The mountains surrounding Prescott had already been heavily mined
and its timber severely cut since 1863 when gold was discovered in the
Bradshaw Mountains. This, despite federal laws forbidding the cutting
of timber from the public domain. Timber could only be cut legally
from homesteads, mining claims, and private property. By 1898, most of
the mature timber had been stripped from the mountains and hillsides,
sawed into timbers and construction lumber, and transported to the
At first, even the Reserve and the hiring of a Ranger was not
protection enough. Within a year after its establishment,
approximately 1,000 additional trees had been cut from it. In October,
1899, the Reserve was greatly enlarged to offer additional protection
for the timberlands. The Reserve then stretched from Granite Mountain
to the north to Black Canyon City to the south.
In 1908, the Reserve, renamed "Prescott National Forest," absorbed
the Verde National Forest. The Verde National Forest was established
the previous year to protect the watershed of the Verde River. Over
the years, Forest boundaries have changed as land was turned back to
the public domain or traded with private owners to consolidate
boundaries for easier administration.
By the time the Prescott Forest Reserve was established, almost all
old-growth timber had been depleted by wildfire and severe cutting.
The trees around Crown King were gone; Big Bug Mesa was mostly devoid
of timber. The only mature trees remaining on the Forest were in
Horsethief Canyon, an area which proved too difficult to log. Junipers
and oaks on the lower elevations were also heavily cut, these to
supply fuelwood to the mines' and smelters' insatiable boilers. Where
once there had been good stands of oak and juniper, by 1900 there were
fewer than one tree per acre. It was this much-depleted forest the
first rangers were called upon to protect.
Illegal timber cutting continued to be a problem for the first few
years, but it decreased significantly when the Reserve's boundaries
were better marked and the General Land Office issued regulations and
procedures for legally cutting timber from the public domain.
Until the Forest Reserves came under the administration of Gifford
Pinchot, supervisors and rangers were political appointees. Their
quality of leadership varied greatly. Within a relatively short
period, however, a competent staff was hired, despite very low
salaries. A ranger's salary was $60.00-90.00 per month, about half of
which was required to feed his horse. At the time, unskilled mine
laborers in the area earned $2.50-3.00 per day; skilled labor received
When Louis Barrett inspected the Reserve in 1904, he was impressed
with its 5 member staff. Frank Stewart, the Reserve's Supervisor, was
a good administrator, kept accurate records, and, very importantly,
was respected by the community.
Of Stewart's staff, several were promoted later to Regional or
Agency-wide positions. Leon F. Kneipp was thought by Barrett to be one
of the most efficient rangers in the Forest Service. Kneipp later
became supervisor for several national forests and eventually served
in the Washington Office as Assistant Chief, Division of Lands. C. H.
Hinderer, stationed on the Thumb Butte District, served as supervisor
on the Guadalupe, Sacramento, and Verde Forest Reserves and National
Forests before becoming supervisor on the Prescott National Forest for
about eight years. Barrett's only negative criticism of Hinderer was
that he was too easily bluffed by the "hard element found around these
mining camps and wood cuttings."
Frank C. W. Pooler, stationed at Crown King, the Reserve's most
difficult district, earned high praise from Barrett. After serving as
supervisor for several Forests, including the Prescott, Pooler became
Regional Forester for the Southwestern Region, 1920-1945. The
remaining staff member, McCloud was an excellent ranger on patrol work
and fire duty.He was able to get along with the "hard element" of his
district for he was unafraid of anything or anybody. Although his
education was limited, McCloud was the best ranger on the Reserve when
it came to enforcing regulations.
While the problem of wide-spread timber theft was remedied fairly
quickly, problems of grazing and overgrazing continued for years. The
area's cattle industry began in 1869 when James Baker drove a herd of
300 cattle from New Mexico into the upper end of the Verde River,
north of Jerome. In response to heavy demands for beef by the military
he was soon joined by other "soon-to-be-ranchers" who brought in
thousands of head of cattle. Within 6 years, livestock raising was one
of Arizona's leading industries. Completion of the Southern Pacific
Railroad in 1881 and the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad a year later
opened up even more of the territory for ranching, especially the
central and northern areas where rainfall was more abundant.
Most of Arizona was public domain, but it was 1905 before the
Forest Service adopted an allotment and permit system for livestock.
In the meantime, their numbers were limited only by the availability
of water and vegetation. By 1891, Arizona's tax rolls listed almost
721,000 head of cattle, however, it was commonly believed there were
twice that number actually on the ranges. When the severe drought of
the 1890s hit the Southwest, it dealt a death blow to many ranchers.
During the next several years, thousands of cattle died, ranches went
into bankruptcy, and the range was devastated further by drought and
Even under the Forest Service's system of grazing allotments, it
was difficult to reduce the number of livestock to sustainable levels.
The numbers sometimes reflected politics, the economy, and wartime
constraints, rather than good range management. Livestock permits on
the Forest jumped dramatically during World War I and did not return
to their pre-war numbers until 1926.
In 1927, Frank Grubb, Forest Supervisor, writing for the Yavapai
Magazine, described grazing conditions:
"There isn't a man in Arizona today who was here in the seventies
or eighties who can't remember canyons and valleys which today have
big, boulder strewn arroyas, dry except during times of flood, which
at that time either had no water channel at all or if there was one it
was a narrow willow grown stream bed, with no erosion and carrying
permanent water. Past overgrazing is solely responsible for this
Over the years, the number of livestock on the Forest has dropped
significantly. From a high in 1920 of 74,378 cattle, herds were
trimmed to a low of 20,392 in 1930. Sheep and goats reached their peak
of 128,054 in 1918. These numbers reflect the heavy demand for
leather, wool, and meat products during World War I. The war reversed
years of progress on reducing livestock numbers, but gradually they
again declined. In 1993, there were 14,684 cattle and no sheep permits
issued on the Forest.
In earlier years, ranchers used driveways for herding their
livestock - generally sheep and goats - to and from summer and winter
ranges. The Government Gap Driveway on the Forest's southern end and
the Oak Creek Driveway that crossed through the middle of the Baker's
Pass area, north of Jerome, were the most heavily used driveways. In
1911, a half a million sheep and goats traveled over the Forest's
driveways. They were gradually reduced to 147,241 in 1933 and 5,764 in
The Prescott National Forest has changed over the century of its
existence. An increased danger of wildfire has been a negative change.
This has come because of increased number of people visiting or living
in the wildland-urban interface and the Forest Service's diligence in
suppressing all wildfires.
Suppression of all wildfires has allowed the forest to become
overgrown with small, closely- growing trees and chaparral. During dry
years these become tinder boxes, waiting for a spark. In the past,
occasional fires burned through the area and cleaned out dead
vegetation, densely-packed chaparral, and smaller trees. This resulted
in larger, scattered vegetation, smaller and cooler fires, and reduced
the spread of disease and harmful insects. As the population grows in
the wildland-urban interface, these dangers will undoubtedly increase.
The Forest Service is now better equipped to handle wildfires and
other disasters, when they do occur. In 1992, the Prescott Fire Center
and Henry Y. H. Kim Aviation facility was dedicated at Prescott's Love
Field. In the 1998 fire season, 2 aerial tankers, a lead plane, and 2
helicopters will be stationed at the Aviation Facility. During the
1996 fire season, 938,329 gallons of fire retardant was loaded onto
aerial tankers and dropped on fires throughout the Southwest. During
the same period, the Prescott Fire Center shipped $8.3 million worth
of equipment and supplies to wildfire and other disaster incidents
across the country.
Today, there are approximately 140 employees on the Forest; the
number climbs about 80 during summer. A wide variety of jobs and
skills are needed today: foresters, biologists, archaeologists,
surveyors, office support, warehouse personnel, geologists, computer
specialists, and engineers.