Felt Necessities: Engines of Forest Policy, Part 6
The 1937 O&C Act was co-authored by David Mason and Rufus Poole, a legislative attorney in the office of Interior Secretary, Harold Ickes, a Roosevelt Administration insider who, like the President, thought of himself as an ardent conservationist.
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This is the sixth part of “Felt Necessities: Engines of Forest Policy,” a series of essays tracing the history of the conservation movement in the United States, and its influence on the nation’s ever-shifting forest policy.
The series expands significantly on a half-day lecture Evergreen founder, Jim Petersen, delivered to a graduate-level forestry class at the University of Idaho in February 2017.
The term “felt necessities” is taken from The Common Law, a book of essays assembled in 1881 by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., in which he explains the historic underpinnings of the nation’s legal system. President Theodore Roosevelt thought so much of Holmes’ essays that nominated him to the Supreme Court in 1902.
We hope you enjoy this series and find it informative. Your comments are most welcome. “Felt Necessities” will subsequently be available in book form. Click on the number to be directed to Parts 1-5 of the series. Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5
The 1937 O&C Act was co-authored by David Mason and Rufus Poole, a legislative attorney in the office of Interior Secretary, Harold Ickes, a Roosevelt Administration insider who, like the President, thought of himself as an ardent conservationist. Ickes sent Poole west in 1936 to investigate the facts behind an American Forests essay that had been highly critical of the federal government’s management of public timberlands in western Oregon.
Poole soon discovered that Mason had been beating the drum for sustained yield management since 1927. Their chance meeting, and Mason’s insistence that true sustained yield could only be achieved by first blocking up contiguous public and private ownerships, formed the basis for House Resolution 5858. Following hearings and revisions, a new House Resolution – 7618 – was ratified on June 28, 1937. President Roosevelt signed the O&C Act, Public Law 75-405, August 26, 1937.
Poole no doubt saw the law as a way in which the Roosevelt Administration could regain private lands regulatory controls it had lost in the Schechter and Belcher cases. But Mason, who was bereft of political skills, saw the Act as the culmination of a decade-long struggle for the legitimacy of his ideas about sustained yield forestry.
In a mere five and one-quarter pages, the Act laid out the terms under which publicly-owned O&C timber would be managed “for permanent timber production, and the timber thereon shall be sold, cut and removed in conformity with the principal of sustained yield for the purpose of providing a permanent source of timber supply, protecting watersheds, regulating stream flow and contributing to the economic sustainability of local communities and industries, and providing recreational facilities.” Note that the same ideas – and verbiage – are found in the 1897 Organic Act, which defined the very purpose of the Forest Reserves established by President Cleveland.
The O&C Act also created an “Oregon and California Land-grant Fund,” a conduit for funneling 75 percent of annual harvest revenues to the 18 O&C counties: 50 per cent based on the assessed value of O&C lands within each county, and additional 25 percent paid to each county in recognition of the fact that the federal government does not pay property taxes on lands it owns within counties.
Although the Act’s payment provisions were exceptionally generous, Public Law 75-405 reaffirmed felt necessities that had dominated public discourse concerning forests and forestry since George Perkins Marsh’s Man and Nature was published in 1864. These worries, which centered on fears of a national timber famine, and a repeat of the devastation that had befell the Northeast in the 1840s and 1850s, persisted until the U.S. Forest Service was formed in 1905, paving the way for the 1911 Weeks Act and the 1924 Clarke-McNary Act.
The Depression-era Dust Bowl, born of poor farming and forestry methods, gave Franklin Roosevelt the talking points he needed to marry conservation to job formation. Images of destitute millions fleeing the Midwest and Southeast for greener western pastures helped fuel his carrot and stick regulatory approach to soil and water conservation, reforestation, fire control, hydroelectric development, outdoor recreation and what David Mason called “cooperative sustain yield forest management,” the very essence of the 1937 O&C Act. Roosevelt promised that millions of unemployed men would be taken out of bread lines and given publicly-funded, federally-regulated jobs. And they were. But I have often wondered what the future might have held for country had not FDR’s grand social experiment been derailed in a matter of hours by Japan’s December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
Wars consume godawful amounts of timber. Estimates vary as to the amount commandeered by our armed forces during World War II, but the late Bill Hagenstein thought it was north of 90 billion board feet, so much that President Roosevelt found it necessary to personally sign off on plans to significantly overcut private timberlands in the South and the Pacific Northwest.
Hagenstein was considered too old to enlist or be drafted into service, but his mentor and father-figure, Bill Greeley, had recommended him for a senior forester’s post with the Roosevelt Administration’s Board of Economic Warfare. The well-respected Greeley had resigned his post as Chief of the Forest Service in 1928 because he felt he stood a better chance of convincing hard-bitten western lumbermen to embrace forest conservation as leader of their Seattle-based West Coast Lumbermen’s Association than he did as Chief.
The Weyerhaeuser Timber Company’s iconic chief executive, George S. Long, had talked Greeley into resigning from the Forest Service. Long, who had organized WTC in 1900, after Frederick Weyerhauser and his midwestern associates, bought 600,000 acres of western Washington timberland from railroad baron, James J. Hill. Long had led the way in the formation of the first privately-funded fire cooperatives in Idaho and Washington in 1903, and in 1909 he had invited Greeley to join a two-day industry meeting in Spokane that led to the formation of the Pacific Northwest Forestry and Conservation Association.
As we shall see in due course, if we string together the larger-than-life personalities of these three men – Long, Greeley and Hagenstein – we can see that Bill Hagenstein – who was my forestry mentor for more than 43 years - was simply the latest in a long line of visionaries who helped shape the practice of public and private lands forestry in the West, especially as it concerned fire control and reforestation.
From his tiny Economic Warfare office in downtown San Francisco, 29-year-old Bill Hagenstein quickly ordered the millions of dollars in heavy equipment needed to outfit a large logging and sawmilling operation. Years later, he told me that he unexpectedly found himself competing directly with unhappy military logistics men that had never heard of the Economic Warfare Office and had no idea who he was.
The ordering done, Hagenstein shipped the equipment and himself to the South Pacific’s Solomon Islands in the fall of 1943. He would spend the next 19 months island-hopping with his own arsenal, logging timber needed for barracks, docks, barricades, dunnage and swamp roads. Most of the 44 million board feet he cut from hardwood jungles on eight islands, including Tinian, was felled to make room for runways used by B-29 s bound for Japan’s coastal cities. On August 6, 1945. Eola Gay, the B-29 that carried our first atomic bomb to Hiroshima, departed from a runway Hagenstein had cleared in August of 1944. Although it seems heartless today, crushing the life out of Japan had been a felt necessity in our country for nearly four years.
Bill Hagenstein was barely 26 years old when Bill Greeley hired him in June of 1941 to oversee compliance with Article X’s now voluntary provisions. No one who knew Hagenstein thought him too young to handle hardscrabble loggers. At 16, he stood six feet four inches all, and he’d been on his own – mostly in logging and fire camps – since he was 12, so he had no fear of dealing with tough men twice his age.
But Hagenstein was nonetheless awe-struck by the daring and grit of Greeley’s members. To his dying day in his ninety-ninth year, he could vividly recall attending a historic September 4, 1941 meeting of the Joint Committee on Forest Conservation – an adjunct WCLA working group Greeley had formed to deal exclusively with reforestation of cutover timberland.
“We met in the basement of the old Governor Hotel in downtown Portland,” Hagenstein told me one late night over Old Bushmills in his living room overlooking downtown Portland. “I took the minutes. Acting on Colonel Greeley’s recommendation, they voted unanimously to go into the Douglas-fir nursery business on a 40.5-acre parcel at Nisqually, eight miles north of Olympia. There was no fanfare, and I don’t think anyone in the room realized we were making history, but we were. Now the industry was committed to the idea of growing trees to replace those that were harvested.”
For the record, Hagenstein was one of many who referred to Greeley as “Colonel Greely,” a reference to the fact that he had risen to the rank of Colonel while serving with the Twentieth Engineers in Europe in World War I. The Regiment, formed in August of 1917, eventually comprised 46 battalions and 46,000 soldiers, the largest in Army history. Greeley was tasked with operating several sawmills and procuring the logs needed to keep them busy. David Mason, who served in the Tenth Engineers, also ran sawmills in France. He rose to the rank of Captain, but I know of no post-war references to a “Captain Mason.” Such was the quiet Greeley’s stature among those who knew him.
In January of 1942, three months after their historic meeting at the long-gone Governor Hotel in Portland, and with war raging on three continents, the Joint Committee met again, this time at the old Portland Hotel – and this time to certify the nation’s first Tree Farms - 16 in all and all of them in western Oregon and Washington. Six months later, on June 14, 1941, Greeley presented the American Tree Farm System’s Certificate No. 1 to the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company for its 120,000-acre Clemons Tree Farm near Montesano, Washington.
“The whole thing had been Greeley’s idea,” Bill recalled. “He saw the Nisqually nursery as a good faith investment in the future of forestry in our region. He believed the Pacific Northwest’s principal asset was the regenerative capacity of Douglas-fir, and he was right.” Hagenstein would later survey the Nisqually tract, using a transit he borrowed from one of Weyerhaeuser’s forestry offices.
Good faith had been at the heart of Greeley’s reason for resigning his Chief’s post in 1928. He had read the political tea leaves and knew that until private timberland owners accepted responsibility for replanting lands they logged, the public would never trust their motives, to say nothing of forestry itself. Worse, no one could assure the public that David Mason’s dire predictions of timber famine would not come true in the 1960s.
The historic – and it was historic - pivot point had been Greeley’s supreme confidence in his ability to convince lumbermen who had their backs to the Pacific Ocean that their survival and permanence rested in putting down roots – literally and figuratively – in the ground they were harvesting from exceptionally productive coastal slopes in western Oregon and Washington
After World War II ended, Hagenstein went back to work for the Joint Committee on Forest Conservation, this time as their Logging Engineer. In March of 1949, the committee voted itself out of existence, forming a new association that blended the Committee’s reforestation work with the mill production work of their sister organization, West Coast Lumbermen’s Association. Although Greeley had retired in 1945, he was still advising WCLA’s members on regulatory and reforestation matters. Among his suggestions was that the merged organization be named The Forest Conservation Committee of the Pacific Northwest Forest Industries Association – a mouthful for sure – but a reflection of his belief that reforestation of private timberlands would always be the principal responsibility of landowning lumbermen.
“It was a terrible moniker,” Hagenstein told several interviewers. “You couldn’t sell memberships to anyone with a name like that. No one wanted to serve on another committee. It was time for forestry to move forward on its own steam, and we all knew it.”
Leonard Forrest, a WCLA director and Rayonier Paper Company forester came to Hagenstein’s rescue. The new organization would be called the Industrial Forestry Association, and Hagenstein was soon named the new organization’s executive director, a post he held until his retirement in 1980.
It is no exaggeration to say that Bill Hagenstein became American forestry’s tour de force over his 35 years at IFA’s helm. He testified before congressional committees some 250 times, spoke publicly 770 times – once every 10 days – and wrote countless articles for newspapers and magazines. I know this because I have all his work tucked away in file folders in my office, plus another 40-some hours of recorded interviews. He was a prolific writer and a riveting speaker with a voice that sounded as though it was descending from the clouds. But what made him unique among timber association executives was that he rarely spoke of his member’s accomplishments. Rather, he preached the gospel of forestry, just as Bill Greeley had. He wanted the country to know what was required to manage forests successfully – to ensure that the nation’s forest felt necessities were met, and that David Mason’s dire prediction never came true.
Indeed, until the 1970s, the public’s primary focus was still on Mason’s resolute view that growth and harvest had to be in balance, and that forests – especially National Forests – were not being exploited solely for private financial gain.
What must be remembered is that the public that held sway in the thirty years following World War II saw nothing wrong with harvesting timber from National Forests, so long as growth and harvest were in balance. There was no talk of biological diversity, endangered species, sustainability or any other impossible to measure forest qualities. Everyone who played in National Forests traveled on dusty logging roads and no one thought anything of it.
The post-war homebuilding was center stage as millions of returning GI’s got married, started families and bought homes using government-guaranteed mortgages the Roosevelt Administration had promised them. There were years when harvesting from western National Forests accounted for more than 25 percent of the entire U.S. harvest, and the percentage used in homebuilding was even higher in western national forests because of their proximity to fast-growing coastal cities – Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, Portland, Phoenix and San Francisco.
National Forests were still remote and tough to navigate. Most “tourists” were locals, many of them loggers and sawmill workers whose livelihoods and family activities revolved around “their” National Forests. People camped in Army surplus tents or slept under the stars. They cooked on open campfires or Coleman stoves that burned distilled white gas. The backpacking gear that I’d guess most of you own didn’t exist. Many families didn’t own cars, to say nothing of thousand-dollar trail bikes. Hell, you could buy a house for a thousand dollars! Only the rich kids skied, and there weren’t any fancy ski resorts like the ones you find in National Forests today. You went up the ski hill on a tow rope and you skied down crudely groomed slopes at your own risk.
Suffice it to say, our country’s felt necessities were very different following World War II than they are today. To be sure, conservation has been a watchword since the Civil War era, but the word has a very different meaning than it does today. Forestry’s focus was on slowing and eventually stopping depletion and misuse of natural resources. Preservation – in nature an impossibility – wasn’t on the public’s radar screen, even in National Parks, which became havens for tourists as quickly as the railroads and highways reached them. The lovely old hotels we enjoy today in National Parks in the western U.S. and Canada were built by railroad barons as places where wealthy and well-bread easterners – many of them friends or neighbors who were working on the conservation forefront - could vacation in the lap of luxury.
Bill Hagenstein lived this story for most of his 99 years, and he could not bear the thought of a single acre of National Forest timberland being managed to less than its maximum growth potential. Excellence in forestry was the one and only felt necessity in his life.
No one who knew Bill – and I knew him better than most – was surprised that he did not stand down from his bully pulpit until he was 97 years old. By then, forestry and he and Bill Greeley and David Mason had understood and preached it had fallen from public grace, swept away by a profoundly different set of felt necessities.