Logging: Early Demand and the Land

The rush for gold in California in 1849 meant a rush for infrastructure. Demand for the Northwest’s wood increased to meet the resource needs of building boomtowns. Several sawmills opened up, primarily around the ports,[1] which was the easiest access to both wood and transport. By the year 1889, Stanley Park in Vancouver, British Columbia was logged five times.[2]

This influx of settlers to the west, and the subsequent increased harvesting of various resources of the land, impacted the natural cycles in nature. Prior to 1850, natural fires were common in the different forest stands, with the intervals between fires dependent upon the ecosystem and local plants. How the forests have been sectioned and used since the mid-19th century, in terms of logging but also the establishment of communities, transportation routes and recreational practices, have impacted the natural fire regimes. Also, with 80 percent of the Northwest old growth and late successional forests having been cleared due to logging after the 1850s, the younger forest stands that exist in their place “are more susceptible to intense fires”.[3] And wood was not the only harvest taking place in the forests. About a decade after the California Gold Rush, the first commercial salmon harvesting occurred in the Columbia River; by the next decade, both California and Oregon had established salmon hatcheries due to overharvesting and decline of the habitat quality.[4] Recognizing the decreased numbers of salmon and some of the causes, the state governments of California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho had, by 1900, begun passing laws on certain fishing and practices impacting the salmon habitat.[5] Though the restrictions were not yet concerned with logging’s impact on the watershed (and indeed, logging practices then were different than they are now), it shows the recognition, role, and paradoxical tension taken on historically by government institutions on sustaining yet capitalizing on natural assets.

With all of these changes in the Northwest, land ownership became quite important, and the land ownership and utilization patterns established during this time greatly impacted the situation the region is in today.[6] After the Oregon Compromise of 1864, the United States federal government gave away, sold at low prices, and granted land and resources in the Pacific Northwest, in order to develop and settle the region. Other public lands were reserved for national forests and parks, some lands were transferred to the states, and by treaty some land became Native American reservations. Homestead acts and other laws put land into private ownership as well, and timber companies were also able to purchase land. 5057_a1In an effort to establish infrastructure in the Northwest, the federal government also paid for much of the hydroelectric and irrigation costs for power and agriculture, and gave land grants to the railroad companies (which, on occasions when a railroad company did not meet the grant’s terms, the land was revested to the federal government). Subsequently, the railway corridors and sectioning of land significantly impacted patterns of land utilization in the Pacific Northwest. The checkerboard ownership pattern that was established then still exists today.[7]

There was also illegal logging on public lands in these early years when enforcement was weak, as well as fraudulent acquiring of land. The Timber and Stone Act of 1878 was to enable independent farmers to be able to purchase certain types of land that corporations were not allowed to, but in the end, timber companies came to acquire much of those lands instead.[8]

All of this was happening in the time when trees were still so large the U.S. Postal Service felt there was ample room to set up Post Office in a cedar stump – yes in a stump – near Lake Crescent. Darius Kinsey, who took many stunning photographs of logging operations during this period, which his wife Tabitha Kinsey developed in the dark room – has a photograph from 1879 of a cedar stump post office which was over two persons high and had a shingled roof on top.[9] Some homesteaders even made cedar stumps into living quarters, such as in 1902, where a roof was put on, a glass window in, and even a chimney pipe into a 22 foot diameter stump in Snohomish County, Washington.[10] The trees during this time were so large, that one tree’s wood could fill a train.[11] Acquiring the land that these trees were on, then, was quite an astute business strategy, and as the above reflects, there were many stakeholders across the landscape.


See the rest of the Logging in the Pacific Northwest project



[1] Andrews, R.W. (1956). Glory Days of Logging. Seattle: Superior Publishing Company. (Page 64.); Chiang, C. and Reese, M. (Year unknown). Evergreen State: Exploring the History of Washington’s Forests. A Curriculum Project for Washington Schools. Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest, University of Washington Department of History. (Page 4.)

[2] Andrews, Page 14.

[3] National Research Council (U.S.). (2000). Environmental issues in Pacific Northwest forest management. Washington, D.C: National Academy Press. (Page 72, 113, 116.)

[4] National Research Council (U.S.), Page 99-100.

[5] National Research Council (U.S.), Page 99.

[6] National Research Council (U.S.), Page 29.

[7] National Research Council (U.S.), Page 29-30.

[8] Chiang and Reese, Page 7.

[9] Bohn, D. & Petschek, R. (1978). Kinsey Photographer: The Family Album and Other Early Work. (Volume 1). San Francisco: Chronicle Books. (Pages 270-271).

[10] Bohn and Petschek, Pages 102-105.

[11] U.S. Forest Service and Georgia-Pacific Corporation. (1991). Steam Whistles, Sawdust and Salt Air [Film]. United States: Northwest Interpretive Association.