Bighorn National Forest celebrates 120 years

One hundred twenty years ago, Wyoming’s Big Horn Forest Reserve was signed into existence by President Grover Cleveland. This legislation outlined that reserves had to meet the criteria of forest protection, watershed protection and timber production. In 1905, the Forest Service was established with the same resource protection focus. By 1908, the forest’s name had been officially changed to “Bighorn.”

W.E. Jackson served as the first forest supervisor on the Bighorn from 1897 to 1910. At that time, he oversaw eight districts and their rangers. The ranger’s job was to map the forest, maintain trails, administer sheep and cattle grazing permits, and protect the forest from wildfire, game poachers, timber and grazing trespassers and exploiters. The life of a ranger was lonely at times and could be dangerous.

The economic boom of the 1920s brought an insatiable demand for timber. This sparked the first large-scale timber sales done by the Forest Service, and the agency began to play an increasing role in providing timber for the country. During this same era, Americans gradually had more time for leisure and enjoyed improved modes of transportation. This created a desire for developed recreation facilities on the national forests. Campgrounds, swimming areas, roads, trails and picnic areas were all built and improved to meet the demand.

Along with the developmental focus came the opposite idea of setting aside some lands to remain undeveloped. Forest Service employees and early proponents of this concept, Arthur Carhart and Aldo Leopold, recommended that areas remain roadless for recreational use. This idea created areas that would be maintained in a primitive status without development activities, such as the Cloud Peak Primitive Area in the Bighorn National Forest, which was approved in 1932.



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