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Clear Cut Recovery: A Short History of the White Mountains

The Southern Wild River Wilderness is bordered by the mountains of the Wildcat Range
The Southern Wild River Wilderness is bordered by the mountains of the Wildcat Range

I love hiking in the forests of New Hampshire, especially in the White Mountains where it’s solid trees as far as the eye can see. But there was a time in the not to distant past when the area was entirely clear-cut by lumber companies.

During the second half of the 19th century, the State of New Hampshire sold off its public lands at very low prices to stimulate economic development in the region. Soon great logging camps were set up and logging railroads were built throughout the mountains to haul timber to market. After huge areas had been devastated, giant forest fires further ravaged the region, fueled by the waste that loggers left behind.

Eventually, there was a great public outcry and a conservation movement was born leading to passage of the Weeks Act in 1911. The Weeks Act authorized the creation of US National Forests to protect these areas for conservation and future generations.

White Mountain National Forest Map

After decades of land acquisition, The White Mountain National Forest is now 770,000 acres in size. Approximately 15% of that area is classified as Wilderness including The Great Gulf, The Presidential Range-Dry River Wilderness, The Pemigewasset Wilderness, the Sandwich Range Wilderness and Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness.

Under the terms of the Wilderness Act of 1964, the word Wilderness has a special meaning in the US. It is a place where vehicles are not allowed, where no permanent camps or structures can be made, and where wildlife and its habitat must be kept in as primitive a condition as possible.

Remarkably, the forests recovered and are a source of amazing beauty and a four season recreational wonderland. The logging industry, however, has not been so fortunate, and is finally dying out due to overseas competition from China.

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