Thousands of fires swept across Oregon, northern Idaho and western Montana in 1910, culminating in a firestorm that consumed more than 1 million acres in a single 24-hour period between Aug. 21 and 22. Although the fires burned 3 million acres in Idaho and Montana, they affected the entire country’s forestlands for the next century.
Federal forest management dates back to 1876 when Congress created the office of Special Agent in the U.S. Department of Agriculture to assess the quality and conditions of forests in the United States. In 1881 the Department expanded the office into the Division of Forestry. A decade later Congress passed the Forest Reserve Act of 1891 authorizing the President to designate public lands in the West into what were then called “forest reserves.” Responsibility for these reserves fell under the Department of the Interior until 1905 when President Theodore Roosevelt transferred their care to the Department of Agriculture’s new U.S. Forest Service. Gifford Pinchot led this new agency as its first Chief, charged with caring for the newly renamed national forests.