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Archive for May 3rd, 2011

May 3, 2011, marks the centennial of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Grimaud. We are re-posting Char Miller’s blog entry about this landmark case with some additional documents. It originally appeared on April 27 on his blog at www.KCET.org.

You’ve probably never heard of Pierre Grimaud. But when you pay to use one of the recreational fee areas within the San Bernardino or Los Padres national forests, you might want to thank him. The same is true the next time you get a permit to camp deep in the Southland’s San Gorgornio or Cucamonga wilderness areas. And if you you’ve ever applied for a permit to run cattle on the Cleveland National Forest or graze sheep within the folds of the Sierra or San Gabriel mountains, you now know to thank this same early 20th-century shepherd.

John Muir referred to sheep as "hooved locust" because of how they eat plants down to the ground. This is an example of healthy range on the Medicine Bow National Forest, Wyoming, from 1927.

Grimaud never knew that he would play a major role in helping to set the conditions by which 21st-century Americans could use the public lands, or that he in effect would save the national forest system itself. Certainly he had no idea that anyone would make a federal case out of the ill-advised decision he and his partner P. J. Carajous made in the early summer of 1907 to sneak his flock on to the Sierra Forest Reserve (now the Sierra National Forest). The first inkling of trouble he would have had was when a forest ranger stopped him and asked to see this permit. Grimaud admitted he did not have one, and with that he was on his way to court.

Yet so complex was this moment–raising as it did constitutional questions about Congress’ ability to delegate administrative authority to other governmental entities (in this case the U.S. Forest Service)–that U.S. v. Grimaud took four years of legal wrangling before the dust had settled. Finally, on May 3, 1911, one hundred years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that Grimaud was guilty as charged.

The Basque shepherd could not really play the innocent: he and his peers across California had borne witness to the establishment of the first forest reserves, sanctioned under the 1891 Forest Reserve Act that empowered presidents to withdraw forests and grasslands from sale so as to protect these essential resources. Among the very first western public lands that received this new designation were those in southern and central California: Presidents Harrison and Cleveland set aside units of what would become the Angeles (1892), Cleveland (1893), San Bernardino (1893) and Los Padres (1898) national forests; the Sierra was created in early 1893.

The federal presence expanded six year later when Congress enacted the so-called Organic Act of 1897, which granted management authority to the Department of the Interior, then the nation’s sole custodian of the public domain. As part of this process, rangers were hired, and regulations were set for the use of these reserves’ various resources, whether animal, vegetable, or mineral. And when in 1905 the U.S. Forest Service was established as part of the Department of Agriculture, and the nation’s forests transferred to its care, the number of rangers increased again, the permitting process intensified, and the related rules and fees were published widely. (more…)

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