Imágenes de páginas
[graphic][merged small][merged small][merged small]

WHEN the United States Government put its forest-reserve policy into effect it brought into existence an interesting and unique body of men,-the forest rangers.

There are now 149 forest reserves under Government control, 146 of which are in "the States," two in Alaska, and one in Porto Rico. In Colorado, whose forests crown the watershed of the nation, there are eight great reserves, covering nearly 7,000,000 acres. Every forest reserve is in charge of a body of trained foresters, or rangers, who patrol the wilderness, guarding against forest fires, timber thieves, and poachers, and seeing that the Government is not cheated in the sales of timber that are made.


The duties of the forest ranger are so manifold that schools of instruction are carried on, under the direction of technical experts who have studied the forestry systems of Europe, and who have had a long course of practical work in this country. The examinations, which are conducted under civil

service rules, are most rigorous, and the unfit and incompetent are excluded at the beginning. These examinations are held at stated periods during the summer, and they show what care the Government is exercising in the selection of the men to guard its forest reserves. Not only must the successful candidate prove that he is versed in the lore of the wilderness, and that he can ride, shoot, and pack, but he must also show that he has a good education. His fitness for the rougher part of the work is passed upon by the technical forestry expert in charge of the examination, and his answers to questions testing his education are scanned by the Civil-Service Commission. Each year it is becoming more difficult to get a position as forest ranger. More qualifications are demanded as the importance of first-class forestry work becomes manifest. It seems highly probable that before long only those who have had the advantage of instruction in forestry schools will be eligible for the positions which have heretofore gone to cowboys and others who are better versed in the outdoor part of

the work than in the finer phases of for- subject of admiring comment. There is selestry, as taught in the schools. dom any jealousy among cowboys in this particular, and all are outspoken in admitting COWBOY CANDIDATES AND THEIR INSTRUC- the superiority of some man who can more


The examinations, which are held in scores of places throughout those States and Territories that have forest reserves within their boundaries, are practically all alike. The technical men in charge have been given certain instructions which they follow to the letter. An examination lasts three days, and one which was held a few months ago at Hot Sulphur Springs, Colo., will serve as an example:

than equal them in feats of skill in the saddle. The ice was soon broken between the instructor and his pupils. The broadshouldered, athletic young man who was delegated to represent the Government in the work was G. W. Clement, technical assistant on the great Pike's Peak Forest Reserve. Although all business," the instructor was good-natured and patient, though literally raked fore and aft for three days by a cross-fire of questions. Many of these questions would have floored one not well posted

to air their opinions, but this young man answered every question that his instructions permitted him to answer, and he did it simply and to the point. As a result he handled those independent cowboys with as little friction as a capable teacher might make manifest in dealing with a class of infants.

The candidates were about sixteen in number,-most of them cowboys who had been in forestry, or given some experts a chance used to riding the range in Colorado. Some of them had ridden many miles, across a rough country, and all of them were certain they could come up to the requirements, as far as the outdoor part of the work was concerned. It was only the "schoolhouse work" which seemed to awe them. Nearly all were bronzed, hardy young men, used to life in the open, under all conditions of weather. One, a tall, fair-haired young Swede, had won fame as a breaker of wild horses, and his feats as a "bronco buster" were soon the


[ocr errors]

The examination lasted three days, the first being given over to the schoolhouse work," as it was termed by the candidates. It is necessary for a forest ranger to be well grounded in the common branches, especially in arithmetic. The Government permits a restricted sale of timber on all reserves. Sawmills are set up in some of the reserves, and it is the ranger's duty to see that the growth of the timber is not injured by injudicious or wholesale cutting. The ranger must select the trees to be cut, and he must be able to scale the timber at the mill, to see that cutting in excess of contract is not being done. So much timber is being cut from some reserves that they are more than paying for the expense of maintenance. The ranger who works on one of these reserves where much timber is being cut must indeed have a "good head for figgers," as one of the cow-puncher candidates put it. To allow the wily sawmill men to trick the Government out of an excess cutting of timber would mean a speedy loss of the ranger's position.



The tests of the second and third day were more to the liking of a majority of the candidates. Early in the morning of the second day a start was made on horseback, the candidates being taken several miles in the moun(Technical assistant, Pike's Peak Forest Reserve, tains, where the expert in charge of the ex


in charge of the examinations.)

[graphic][merged small]

amination put them through their paces in felling timber and other practical forestry work. The men had to show their skill, also, in following blazed and blind trails and in reading the signs of the forest. The more observant ones showed surprising cleverness, and all averaged very well at this kind of work.

On the third and last day the examination wound up in a variety of tests. The ranger candidates were put through their paces on horseback, the expert making notes of each man's skill in the saddle. Much hilarity was caused when the cowboys, most of whom could ride bucking horses "straight up," were asked to come in at a slow trot while the expert took notes.

"I know it looks ridiculous, boys," he said, "but it's in the regulations, and it's got to be done."

Camp was made, and the men proved how deftly they could set up and strike a tent, how well they could build a fire, and perform other necessary feats that make life in the open worth living. In order to test the ability of each man in estimating distances the expert paced off a huge triangle, and then

the candidates filed after him, in solemn line. Each man then wrote out his estimate of the number of feet in the triangle which had been traversed.

A greater part of the day was given over to packing and unpacking a horse. This was one of the most important of the tests, as a ranger must live alone in the open, and much of the time his bed and "grub" and cooking utensils must be carried on the back of a packhorse. A man who does not know the trick of packing will be in trouble all the time. Every article must be packed in exactly the right place, and the hitch must be cunningly thrown or the entire load will soon jar loose on a rough trail.

Most of the candidates showed their familiarity with that piece of rope magic known as the diamond hitch, by which it is possible to secure a pack so that it will not slip on the roughest trail. At the same time, a correctly thrown diamond hitch can be loosened with one pull at the end of the rope. Every process of packing and throwing the hitch was gone through with, the expert standing close at hand and making mental note of each candidate's proficiency. The ideas of


he has to do is to drop a spoon hook from the stern of his canoe, and a huge trout leaps at the lure. Or, with his rifle, he can shoot a bear as it comes to the brink of the lake to drink. At night he camps alone, in the silence of the vast wilderness, and daybreak finds him afloat in his canoe once more.

Such absolute solitude is hardly the part of the average forest ranger, but even loneliness has its compensations, no matter if a man may be assigned to patrol one of the great reserves of Alaska. A ranger always has his horses, and what does the absence of mere man count when one has plenty to eat and a new camp each night in some delightful nook in the wilderness, beside a brawling trout stream or on the shore of some great lake, in the hollow of a mountain valley?


The life of the ranger is not all "beer and skittles," however. There is work to do in plenty. One must always be on his guard against forest fires. The tenderfeet who are always coming into the reservations on camping and hunting trips are forever starting fires where they will spread to the pines. Signs are posted along all trails through the forest reserves warning people against the

RANGER CANDIDATE PRACTICING MARKSMANSHIP. danger of forest fires, and telling them to

the candidates varied somewhat, but all succeeded in making good-looking packs, that would stand the test of a rough trip.

A few minor field tests completed the examination, and the candidates swung into the saddle and rode away, the successful ones to be notified of their eligibility to the first vacancies occurring in the forest-ranger ranks.


Once he has entered upon his duties, the young forest ranger finds himself in an employment that offers endless possibilities, to the man of the right temperament. For it must be understood that few men are constituted with the forest-ranger temperament. A forest ranger's berth would never do for a man who cannot be alone for days, or even weeks or months, at a time. Some rangers, in the reserves farthest removed from civilization, see few faces from one year's end to the other. One ranger in Idaho lives almost altogether in a canoe. It is his duty to patrol a great lake, abounding with giant trout. About the shores of this lake he paddles his silent way during the long months of summer and fall. When he wants a meal, all

be sure to extinguish all campfires when through with them. But campers are proverbially careless, and are always going away leaving their fires burning merrily behind them. A spark flies up into a dead pine and instantly there is a tower of flame shooting into the sky. If the wind happens to be blowing strong, a roaring wall of flame is soon rushing through the forest.

At the first sign of smoke in the sky the ranger is busy. If it is a great fire he gallops for aid to the nearest forest supervisor, and all the available men are pressed into service. The Government provides for such impressment, allowing wages to those who aid the rangers in fighting fires. Trees are felled in the path of the flames, and the side lines of flame are beaten in, thus constantly narrowing the front of the fire wall. Sometimes fires are fought for days before they are overcome. Then it will be just the luck of the tired, blistered ranger if another fire breaks out in another part of the reserve, and he has to spend more days and nights in the killing work.

Campers do not start all the forest fires, however. Lightning starts many of the most destructive fires. A bolt of lightning in a

dry carpet of dead branches of trees and underbrush will soon set a blaze going. For this reason the sawmill men who operate in the forest reserves are made to clean up all débris as they go along. After a tree is felled for timber the branches are not allowed to lie on the ground, but must be gathered up and burned or carted off the reserve. As the process of weeding out the superfluous timber goes on, the inflammable carpet is removed. Much of the down timber is carted away by neighboring ranchers, as any one is permitted to gather all the dead timber he wishes for firewood; so the reserves are constantly being "cleaned up." In a few years some of the reserves that a short time ago were only tangled, primeval forests will be ideal groves, carpeted with green grass, instead of being choked with superfluous trees and piled high with an impassable breastwork of fallen trunks and dead branches.


[ocr errors]

and, in short, act as a mounted policeman. He does not always go without opposition, and for this reason a ranger who is not accustomed to handling firearms would make a sorry showing. Down in Lincoln County, N. M., a forest ranger had a busy two days, in which he battled with five men, one being killed, two jailed, and two getting away. The ranger discovered four cattle rustlers on the reserve, killing a cow. They refused to surrender and opened fire, the ranger returning the fire and killing one of the desperadoes. The following morning the ranger followed the men who escaped and caught two of them, turning them over to the authorities. That night the ranger guarded a store at a little town, having heard that an outlaw, who had broken jail a short time before, had threatened to come in and rob the place. True to his threat, the outlaw appeared, and a duel followed, the ranger killing his man at the first fire.

There are different grades of service in The ranger must see to it that everybody the forestry work, so that the young man who comes into the forest reserve obeys the who begins as a ranger has an excellent opState game laws. The slaughter of game out portunity of getting something better. But of season on a reserve is an offense punishable the life in the open appeals to many young under the State or Territorial laws. He men who do not care for anything more almust also keep bad characters off the reserves, luring than a chance to ride the reserves.

[graphic][merged small]
« AnteriorContinuar »