Archive for February, 2012

Three cheers for the diligence and hard work of archivists! Without their labor it would be next to impossible to write informed historical narrative. In this blog entry, David Brownstein conducts a conversation with Tom Anderson, Provincial Archives of Alberta, and with Peter Murphy, Forest History Association of Alberta, regarding the Canadian Forest History Preservation Project. The project is a collaboration between the Canadian Forest Service, the Network in Canadian History and Environment (NiCHE), and the Forest History Society. The goal is to locate valuable forest history material in danger of loss or destruction, and aid in its transfer to an appropriate archive. The Canadian Forest History Preservation Project wants to hear from you if you know of any prospects.

David Brownstein: Tom, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Tom Anderson: In 2003 I graduated from the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies, at the University of British Columbia. I began work at the Provincial Archives of Alberta (PAA) in Edmonton, in 2004. I was a government records archivist for 5 years before moving to my current position as Team Lead, Private Records, where I am part of the group responsible for acquiring, preserving, and making available non-governmental records.

DB: Describe the PAA forest history holdings for us.

TA: The Provincial Archives is the repository for government records of enduring value, as well as private records of individuals, businesses, schools, associations, and societies in Alberta. Our holdings cover the whole of the province, and we are lucky to have extensive forest, environment, and resource-related records, tracing the development and history of forests and forest professionals. We hold records of those in government responsible for forests from the federal field notes of timber and land surveys and management of timber berths, up to present-day provincial ministries, ranging from the departments of Mines and Minerals, Lands and Forests, and the Department of Sustainable Resource Development. The records, be they cabinet papers, memoranda, policy records, work diaries of rangers, films, photographs, forest cover maps, or even blueprints of ranger stations, cover all aspects of forest management.

We hold records related to forest officers and their training, forest protection, timber management, reforestation, land use and climate change, equipment, legislation and regulation, and research and recreation.

As our mandate to acquire records covers the whole of the province of Alberta and is not limited to government created materials, the PAA also has textual records, photographs and films of logging, mill owners, municipalities and their efforts to fight fires, environmental groups, aerial photographs created by Weldwood of Canada, records of various flyers and their companies, and even records of bush pilots in the province. The records either directly or indirectly document the change in forests and environment over time.

DB: How can people decide if they have anything of value that deserves archival protection?

TA: Any person, family, business, or group with forest history records can either contact you for assistance, David, or they can contact an archives to discuss the records in their possession. We look to acquire records that document the lives, work, history, and culture of the province, and donors that have some connection to forestry in any capacity should hold on to their materials and make sure to speak with us before throwing anything away! We get this question a lot, and so we recently published Family Histories: Preserving Your Personal and Family Documents, available in English and French, free to anyone who comes to the Provincial Archives.

In this case, we look for records that provide evidence of a life related to forests or forestry. We are interested in material created by industry workers, active or retired professionals in the area, students, families of workers, and those dedicated to forest preservation and utilization. We look for correspondence, diaries, photographs, albums, home movies, minutes and agendas of professional or business meetings, maps, plans, and of course writings on how the forests and environment have affected the lives of Albertans, and how we have influenced our environment.

Not Tom Anderson. Rather, it's a woodcutter at Bowden, Alberta, early 1900s (PAA Photo H592).

DB: From the point of view of a box of photos or letters, what is the difference between being kept at a private home in a basement or an attic, and being housed in the archives?

TA: I would say the difference is the length of time that the different places can preserve the records. Boxed in a cool, dark closet, protected from vast changes in temperature or humidity, paper and photos can last a long time at home. We have conservators on staff if people have questions about how to preserve materials at home. Many of us do not preserve our special records in optimal conditions, though, and there is always the possibility of a fire or flood in the home. There is no guarantee that a disaster will not happen at an archives; but depending on the repository, there are safeguards in place to ensure the safest possible environment for the records, and for the longest possible time. The Provincial Archives of Alberta for example stores all its records on site in special archival enclosures, in secured climate-controlled vaults, free of temperature or humidity changes.

DB: What should people keep in mind, when considering donating their material to the archives?

TA: Potential donors should consider that the records that become part of an archives is the legacy that we leave for future generations.

Archives strive to ensure accountability, protect the rights of the people, and document all aspects of the lives of citizens. We want the holdings to be used and accessed; records at the PAA are, for the most part, open and available and free for use by anyone. The Provincial Archives is very lucky to have a number of exciting forestry-related collections of records. People must always keep in mind that we are dependant on donors. If societies, associations, businesses, or individuals do not donate their records, we cannot build on the good work of those who have donated and preserved the records of the past.

DB: How have PAA holdings been used by various researchers?

TA: Students, academics, amateur historians, genealogists, artists and writers utilize our holdings. I know that environment and forest records were used in the creation of recent exhibits, and in research for park-related studies, books and presentations, including The Alberta Forest Service 1930-2005 and Laying Down the Lines: A History of Land Surveying in Alberta.


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Over the past several months, U.S. Forest Service officials have become ensnared in controversy over an unusual topic—a mountaintop statue of Jesus Christ on the Flathead National Forest. After some initial hesitation, the Forest Service announced on Tuesday that the nearly 60-year-old statue would remain for another ten years. This was met by an immediate lawsuit from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which argues that the statue is unconstitutional. For most observers, the issue centers around the connection between the federal government and religion.

But the statue has been there for more than half a century because of a special-use permit granted by the U.S. Forest Service. Special-use permits are granted for the use of various forest resources, and are given to scores of individuals, businesses, and organizations throughout the country. Permits are granted for roads, residences, resorts, power lines, windmills, churches, religious camps, and many other reasons.

The original purpose for installing the Jesus statue is somewhat muddled, but what we do know is that it was first erected after the Kalispell’s Knights of Columbus Council No. 1238 was granted a special-use permit in 1953. According to a recently installed plaque, seen on this website, the statue may have been a nod to the area’s troops who served in the 10th Mountain Division during World War II. Whatever the reason, the statue was finished in 1955 and has remained in the same 25′-by-25′ spot since. And—at least for the time being—that’s where it’ll stay for another decade.

Below you will find additional information about the history of special-use permits. To see the citations, please visit the pages by clicking on the links.

From chapter 2 of John Fedkiw, Managing Multiple Uses on National Forests, 1905-1995: A 90-year Learning Experience and It Isn’t Finished Yet:

Management of Special Uses

Special uses include all resource uses other than commercial timber sales, forage grazing, occupancy established by the Federal Power Commission, and the U.S. homestead laws. Special-use permits could be issued for the following uses: residences, farms, pastures, corrals, apiaries, dairies, schools, churches, roads, trails, telephone and telegraph lines, stores, sawmills, factories, hotels, stage stations, sanatoriums, camps, wharves, miners’ and prospectors’ cabins, windmills, dipping vats, reservoirs, water conduits, powerhouses and transmission lines, aerial tramways, railroads, and the purchase of sand, stone, clay, gravel, hay, and other products except timber (USDA Forest Service 1907). The list broadened over time.

Special-use permits were seen as promoting the welfare of individual users and the larger community living in and near the national forests. The permits provided a means whereby any forest resource, no matter how minor, could be turned to individual account if its use did not conflict with a larger community interest and it was compatible with national forest purposes (USDA Forest Service 1913). A special-use permit required a formal application for the use or occupancy of national forest lands and resources and specified use conditions such as area, time, and management requirements and standards. Special-use permits numbered about 4,000 in 1905. They increased to 19,000 in 1915. By 1941, they numbered 44,000. Between 1905 and 1945, permitted uses involved only a negligible percentage of the national forest area, but served large numbers of users. Use permits involving the payment of annual fees ranged from 40 to 60 percent of the total permits issued. The balance were free-use permits. Pay permits were issued where uses were commercial, served industrial purposes, or involved exclusive private use such as summer recreation residences.

Free permits were issued for uses of a public nature, such as cemeteries, Girl and Boy Scout organizational camps, and access roads to private homes or in-holdings, and uses such as rights-of-way that were needed to carry out other national forest land uses. Free-use permits were granted to settlers, farmers, prospectors, or similar persons who might not reasonably be required to pay a fee and who did not have a usable supply of timber or stone on lands they owned or controlled.

During the early 1930’s, the Forest Service repeatedly sought authority to raise the occupancy permit acreage limit from 5 to 80 acres. National forest managers felt that in many cases the 5-acre minimum was too low to provide for the best development of occupied areas and service to the public. Where additional area was needed, national forest managers could issue only a separate, terminable permit. This option was considered insufficient and lacked secure tenure for longer term occupancy uses such as airplane landing fields, educational institutions’ scientific stations, or high-quality resorts. Congress, however, did not choose to extend the 5-acre maximum permit limit.

The statue is on the Flathead National Forest. Trails of the Past: Historical Overview of the Flathead National Forest, Montana, 1800-1960, by Kathryn L. McKay, has a passage about special-use permits on the forest.

Special-use permits were issued on the Flathead National Forest for such diverse activities as cutting wild hay, growing a garden and flowers along the Middle Fork, building hunting cabins, establishing logging camps, running a commercial packing business, and building summer homes on various lakes (Holland Lake, Lake McDonald, Swan Lake, and others). Dude ranches were also operated under special-use permits. For example, the Diamond R Ranch at Spotted Bear was started in 1927 by Guy Clatterbuck, who had been located the previous year at Spotted Bear Lake. Private hotels were also under special-use permit, such as the Belton Chalet in West Glacier (the Glacier Park Hotel Company was issued a permit for this hotel in 1914) (Opalka 1983; FNF “General Report” 1918)

One spectacular summer home was the Rock House, built in 1930 through a special-use permit on the west shore of Swan Lake for the L. O. Evans family (Evans was president of the board of ACM for a time). In 1937, a forest inspector commented that the management situation at Swan Lake was different from many places because most of the land around the lake was privately owned. He added that wealthy people had moved in over 25 years ago seeking privacy and had “pretty much dominated Swan Lake for 25 years.” The ranger tried to protect the public’s interest in recreation in the area and at the same time avoid appearing “bureaucratic or spiteful and so retain the good will and cooperation of private owners” (“Rock House” 1984; 18 December 1937 memo, Inspection Reports, Region One, 1937-, RG 95, FRC).

In 1930 the Flathead National Forest maintained 13 residential permits in Essex, which had a population of 200 at the time, of which 90% were railroad employees. In Belton and Essex many of the homes, and the school, were built on federal land under permit (W. I. White, 1/28/30 “Report on Municipal Watershed,” 2510 Surveys, Watershed Analyses, 1927-29, RO; Shaw 1967:28).

Here is a recent photo of the statue.

Montana Jesus statue

Big Mountain Jesus statue (via Flickr)

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