Bishop was the supervisor and he had a clerk, junior forester, examiner of surveys, forest ranger and transitman on staff, assisted by fire guards, towermen, road builders, rod men, axemen, compassmen and others when needed.

“The Forest Supervisor is in general charge of the work of the Forest which includes the purchase of lands, the surveying and mapping of the lands acquired, the protection administration and development of acquired land the the general extension of forestry knowledge and practice,” Bishop explained.

“The forest ranger’s first duty is connection with the protection of National Forest land from fire. He functions as a general field superintendent as to all forest activities, such as building roads, telephone lines, fire towers, cabins, camp ground development, etc. He marks the timber that is sold and sees to it that the purchasers carry out the provisions of the sale agreements. He is expected to know the settlers living within his district and to secure their cooperation in the protection of the forest from fire.”

He knew that it would be “necessary from time to time to increase the forest force” as the area and work grew.

And it has.

In an article for the 50th anniversary, a retired district ranger, Larry Stotz, details how some of those changes have occurred over time.

He said his role was as an “on-the-ground land manager” with the “authority to settle on-the-grund most of the problems that beset his district” due to the “highly decentralized” nature of the Forest Service.

He retired before the enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act which has added substantial layers of review to projects on public lands.

When he came in 1947, the Forest was split into two districts – a Northern and Southern.

That grew to four in the late 1950s – Sheffield, Marienville, Bradford and Ridgway – before shrinking back to the two we have today – Marienville and Bradford which function in a quasi-north/south way.

We’ll take a deeper look at other intended ANF purposes in the coming weeks with deeper looks at recreation, timber, fire protection.

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