United States Department of Agriculture and Forest Service

The Early Logging period (ca. 1800 - 1860), refers to the slow, incremental influx into the region by American settlers attracted to the region by the great stands of white pine growing along the major stream valleys in the region. The fact that the area was located at the head of navigation of a major artery to the "West" at that time (i.e., the Ohio Valley), which was then just opening up to American settlers, made it economically feasible to transport the lumber to downstream markets. The water-powered sawmills were usually strung along the major streams, the larger mills serving as the economic heart of small communities. Swedes and Swedish-Americans, who at that time were among the most skilled woodsmen in the world were among the first ethnic groups attracted (one could almost say were "pre-adaptive") to such an isolated existence in such a harsh environment.

This first extensive exploitation of forest resources in the ANF occurred soon after the American Revolution when Indian claims became resolved. The original forest cover reportedly was hemlock/beech/maple. Early settlers focused on harvesting white pine, which occurred in pockets, perhaps the sites of abandoned Indian villages or where fires or windstorms had created openings. The white pine resources were exhausted as the Industrial Revolution accelerated, and hemlock became the focus of forest exploitation.

The early exploitative logging in the hemlock/beech/maple types in the area, however, did not result in extensive clearcutting. Trees of the desired quality were scattered, and the technology required to move large volumes of logs was not well enough advanced to permit clearcutting of major portions of the virgin forest. Most of the clearcutting was still confined to areas where streams could be used to transport logs to the mill. The result was that early cuttings tended to be scattered and patchy, partial cuts that left considerable amounts of overstory trees in most places. Sunlight levels on the forest floor increased, but conditions still favored seedlings that had a high tolerance for shade. Sugar maple and beech prospered in these conditions; forest understories were dense with seedlings and saplings of these species, making these areas ideal sources for the chemical wood factories that came later.

The Oil Boom period, 1859-1930, is a time when a significant population increase occurred in the region. Most of the increase was the result of immigration into the area by New Englanders, Germans, and other European and Eastern European immigrants. The oil boom focused on oil exploration, transportation, refining, and speculation. Arguably, the discovery of oil had the greatest economic and environmental impact in the ANF. Two important aspects that the demand for oil fueled in the region were urbanization and industrialization. Railroads were built in response to oil and timber industry needs; agricultural pursuits changed from subsistence farming to commercial enterprises; and urbanization and industrialization with its populations and structured leisure time created a class of recreational enthusiasts who found pleasure in hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, sight-seeing, and recreating in the Alleghenies.

The Railroad Logging Era, 1880-1940, represents a time when the demand for wood products spurred the construction of a labyrinth of railroads reaching deep into the hills and hollows to transport bark and logs to mills and off to market. Historic logging practices have left behind far-reaching effects on the ANF's ecosystem. The "pre-settlement" forest of the ANF influenced economic development and settlement systems which, in turn, influenced the development of the ecological communities found on the ANF today.

The Industrial Revolution simultaneously created high demand for the products of forest exploitation and the technology to increase the efficiency of the exploitation. Three industries dependent upon forest products were critically important at about the turn of the century: the wood products industry, the tanning industry, and the chemical wood industry. At about the same time, railroad technology designed especially for logging was developed. Railroads could reach almost everywhere for logs, and they did.

The result was that between 1890 and 1920, the forests in the region were almost completely clearcut in "what must have been the highest degree of forest utilization that the world has ever seen in any commercial lumbering area."

But economics and the patterns of industrial development may have had differential effects on the forest. A gross generalization of the effect of the Railroad Logging Era is that close to the railroads associated with chemical wood factories, where haul distances were short, trees of all sizes were cut, resulting in clearcuts as complete as modern commercial clearcuts can be. In these conditions, sun-loving species, especially black cherry, a minor component of the original forest, thrived. Stands that were not close to chemical wood company railroads had a different fate. Here, only the larger, more valuable trees were removed, and the saplings of beech and sugar maple that had started after 19th century removals of hemlock and white pine survived and prospered. Throughout the ANF, this pattern was repeated. Where railroads serving chemical wood companies reached into the forest, the dominance of sun-loving black cherry may be a reflection of the railroad logging pattern. On the other hand, where today's forest canopy is composed of a mixture of species, this may reflect where the less complete cuts for sawtimber products only had occurred.

The present forest cover now hides the numerous archaeological remains of logging railroads, chemical wood factories, huge band sawmills, lumber camps, and old town sites The Conservation period, 1923-present,relates to public responses to changes that occurred in the region as a result of exhaustion of timber resources, wildlife resources, and soil caused by timber and oil and gas ventures. Throughout the country, national, state, regional and local initiatives were launched to address environmental problems. Public monies, public programs, and environmental laws and regulations are the hallmark of this period. The creation and development of the Allegheny National Forest reflects the subtle and not-so-subtle nuances of the history of this period. In the early part of this period, the Great Depression occurred. Such an event might very well have accelerated the exploitation of the remaining natural resources; however, direction that the Roosevelt Administration took was to put millions of unemployed workers to work on conservation projects not only on the ANF, but in the region and throughout the country. The New Deal programs of the 1930's, especially the Works Progress Administration (WPA), brought new jobs into the region and were the driving force behind the construction of new roads, bridges, courthouses, and schools. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) provided jobs to people willing to work towards reforestation of cut-over timber land and was the progenitor organization of the Allegheny National Forest.

A number of CCC camps and CCC associated property types are located within the Forest including planted red pine plantations,. including the first such effort at reforestation by the CCC in the United States.

The Conservation period is also the period when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers undertook the construction of a number of large scale impoundments which flooded some of the region's best farm land to provide flood control, produce electrical power, and encourage the development of a recreation and tourist industry. The damming of rivers also produced a backlash effect that spawned the creation of a new conservation concept: national and scenic rivers -- and the Allegheny River was added to the Wild and Scenic River system. On a state level, the state park system was inaugurated at this time as well as the State Forests and Game and Fish Commission.

Although on a national, regional, and local scale, the wood products industry is not as extensive as it was during the Railroad Logging period, during the Conservation period its mode of transportation shifted to trucks. Unlike a number of other areas of the country where there was a "cut out and get out" strategy, through sustainable forestry practices, the wood products industry continues to be an important part of the regional economy. The regional heritage of this industry began with the construction of a sawmill by a prominent Seneca Indian Chief in 1800 and two centuries later continues to the present day.

The petroleum industry on the ANF in the Conservation period has changed dramatically from its beginning in the Oil Boom period. In its heyday during the latter period, over 90 percent of the world's oil supply was being produced from the oil fields in the region. During the Oil Boom period, thousands of wells in dozens of historic oil fields were drilled. Beyond the effect to the environment that the exploration, extraction and refining had to the landscape of the ANF, the thousands of people who poured into the region to seek employment in the oil patch also had long-lasting effects. Boom towns grew overnight and were gone as quickly. What with the exploration and exploitation of substantially larger oil fields elsewhere in the world, the focus of the industry shifted away from the region to richer fields elsewhere in the country and around the world. The regional oil and gas industry today produces a very small percent of the overall supply of this resource to the world. The manner with which they explore and extract the resource has also undergone change during the Conservation period.