Telling the story of 200 years  of White Mountain History

                                     Weeks Act
              And The Creation of the White Mountain 
                                    National Forest
Links to the bibliography, additional websites with information and  videos on the Weeks Act are at the bottom of this page

     The Weeks Act:  The Needed Legislation for 
                  National Forests in the East

 John Wingate Weeks Portrait   Weeks Memorial Library. Lancaster, NH
                                                (used with permission)

      A hundred years ago, the White Mountain region was a different sight. Hundreds of photographs and articles depict a region of mountainsides stripped of trees from what was once virgin forest, streams choked with silt from eroding hillsides, and ash from forest fires falling on nearby towns. Factory owners relying on waterpower bemoaned the flooding that occurred after heavy rains and the low flows during summer droughts. Hotel owners heard the complaints of the summer tourists who did not like the blackened slopes and streams choked with sawdust and silt. By the early twentieth century, a growing consensus between widely diverse interests was building that something had to be done in the White Mountains.

With the rising interest in the eastern forests, and the Congressional action taken at the turn of the last century to set aside forest preserves in the vast areas of public domain land in the West, the people of the East sought ways to create such Forests.  Efforts focused on the southern Appalachians and the White Mountains.

      1914 USFS Map of the White Mountain Region Showing the Proclamation Boundaries of Lands that Could be Included in the White Mountain National Forest.      Click here for an enlarged version     

          Following several unsuccessful presentations to Congress, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, the Appalachian Mountain Club, and many other New England and eastern organizations, working together, took a leadership role in obtaining support for an act introduced by Congressman John W. Weeks of Massachusetts.  Congress finally passed this law, which became known as the Weeks Act, on Feb. 15, 1911 and it was signed by President Taft on March 1.  It authorized Federal purchase of forest lands  at the head of navigable streams. The Act also provided for cooperation in fire control between federal and state authorities. 

    On March 27, 1911, the White Mountain area was tentatively approved by the National Forest Reservation Commission at its first regular meeting, pending a report on the geological and hydrological relation between management of forest lands and protection of streams. In 1911-1912 the US Geological Survey conducted a streamflow study around the headwaters of the Ammonoosuc, Mad and Pemigewasset Rivers. The  perception among many scientists and observers was that logging methods common at the time, and the forest fires sometimes caused by these logging methods, were detrimental to the streams and to water flow. The draft report written by Otis Smith of the US Geological Survey used changes in snow melt as evidence that cutting trees affected streamflow.

     The success of the Weeks Act and its contribution to the conservation of natural resources in the eastern United States has been enormous. Over 40 National Forests have been created. In addition to the 780,000 acre White Mountain National Forest, such forests as the Green Mountain, Pisgah, Allegheny, George Washington, Ottawa and many others were created, often  incorporating cut over and burned lands.  Today they are valuable forests, providing clean water, wildlife, recreation, forest products and a variety of other goods and services.

In 2011 we  celebrate the centennial of the Weeks Act and explore what it took to reach a broad consensus on such an important issue, what the results were and what the next hundred years of the Weeks Act hold. The role of art, photography, writing and the spoken word will be highlighted in events that will occur around the state. We hope you will join us.

This essay was written by David Govatski, 
              Weeks Act Centennial Committee

1936 WMNF map illustrated by Tom Culverwell. Issued to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of the Weeks Act. Collection of Kurt Masters, research led by Dave Govatski. Click on the map for an enlarged version.

 Suggested Reading:
     The story of how the Weeks Act came to be is best told in the words of those who actively worked to secure passage of this legislation. ( Around 1915, John Weeks gave a speech in which he discussed how he was able get the Act passed.)  Philip Ayres, Forester, with the Society For the Protection of New Hampshire, wrote numerous articles and gave numerous speeches describing the need to protect forests in the White Mountains.  Joseph Walker, a member of The New Hampshire Forestry Commission, also wrote and spoke on the subject.  While these men were advocating a particular course of action, their writings tended to be factual when describing conditions in the forest.  Others, such as the Rev. John Johnson, wrote with the objective of vilifying those whom he believed were destroying the forests.  A comprehensive bibliography of material relating to the Weeks Act has been prepared and the link is at the bottom of this page.     

We've uploaded a selection of the original writings on the subject.  Clicking on any title will take you to the full text.  (You'll notice variation in the quality of the PDFs.  It depends on the quality of the source document.) 

We have also  uploaded a comprehensive  
 Bibliography of primary and secondary source material for the Weeks Act and The White Mountain National Forest.

The full text of the Weeks Act, with additional text by Henry Graves, second Chief of the Forest Service. 

Iris Baird has prepared a Summary of the Weeks Act. Iris has also transcribed two articles from the Lancaster Gazette.  The first, Feb. 22, 1911 describes the Legislative History of the Act and how it made its way through Congress.  The second article, March 29, 1911, describes the Government's Plan for Implementation of the Act.  She also provided the copy of the Weeks speech mentioned above.  Read Iris's article on the often overlooked relationship between John Weeks and Speaker of the House, Joe Cannon.  Iris has also provided a copy of a lengthy 1912 letter from John Weeks to Gifford Pinchot, discussing the Act.
One of the earlier writings by Joseph Walker, 1891,
Our New Hampshire Forests, a factual account of the condition of the forest. (large file)

A few years later Walker gave a speech to the American Forestry Association, entitled The White Mountain Region.  Our copy includes 4 color maps and a bibliography of White Mountain books. (large file)

One of the most vitriolic articles concerning the activities of land companies, as well as other lumbermen, was The Boa Constrictor of the White Mountains.  It was written by Rev. John Johnson and published by the New England Homestead magazine, in 1900. Johnson's target, primarily, was George James and his New Hampshire Land Co.  However, an article written by James in 1893 shows that he was an early advocate of sustainable forestry and some form of collective ownership of forest lands.  See The Preservation of White Mountain Forests, in the August, 1893 issue of the New England Homestead.  In 1880, James published a Prospectus for potential investors in his NH Land Company.  It also supports the position that James was not the Boa Constrictor portrayed by Johnson.

Another article in the same harsh vein as Johnson's, also published in the New England Homestead, was An Impending Peril in New England.  It was highly critical of the land companies.

In Feb. 1893, The Atlantic Monthly published an article describing, in a straightforward way, lumbering in the area.  It was written by Julius H. Ward and entitled White Mountain Forests in Peril.

William L. Hall, Assistant Forester, U.S. Forest Service, delivered a speech to the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.  It was entitled The White Mountain National Forest and How It Is To Be Made Useful     In 1954 Hall returned to the Forest and wrote to the Forest Supervisor, discussing how the Forest had changed over a 37 year period, and how the Weeks Act was resposible for the improvements.

Philip Ayres, Forester for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, was a strong advocate of protecting White Mountain forests.  Ayres, a prolific writer,  was well respected at the time and he remains well respected today.  A sampling of his writings: 
      Forest Problems in New Hampshire
      Reasons For A National Forest Reservation in     
                  the White Mountains
      Taxation of Forests

J. Girvin Peters, Forest Fire Protection Under The Weeks Law in Cooperation With States

From the 1912 Annual Report of SPNHF, Purchases in the White Mountain National Forest, 1911-12

Conservation in the White Mountains was significantly assisted by Women's Clubs in New Hampshire .  The same 1912 report lists the Clubs that worked to save Lost River.  The Year's Progress

At the 50th Anniversary of the Weeks Act, Richard E. McArdle, Chief of the Forest Service, gave a speech entitled, John Weeks-His Monument

At the 75th Anniversary, the speaker was Sherman Adams, former Governor of New Hampshire.  His speech was entitled, The Weeks Act, A 75th Anniversary Appraisal.

Websites of Interest:

                     USDA Forest Service

                     Forest History Society

                         Arlington National Cemetery
                       (Biographical Information)

















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