USDA Forest Service

Pacific Southwest Research Station
Pacific Southwest
Research Station

800 Buchanan Street
Albany, CA 94710-0011
(510) 883-8830
United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. USDA logo which links to the department's national site. Forest Service logo which links to the agency's national site.

Research Topics Ecosystem Processes

Sierra Nevada Ecosystems

The Influence of Historic Harvest Activities on the Composition, Structure and Landscape Pattern of Historic Forests

Study Plan

The Research

Knowledge of historic vegetation compositions and structures, and the human activities that altered those compositions and structures is essential for understanding how today's forests emerged. There has been little quantification of the historical wood harvest in California and the work that has been done was generally for broad geographic areas. The effect of wood consumption by Virginia City, Nevada (the Comstock Lode), in the late 1800s, had great, but unknown, structural and spatial effects on the forests of the Sierra Nevada and the Carson Range. Immense quantities of wood were taken from the forests in these mountains for fuel wood, railroad ties, railroad and mine timbers, and construction (and reconstruction following the rather frequent fires of the period) of various structures.

In the early days of the Comstock mining, much wood came from the adjacent Carson Range and nearby, accessible points in the Sierra Nevada. There were at least a dozen wood yards spread along the Carson Range supplied by flumes and streams from the timbered country to the south and west of the Carson Valley. However, as development continued demand for wood products increased, and the adjacent trees were harvested, wood was transported from more distant locations along the service area of the Central Pacific (and Southern Pacific). Also, there were shifts in demand as the shafts went deeper and wood as an energy source was replaced by other fuels and that affected the pattern of wood extraction across the accessible landscape.

Records of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad exist at the University of Nevada, Reno library. Among these records are at least some of the bills of lading for materials shipped over the Virginia & Truckee from its interchange with the Central Pacific (Southern Pacific) at Reno and from the various wood yards along the Virginia and Truckee. These "way bills" likely include the origination and destination of the lading as well as the material and amount being transported.


blue arrrow Quantify the kinds and amounts of wood shipped into Virginia City and other towns along the Virginia & Truckee right-of-way;
blue arrrowExplore the origin of the woods of various kinds and estimate their quantities;
blue arrrowExplore the destination of the woods of various kinds and its purposes;
blue arrrowEstimate changes in wood imported in time as demands and technology shifted;
blue arrrowEstimate the acreages harvested and where harvest took place and for what purpose.

Methods and Design

The first step in this study is to explore the Virginia & Truckee records to ascertain whether any of these questions can be adequately explored and if and how the information can be fruitfully sampled.

Tentative Schedule:
Autumn 2005: explore the University of Nevada Virginia & Truckee archives
Winter 2005: develop formal study plan and begin collecting data
Spring -Summer 2006: collect data from the Virginia & Truckee archives
Autumn 2006: analyze the data and report the results

Application of Research Results

The research results ought to provide insights into the pattern of forest structures in the Sierra Nevada from whence the current vegetation arose through the various vegetation trajectories. There are no research results at this time.

map of the Sierra Nevada Ecoregion

Sierra Nevada adjacent to the 1860s to 1900s transportation network.

Lead Scientists/Collaborators

1) Laudenslayer, B.

1) USDA Forest Service, PSW Research Station
Sierra Nevada Research Center
Forestry Sciences Laboratory

2081 E. Sierra Avenue
Fresno, CA 93710-4639
(559) 323-3206; Fax: (559) 297-3355

Last Modified: Aug 29, 2016 10:57:18 AM