May 22, 2003 Oral History Interview Transcripts
The following transcriptions were made from excerpted portions of an oral history interview with Bill Hagenstein on May 22, 2003. The interview was made and videotaped at Camp 18, Tillamook County, Oregon by Mike McMurray, of Mike McMurray's Forestry Photography, Bend, Oregon. Videotape files were edited and formatted for Internet display by Josh Meredith of Josh Meredith Dot Com, Albany, Oregon.
Fire Suppression History 27 mb. 3:50 min.
Federal Policy and Fire Suppression History. Well, you ask about Bill Greeley. Colonel Greeley was, of course, one of the pioneer foresters in the United States. He started in the Forest Service in 1905 when it became the Forest Service and spent a big share of the rest of his life there until he left in 1928 when he came out to become the manager of the West Coast Lumberman’s Association. Because the industry by that time had realized that it was time for it to get busy and start planning for its future, and that meant growing trees and there was nobody in the United States who had more interest in growing trees than Bill Greeley. Colonel Greeley was the son of a congregational minister, who very interestingly, came west around the Horn in a sailing ship to California. And his family did that when he was a young man and he went to school at the University of California, where he studied history. He was a Phi Beta Kappa scholar; he was an honor graduate. And then he met – one day when he was deciding what to with his life – a man by the name of Bernhard Fernow. Fernow was then the Chief Forester of what was the predecessor of what is today the United States Forest Service. And Fernow was an old country German forester, one of the two that were in the country at that time. And he told Greeley that he would make a good forester because he was long-legged, and it would be easier to climb over windfalls. Greeley used to love to tell that story about himself. Well, Greeley got into the Forest Service in 1905 and ended up in one of the forests in California as a supervisor and in 1910 was the district forester, or what they called a regional forester in those days, in Region 1 in Missoula, Montana during the terrible fires that occurred in the Bitterroot Mountain in 1910. Fires that burned in Montana and Idaho were about three million acres, and which a lot of people lost their lives in and a tremendous amount of forest was devastated (see Pyne 1982: 637). And Greeley immediately got the idea that if we were going to practice forestry in the United States then the first thing we would have to do was to run the smoke out o the woods. We had to prevent forests from burning up repeatedly, which they have been doing for years because we had no protection worthy of the name throughout most of the United States until that time. And it started here in the Northwest right after the 1902 fire over in Washington(see Pyne 1982: 637). The Yacolt fire, which was a bad fire, and the legislatures in both Oregon and Washington the next year started a semblance of trying to get a protection organization started in these two states. But for a long, long time not a lot happened. So when the Forest Service was created in 1905, Gifford Pinchot, who was then the chief of the Forest Service, decided that they had to start getting after the fire problem and they began to take care of fires every place they occurred. The idea was: locate the fires when they start; when they’re small we put them out. Don’t let them grow. And today it’s a strange thing, people today criticize the people who tried to get forest protection started in the United States by saying the reason we have so much fire these days is because we had too much protection against fire in the early days and that’s a bunch of hogwash because if these men, the generation before mine, hadn’t really tried to get after the fire problem we wouldn’t have nearly the amount of forest land that we have in the United States today.
Forest Policy Effects 21 mb. 2:58 min.
Effects of Forest Management Policies. Today what we need, if we don’t get back to forestry on the public lands, we need to have private regulation of public forestry in order to make them practice forestry again because in the last decade we have lost all interest in practicing the kind of forestry that foresters know how to practice on the federal lands. And that is contrary to the policies of our country that were enacted way back in 1897 when the purpose of the National Forests was established, in which it’s said that no forest reservations shall be established except to take care of the water supply and to provide an adequate supply of timber for the use and necessity of the citizens of the United States. And no subsequent legislation, the Multiple Use Sustainable Yield Act of 1960, or the Wilderness Act of 1964, both of which have disclaimer clauses in them that say that nothing in these acts shall be in derogation of the purposes for which the National Forests were established. Now some of the later environmental acts, the National Forest Management Act for example, in the 1970s, the National Environmental Policy Act…had put kind of a stop on forestry in the public lands because it’s given people that don’t want forestry practice, people that like to call themselves environmentalists and of course, hell, we’re all environmentalists. You’re an environmentalist. I’m an environmentalist. The environment is everything. We’re all part of it. And the National Environmental Policy Act gives the people that are anti-forestry folks an opportunity to appeal anything that any public agency wants to do on the land. Whether they want to build a road, whether they want to plant a tree, or whether hey want to harvest a tree, whether they want to protect a tree. Anything like that is just brought to a halt. The paperwork that is required…the agency has to write an environmental impact statement and then once the environmental impact statement is written it’s subject to public comment, the public comments go on and on and on. And you get a postcard campaigns that come from thousands and come to one headquarter someplace. Some organization says, “Okay, here they are boys. Send them in. Load them up. Count the handclaps and the meetings who’s going to win the argument.” And it’s almost always brought the forestry on our federal lands to a standstill. The federal government has got 90 million acres of forestland in the United States that’s called commercial forestland. And it has the ability to grow a crop of timber, one after another. Grow one, harvest it, grow another, harvest it, and protect all the time you’re doing it. It’s a great backstop for the environmental, aesthetic interest of all kinds, recreational opportunities, and access because people get in there and now we’re not doing anywhere near the job that we were doing.
NW Forest Plan 14 mb. 2:03 min.
Northwest Forest Plan. Voters are not very discerning now, as far as what we need in the way of people. For example, here in the States, Oregon is the number one forested State in the United Sates and we don’t seem to have many members of our congressional delegation that are interested in forestry anymore. They seem to be up and down on it, but mostly down. The reason for it is that they seem to think that there’s more votes on fun than there is on food. I don’t think that that’s the case at all. I think that the rural communities in this state are very dependent upon a steady supply of timber from the federal lands. Uncle Sam after all owns 75% of all the timber in the state. That timber was established by Congress with the idea that if, as, and when it went, the communities that built up around those forests needed the economic substance of having a regular harvest of timber from those forests, or any other resource that could be harvested from it…that would be available. And the last decade under the Northwest Forest Plan for example, that’s disappeared. It's really, in my mind, it’s a disgrace of what we’ve not done in practicing forestry on the public lands in the Northwest in the last ten years. A lot of people in the government agencies want to do it, but the policy we have today, or lack of it, doesn’t allow it. And that’s why we need to have a redetermination of what is the forest policy in the United States. We need to have it badly. In order to get that we’re going to have to learn how to get out and let the public know what the real problems are. A lot better than we’ve been doing for a long time. No one’s telling the story of what we’ve done in forestry in this region in the last 50 years. We used to tell it. We used to tell it all the time. No one's telling it enough today, not today, not often enough, not frequently enough, not interestingly enough. We’ve got lots of opportunities to do it, lots of places where it can be done.
New Policy Needed 13 mb. 1:53 min.
New Forest Policy Needed. We must recognize the fact that we’ve got a need in the United States today for a re-determination of what our forest policy is. Everybody seems to be scared today, the politicians first of all, the agencies of the government wanted to go out and do anything constructive in forestry- whether it be growing trees, harvesting trees, protecting trees or what not. We’re subject to appeals procedures that will absolutely stop any agency from doing the kind of job that the people are trained by our forestry schools [to do]. People forget that the forestry professionals have been trained in this country for over a century. They also forget that the fact that in the last 50 years, forestry in the United States has advanced faster than it did in Europe for two centuries before 1900. That’s the progress that we’ve made. And a lot of it is due to the leadership of men like Pinchot in the early days and later fellows like Bill Greeley that really imbued people with the idea that trees are a renewable resource. If we protect the areas, if we reforest the areas we can continue to have the kind of a crop we need. And do we need the crop? I should say we do. 80% of all the homes in America are built with wood and wood is the only renewable resource we’ve got for building materials. Oh, yes, you can make bricks out of soil, but you mine the soil to do it and once the bricks are made from a specific area, the soil is gone. The trees – we harvest the tree, we create the products that come from it and reforest the area and you’ve got another crop coming long. That’s what it’s all about.
The Future 23 mb. 3:16 min.
Forestry and Wildlife Management. Well, if we don’t get back to forest management and continue to make the kind of progress, that we made over the last 50 years in the United States, we’re going to be treating the natural environment poorly for the people who are going to come after us. It’s not going to be anywhere near the place we had to live in, to enjoy and to live from that they deserve. Animals that are natural in the forest are going to be disturbed too, because in the rotation of a forest we rotate the habitat for wildlife, you rotate everything in the forest. For example, you wear out a campground or a picnic ground over a time, you need to rotate it. You put it to bed. You grow trees on it again. Where you had people camping and had fire pits and all that sort of thing. You wore it out, you stomped it and stomped it and you compacted it. So, you need to get rid of it. You get a bulldozer and clean it up a little bit, plant some trees and move it down to some other place. Rotate the campground, just like we rotate the forest, rotate the habitat. You clearcut an old growth forest, for example. The animals that had been in here have moved off, they go someplace else. In the few years while you’re bringing the young trees that you planted in there up, you’ve changed the habitat and you brought in a hell of a lot of other animals, you’ve made a feed supply in there for birds, for rodents and for small animals that are natural in there. The minute it grows up and closes in again, they move off someplace else. You rotate their habitat, like you rotate the forest. It’s not a textbook thing. All you’ve got to do is go out through the woods and you can see it where it’s happened.
The Role of Education. It goes together. You don’t have to practice wildlife management and forest management as exclusive of one another; you practice them together. And it can be done very symbiotically. Symbiosis means what’s good for me is good for you. What’s good for the trees is good for the animals and that’s what we ought to do. I don’t know if the kids in the schools these days are learning that or not, but they ought to be.
Catastrophic Event Management. I would call in the regional foresters and tell them we’re going to start over again, repair the damage we’ve got and set a new course and start practicing the kind of forestry our country needs and roll up our sleeves and do it – just like that.
Clearcuts & Thinning 13 mb. 1:52 min.
Clearcuts and Selective Cuts. In this region west of the Cascades where our principal species is Douglas-fir, if you want to grow Douglas-fir you’ve got to clearcut it. And that’s a natural law that requires that, because it’s a species that’s intolerant to shade, it has to have full sunlight in order to develop properly. Congress didn’t pass that law. The old gentleman upstairs passed it. And Congress can’t repeal it. It’s a law of nature. And anybody who defies it … Now clearcutting should be done in such a way that you don’t create a mess with it. Sometimes it has been in the past and some people haven’t done a good job. But in many areas today it has been done very well. The minute the area has been harvested and if there’s slash that needs to be taken care of, it’s taken care of by burning or scattering or whatever, if the area is reforested. That’s the kind of forestry that we need to practice. You don’t go over on the other side of the mountains in the pine region, a ponderosa pine forest is an uneven aged forest made up of even aged groups. You log the old groups and leave the younger ones and that’s important because you take the beetle susceptible trees out first, the ones that are old and mature. Old and mature trees are the ones that have little vigor, so when the beetles attack them they can’t pitch them out. The beetles are successful in an older and mature tree because of its poor vigor. In younger trees, if a beetle attacks a younger tree many times it pitches out. So, you take the old trees first and you let the younger trees come along. And then when they get to harvest age then you take them. But you continue to rotate that and when you do that you rotate the habitat for wildlife that is indigenous in those forests.
Spruce Budworm 1948-1951 17 mb. 2:26 min.
Spruce Budworm Outbreak: 1948-1951. Anyway, we organized the Spruce Budworm Action Committee. The next two years, 1949, ’50 and ’51 – three years – we sprayed five million acres for the budworm and we knocked it out. And the budworm was always native east of the mountains. It’s called the spruce budworm because it attacks spruce, but it is more common over there in Douglas-fir and white fir – true fir. It was over in the west side of the Willamette National Forest, in Eastern Lane County. We had 200,000 acres of them in there. We sprayed in there and they never came back. And we kept it to the Eastside where it was really native, where it was never an endemic insect on the west side. As you know, it’s a defoliator. It eats the god damned young buds when they come out. It won’t kill all the trees but it sure as hell slows all the growth down by taking the new foliage off. Anyway, we were very successful at that. The only bad thing we had is it was all put out in contact fire in the spring, and we lost eight or nine pilots in one of those years. We had some fatalities. They only bid 49 cents an acre to spray it and we didn’t really have the safety. We weren’t as careful with the safety as we should have been and we were responsible for those boys’ lives. We were looking for a cheap price, we didn’t have a lot of money and money was hard to get. We got a million dollars out of Uncle Sam, and I was the guy that got it. I was the witness for the appropriations committee at the Congress. Senator Gordon in Oregon was a member of the appropriations committee at the time and as long as we had a guy like that there we could do things in forests because he believed in it and knew about it. Senator Gordon was a lawyer by profession, but never had the disadvantage of going to law school. He read law books above the drug store in Roseburg and got the highest god-damned exam that anybody's every gotten, the law exam, and took the exam in this state. He was a bright guy, yeah. He was our Senator for ten years. Neuberger beat him. It was a terrible loss to us. Anyway, we had $500,000 dollars and we needed $500,000 more and by god he got it for us and I was the witness before the committee and anyway, we did a good job with that despite the fact that we lost those boys.
Columbus Day Storm 23 mb. 3:22 min.
1951 Blow Down and the Columbus Day Storm. And other problems came on. In 1951 we had a hell of a blow down on the west side here. We had about ten billion trees blow down. So we organized the Douglas-fir Beetle Subcommittee. We changed the name of the Spruce Budworm Action Committee to the Northwest Pest Action Council. So we had a problem, then we had a committee for it. So we had the Douglas-fir subcommittee and I was chairman of it. We organized all around the Northwest to get people interested in doing it. And we did. We did a good job. We went out and we flew the whole area and we took aerial photographs of the damn whole area so we knew where the concentration of the blow down was. Then we let the people who owned it know where they were and we encouraged them. We worked like hell to eliminate the road problems. Wherever we had the right-of-way problems we worked it out between the parties to get right-of-way to get in there to build the roads to get in there and salvage it. And we did a good job. Well, then eleven years later the Columbus Day Storm... The Columbus Day Storm occurred on a Friday afternoon from one to five PM and as I used to tell people, we had three billion feet of timber blow down every hour for five hours.
Anyway, when I got home on Saturday I called up Ernie Kolbe, of the Western Pine Association and he was the chairman of the Pest Action Council and I said I ought to have a meeting of the Executive Council of the Pest Action Council on Monday and we did, in my office. We got together and I called everybody by phone on the weekend and got them there Monday morning and 10 o’clock in my office. 11 o’clock that morning we appointed a Timber Disaster Committee. W.D. Hagenstein was the assigned chairman and we went out and we had two guys from the Forest Service, we had a guy from the BLM, we had one from each of the State forestry departments in Oregon and Washington; we had a guy from Crown Zellerbach, we had a guy from Weyerhaeuser…the two big land owning companies. And we went out and did one hell of a job getting these guys geared up. We had a special stationary made – Northwest Forest Pest Action Council. Timber Disaster Committee, named the men of the committee. Down at the bottom it says: “Beat the Beetles, Reduce the Fire Hazard, Save the Wood.”
Talking about the Columbus Day Storm, then in October that year, the storm was on the 11th or 12th of October. By the 25th or 26th of October the President of the United States called a god damned conference in Portland about what to do about the salvage. And he sent his assistant secretary of the Interior out to Portland and I made the principal report, being the chairman of Timber Disaster Committee, with what information we had at the time. Meantime, we flew over the whole god damned country and took pictures of it, made maps of it, and circulated it to all the landowners, so they knew where the hell it was and urged people to get in there and get the concentrated stuff first, not the scattered trees here and there. Get the concentrated stuff. Hell, Weyerhaeuser has four billion feet growing down on their Mt. St. Helens tree farm. They had four billion feet. Whole mountainsides flattened and everybody turned to it and did one hell of a job. And that’s what we need to do with the stuff we got now.
Lawyers & Foresters 10 mb. 1:27 min.
Lawyers and Foresters. What’s happened under the Environmental Protection Act, the National Environmental Protection Act and the appeal that comes from it, if a person doesn’t want an agency to do something and exhausts the appeals procedure in that the people up the line, as the appeal goes… For example if the appeal goes from a ranger in the Forest Service to a supervisor of he forest, to the Regional Forester, to the chief of the Forest Service, to the Secretary of Agriculture. Then the man who made the decision to do something is uphill all the way. Then the people who don’t want to do that then go into court. Then we end up with another profession practicing forestry – the legal profession, the judges of the court. They’re interpreting what they think is the rights of the litigant under the law. Now forestry is not a licensed profession in Oregon and Washington. It is in California and a lot of other states. But it seems to me that if we’re going to practice forestry we ought to have it done by people who are licensed or at least educated and experienced in it. And not a bunch of guys in the United States courts. With all due respect to the legal profession, there are damn few of them who know much about forestry. A lot of us in forestry are often accused of trying to practice law without a license, but we know it’s illegal so we don’t do it.
Wildfire & Fire Suppression 12 mb. 1:44 min.
Fire Suppression as Cause of Forest Fires. Well, there’s been a lot of talk about that in the newspapers and on radio and television in recent years since these bad fires occurred on public lands in the West, mostly on federal lands that we made a mistake in the past by trying to prevent fires in the past, and by trying to put them out. I don’t believe that at all. If we hadn’t made the effort we did in the early days to take care of the problem, we wouldn’t have anywhere near the forests that we’ve got in this country today. Lord knows, way back in the 18th century, 19th century, I guess, the 1870s for example, some of the fires that occurred, in the Lake States – the Hinckley Fire in Minnesota (see Pyne 1982: 206-210), the Peshtigo Fire in Wisconsin (see Pyne 1982: 206-211). The Peshtigo fire in 1871 burned the same day that Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked the kerosene lantern over and burned up Chicago and, of course, the Peshtigo fire never got the publicity that the Chicago fire did, because it was an area where there were few people. But there weren’t so few as you think. 1,500 people lost their lives in that fire and a lot of little towns were destroyed. And that was the day because we hadn’t been taking care of the fire problem in those days. We had no protection worthy of the name. And once you’ve got a fire going there’s no way in the world you could have stopped it then. If we hadn’t made the effort in the Western United States, Forest Service first, State Forestry Departments later, to really get after fires when they occurred, get them when they are small, don’t let them get ahead of you, we wouldn’t have anywhere near the forests that we have left here today. So anybody who says that we set the stage for fires that occurred the last two to three years because we prevented fires and fought fires in the early days, really don’t know what they’re talking about.
Wildfire & Snags 12 mb. 1:44 min.
Snags As Cause of Forest Fires. We’ve had some bad fires in the past several years and part of it is due to the fact that we’ve got a lot of trees that are dead in the National Forests for example. And some of the other public lands because we haven’t been doing a very good job of cleaning up the messes after bad insect infestations, and after bad fires in the past. In the earlier days, once we had the calamities occur in our forests, for example, the Columbus Day Storm in 1962, where we had 17 billion feet of timber blow down in five hours over an area of 30 million acres in Northern California, Western Oregon, Western Washington, and Southern British Columbia. That year we got busy right way. The week after the storm we had the first meeting of people who got together in the Northwest to develop a coordinated program to go out, clean up the mess. Get out there and get these dead trees out of the woods. Reduce the fire hazard; beat the beetles to the trees and save wood for our economy. And that’s exactly what we did. And that’s the kind of message we’ve got now as a result of some of these bad fires for the last couple of years some of the insect infestations that we’ve had particularly in the pine forests of Eastern Oregon and Eastern Washington and over in the Rocky Mountains. And believe you me; we need to clean up those messes. If we don’t we’re going to have more disastrous fires.
When you get fire-weakened trees you’re just setting the banquet table for the bark beetle. When the bark beetle come in they’re going to kill and kill and kill. And we need to clean up these messes, if we don’t we’re going to have more disastrous fires like the kind we had last year and the year before.
Fire Prevention & Snags 8 mb. 1:14 min.
Fire Prevention and Snag Management. If we don’t get after the dead trees that are there, beetle infestations for example, you know darn well if the means of starting a fire, whether it be man caused through carelessness or nature with lightning, it’s going to go. They’re going to burn. You’ve got to clean up these messes, when you get a mess clean it up. I don’t care; every mess that occurs in the world needs to be cleaned up. If it’s a forest mess clean it up, get rid of the dead material, get it off the ground. That’s what we need to do. This business of saying you’ve got to clean out all the underbrush you know, it sounds encouraging to people who don’t know much about it, but anyone who works in the woods knows very well that the underbrush is always going to be there. Any shade tolerant plant that grows up under a forest is going to be there. But the accumulation of it isn’t adding to the fire hazard anywhere near as much as the dead trees that were dead because of insect damage or fire. Dead trees are the worst hazard we’ve got. Get them out of the woods, get them out of there. If you can get them out soon enough, you get some use out of them. You can recover part of your cost of cleaning up the mess because the wood has some value.
Wilderness Policy 23 mb. 2:10 min.
Wilderness Policy and Snag Management. The Ventana Fire…Wilderness area on the Ventana National Forest in California back in the late 1970s had a bad fire. It was caused by lightning. This Wilderness area is the watershed for what I call the Gold Coast of California: Carmel, Pebble Beach, that area along the California Coast, which is a very important residential area and resort area, and tourist area. And they hesitated using any mechanical equipment on that fire for about eight or nine days after it started. Every day that they delayed the fire got 10,000 acres bigger, then they finally decided to go in there with mechanical equipment like bulldozers, for example, and it was too late. The damage had been done. Under the law, the Secretary of Agriculture in the case of the National Forest and the Secretary in the case of lands administered by the Interiors Department, both have authority to use mechanical equipment in wilderness areas in the event that they are needed to protect life and property. And they failed to do it that year and they’ll fail to do it other places. As far as harvesting timber, no they can’t harvest any timber in a wilderness area, but they sure as hell can go in and cut down dead trees to prevent fires from destroying more of the wilderness. That’s one of the big problems of Wilderness areas, is there’s no roads in them. The only way you can get in there is by foot or by horseback and you don’t fight fire very well when you get a substantial fire in an inaccessible area that way. Of course, you can drop smoke jumpers in there, you can drop people out of airplanes and parachutes and smoke jumpers and what not, which is a very hazardous thing for the men involved. It’s an extremely hazardous thing, as you know, in some instances, a lot of those boys have been killed, some of them burned up in some of the fires. And they’re gutsy! And they’re very effective sometimes, but it’s a very dangerous thing for them to do. It’s a lot better for us to get in there with mechanical equipment and do the job.
Public Outreach 9 mb. 1:22 min.
Public Outreach and Forest Management. We need to let the people who live in urban areas, you know, particularly in the metropolitan area of Portland and Eugene, to understand that forestry is important to them. What people who live in the cities mostly don’t realize, and it’s true in every city, Portland--Seattle, same way, in Washington--and that you wouldn’t have cities the size they are, if you didn’t have the input of the economy that comes from all the rural areas to it. We’re the trading center, and what we do here, we don’t create wealth in trading centers, we redistribute it. Real wealth comes from the land, the air, or the sea. That’s where it all comes from. And today we’ve got kids coming out of schools that don’t get subjected to the idea that the basic economy comes from the soil, comes from the air, comes from the sea. They think the groceries come from the Safeway store; gasoline comes from the service station; water comes out of the tap, you know; and the house came out of the lumber yard, you know; the books came from the printing press; and the newspapers came from . . . all that stuff came out of the forest originally, and we can have that continually through practice of my profession.
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