Posts Tagged ‘Alaska’

On September 10, 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt established the Tongass National Forest in southeastern Alaska. This month, the Forest History Society is publishing a history of the region, Tongass Timber: A History of Logging and Timber Utilization in Southeast Alaska, by James Mackovjak (you may remember Jim from his cross-country bike trip documented on this blog). Tongass Timber, now available in our online store, traces the history of the decades-long attempts by commercial interests and the U.S. Forest Service to develop the region’s forests, examining their motivations and resulting impacts. This historical background reveals the forces that influence present choices about forest management in Southeast Alaska.

The Tongass National Forest originated with the Alexander Archipelago Forest Reserve, which Roosevelt established in 1902 under the old forest reserve system. The Alexander’s creation was controversial because Alaskans feared that the forest would no longer be available for development, a general misconception about the purpose of the forest reserves. Forester Gifford Pinchot sought to assure the territorial governor, John Brady, that the opposite was the case, declaring at the time: “[T]he permanent success of the industries of Alaska can best be secured through the establishment of forest reserves.” It was the first of many controversies over economic policy and the Tongass.

Five years later, the Tongass National Forest was created on the recommendation of forest supervisor W. A. Langille and F. E. Olmsted, the forest inspector sent out from Washington, D.C. As Jim Mackovjak notes, Olmsted’s was “the first detailed examination of Southeast Alaska’s forests by a professionally trained forester.” The announcement of Tongass’s establishment in Forestry and Irrigation, the predecessor to the American Forests magazine, is here. If you want a history of the agency in Alaska, check out Lawrence Rakestraw’s A History of the United States Forest Service in Alaska. It is, however, nearly thirty years old.

Langille is regarded by many as the father of forestry in Alaska. A skilled outdoorsman and mountaineer who deeply impressed Pinchot when they met in 1896 in Oregon, Pinchot hired him first as a forest expert and eventually as forest supervisor of the Alexander. Langille projected what a colleague termed an “abrupt, outspoken and occasionally mildly terrifying manner.” You can learn more about this fascinating man from this article.

But that’s not all! For you, our dedicated blog readers, we have an exclusive excerpt from Tongass Timber, which gives the history of the establishment of the Tongass, including the origins of its name and how Alaska went from being designated as District 8 to becoming Region 10 on the National Forest System map. You’ll also find maps showing how the Tongass grew from 2 million to 16 million acres.

We’d like to thank the following for making Tongass Timber possible through their generous funding: the Kendall Foundation, Mike Blackwell, the SB Foundation, the Alaska Historical Society, the Alaska Humanities Forum, and the Lynn W. Day Endowment for Forest History Publications.

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We’ve asked Jim Mackovjak, author of the forthcoming FHS book, Tongass Timber: A History of Logging and Timber Utilization in Southeast Alaska, 1804-1960, to share his thoughts on his recent cross-country bike trip and his time here in Durham. Around our office he has earned the nickname “Lawrence of Alaska” for his ride through the American desert.

When I left San Diego on my bicycle trip across the country two months ago, I envisioned evenings spent camped behind roadside billboards and nourishing meals of road-killed animal parts that, cooked over an open fire, would invariably taste like chicken. Not really. But though I had done little planning, I knew which way to go: head into the morning sun and keep Mexico on my right. Despite the facts that I had not trained at all and my equipment was very basic (though sound), some 50 gallons of Gatorade and five and a half weeks later I arrived safely in St. Augustine, Florida, none the worse for wear.

The hot, southern tier of the United States is not my customary environ. I hail from the small town of Gustavus, in southeast Alaska, where I have resided for forty years. Southeast Alaska’s climate is a bit harsh, but it is truly a region of great natural abundance, both terrestrial and marine, and offers a stark contrast to the three deserts I crossed. The bicycle ride was a lark, something I had wanted to do since I was a teenager, but work and family responsibilities had always prevented. These days, I do contract writing and my wife teaches school, and our three children are grown and off pretty much on their own. I made time for the trip.

Some of the stretches through the deserts were long, hot, and lonely, and, in my own small way, at the end of a day’s riding I felt like Lawrence of Arabia emerging from the desert on a bicycle. The first real trees I saw along the route, a juniper-like species in the hill country of Texas that reached a size that would at least provide a modicum of shade, were a welcome sight. I relished the increasing amounts of greenery as I journeyed east. I understand the importance of the pineries of the southeastern states to our nation’s wood supply, and the plantation forests, with their neat rows of evenly-spaced trees, were of great interest to me. But constantly feeling the need to push east, I never made a serious effort to learn more about them firsthand. I nevertheless enjoyed the shade they provided.

Jim Mack traveling in Texas. Trees took on a new significance to him as he biked across the country.

Jim Mack traveling in Texas. Trees took on a new significance to this "Lawrence of Alaska" as he biked through three deserts.

One question that I often asked myself while pedaling along was: What am I learning? I’m still not sure what the answer is, other than the fact that I had the strength and stamina to complete the trip.


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