Thursday, December 8, 2016

Chief Forester Guy Mains of the Payette/Boise National Forest [otd 12/08]

On December 8, 1878, long-time Idaho forester Guy B. Mains was born in Clark County, Wisconsin, 40-50 miles east of Eau Claire. Guy’s father was a lumberman and he grew up in the midst of a flourishing timber industry. Even so, Guy decided he wanted to teach and eventually attended the Stevens Point Normal School (now University of Wisconsin – Stephens Point).
Barber Mill, 3-4 miles southeast of Boise.
Idaho State University archives.

After four more years of teaching, he “returned to his roots.” He took a timber industry job that carried him from Wisconsin to California. Then, in 1905, Mains went to work for the Barber Lumber Company in Idaho.

In 1907, he joined the U. S. Forest Service. Two years earlier, Congress had given the Service responsibility for the nation’s public forests. Also in 1907, the term “national forest” was applied to what had been called “forest reserves.” The following year, the Service created the Payette National Forest and named Mains its first supervisor.

At the time, the Forest Service operated largely under broad Congressional mandates; a workable regulatory structure developed rather slowly. Fire protection was one “gray area,” complicated by the mix of private forests juxtaposed with the public lands (state and Federal). Ranchers grazing stock on the public lands under Forest Service permits only added to the muddle.

In July 1908, Mains found himself fighting a small fire alongside an agent of a private timber company. Afterwards, the two initiated what became an informal fire-fighting agreement among private, state, and Federal forestry groups.

In 1911, the parties formalized this co-operative approach, which became the Southern Idaho Timber Protective Association (SITPA) in 1919. The Association integrated the fire-protection efforts of the various entities; it became a model for similar organizations in other jurisdictions.

In 1913, Forest Service managers, including Mains, formulated timber management and marking policies for western Ponderosa pine, the most common lumber source in the region. These and similar practices were designed to provide a sustainable timber harvest while protecting the watershed from erosion.
Sheep grazing on National Forest land. USFS photo.

Mains also spent much time and study to determine the best practices for stock grazing on Forest Service lands. From anecdotal evidence, he knew that thick stands of sagebrush were not “natural” on the upland slopes and small valleys under his purview. In some 1916 notes, he wrote that prior to white settlement, “there was no sagebrush on the bench or the hills adjoining” the Emmett Valley.

Mains worked hard to collect objective data to verify that over-grazing was the main culprit behind the sagebrush takeover. Within that context, he generally preferred a more conservative approach in setting grazing limits.

Mains also favored common sense measures. The Idaho Statesman published (November 12, 1921) a brief item from the forester: “Mr. Mains says that for the first time in the history of the forests, there will be a scale of prices charged for grazing instead of a flat rate for all lands.” Future grazing fees would be based on the accessibility of the range allotment, with “the highest being for the lands most accessible.”

In 1925, Mains became manager of the Boise National Forest, where he continued to develop and refine policies and procedures to effectively manage the forest. He retired from that position in 1940, and passed away in 1958.
References: [Hawley]
Dick D’Easum, Sawtooth Tales, The Caxton Printers, Ltd, Caldwell, Idaho (1977).
Sage Community Resources, Payette River Scenic Byway Corridor Management Plan, Idaho Department of Transportation (2001).
Elizabeth M. Smith, History of the Boise National Forest: 1905-1976, Idaho State Historical Society, Boise (1983).
Harold K. Steen, The U. S. Forest Service: A History, University of Washington Press, Seattle (1976).

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