The public lands we enjoy so much here in Santa Fe have a surprisingly long history, but the history is rooted in America’s 19th century’s disregard for a sea of Western forests and mountains that seemed practically infinite.
“The most important event in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near the turn of the century was the establishment of the National Forests. During the 19th century the forests were regarded as inexhaustible and there was little concern when 12 million acres burned in 1891. Far sighted men like Gifford Pinchot supported legislation authorizing forest reserves.Such legislation was passed in 1891, and in 1892 the Pecos River Forest Reserve in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the second oldest national forest in the United States, was created by proclamation of President Harrison. Legislation to regulate the forest reserves was passed in 1897. The Division of Forestry was transferred to the Department of the Interior in 1905, renamed the Forest Service, and the reserves were called National Forests.” (Ungnade, 1965)
Actually, the responsibility for the forest reserves was transferred to the Department of Agriculture in 1905, by President Theodore Roosevelt, where it remains today. Gifford Pinchot led this agency as its first Chief.
Part of the Pecos River Forest Reserve became the Pecos Wilderness in 1964. I find it remarkable that this beautiful part of New Mexico has been under one kind of protection or another for so long.
The quotation is from “Guide to the New Mexico Mountains”, Herbert E. Ungnade.