Names, Boundaries, and Maps: Historical Geography and Cartobibliography of the U.S. Forest Service Now Available

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by Peter L. Stark

Now Available: A Comprehensive Work on the Historical Geography and Mapping  of the National Forest System

An illustrated, multi-chapter reference work entitled Names, Boundaries, and Maps: A Resource for the Historical Geography of the National Forest System of the United States is now being mounted on two free publicly accessible websites: 

This reference work is being compiled in nine different chapters, a chapter for each of the Regions of the U.S. Forest Service, and seeks to combine in one place for the first time an administrative history, 1891-2020, for every forest reserve and national forest ever proclaimed – a number reaching almost 400 – with a listing of every map or atlas published by the federal government for each forest from the earliest times to the mid-1970s.  In addition, supporting essays on the Administrative History of the U.S. Forest Service and Mapping Our National Forests will address these two topics from the national perspective.  With this reference work, researchers in forest history can follow the administrative history of a given national forest from its beginnings through its many changes to the present and identify the proclamation diagrams and executive order maps, forest atlases, as well as the administrative and forest visitor maps that document each national forest’s historical geography.  Each regional chapter will have a preface, contents page, and essays on national forest law and policies that explain the resulting administrative history of the National Forest System and on the history and evolution of forest mapping, both tailored to that particular region.  These beginning pages are followed by the main portion of the work: a listing of each forest’s administrative history and mapping with additional chapters on that region’s special mapping.  OCLC numbers and library holding information will also be supplied under each citation.  A bibliography and indexes to Forest Service and other agency cartographers whose names are found on published forest maps will complete each chapter.  Each regional chapter will be appropriately illustrated with relevant maps and data tables.

There has been no scholarly work to date on the history of either Forest Service cartography or the agency’s contributions to the American cartographic record – a map making federal bureau of particular importance to the western United States.  Forest Service cartography is a significant and important record that when presented in an organized fashion will reveal much about the agency itself and how it went about the daily business of managing the nation’s forests, now measuring over 232 million acres.  Maps are the windows onto administrative and boundary changes to the national forests and reflect the policies and the legal environment in which they operated. Maps are also essential to understanding the environmental and human history of the national forests.  Maps record changes in the physical features of the land as in the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, the Madison Canyon earthquake and landslide, and the flooding of river valleys by the construction of dams.  Cultural features such as roads, trails, logging railroads, CCC camps, fire lookouts, and old mines appeared, changed, and often disappeared.   Maps record these changes as much as they record the changes in forest boundaries and names.  There have been no shortage of histories of the Forest Service at the national, regional, individual forest, and even at the ranger district level, but none of these have addressed Forest Service cartography itself or the cartographers that have been engaged in this vital function.  This reference work seeks to address this gap in the record.

The Forest Service published a reference on the administrative history of the national forests in several editions with the title, Establishment and Modification of National Forest Boundaries: A Chronological Record.  This work, whose early editions were compiled by a Forest Service cartographer, serves as a very good quick reference guide, but individual entries can be cryptic, as in “Land added” or “Boundary modified.” These entries need to be expanded to bring out the significance of each.  For instance an addition or deletion of land could reveal a major expansion of a national forest or national park or only a minor land transfer back to the public domain.  Similarly, a modified boundary might mean a significant extension of a purchase unit attached to a proclaimed national forest, or simply a small boundary adjustment to a wilderness area.  Also, these land changes need to be located with township, range, and section coordinates together with acreage numbers, and wherever possible, the purpose or the law behind the change.  And since designating Wilderness Areas and Wild and Scenic Rivers and other special areas, significantly alter the management policies of specific areas, large and small, within the national forests, they must be included in any administrative history.  In short, this project enhances the description of each administrative action found in reference works published by the Forest Service and augments these works by providing citations to special area designations such as the establishment of purchase units, wilderness areas, and recreation areas, among several others. 

This project began while the author was serving as the Head of the Map and Aerial Photography (MAP) Library at the University of Oregon when the Library received the cartographic archives of the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Region, Region 6 (Oregon and Washington) as a gift in 1988.  The gift consisted of some 600 maps and came with the Library’s promise to organize the maps and provide public access to them.  As the author entered this collection into the OCLC database, he began compiling a list of maps of Region 6, then slowly expanded the listing for other Forest Service Regions as I had time and as I visited other map libraries while away from Oregon at conferences.  Moving to Washington, DC in 1999 gave the author the opportunity to visit the amazing repositories of maps held by the Library of Congress, the National Archives, and the National Agricultural Library as well as several large university map libraries. The resources of the Law Library of Congress in the Madison Building allowed a comprehensive review of the administrative histories of each national forest by checking and re-checking public laws, proclamations, executive orders, public land orders, and a host of other administrative actions in the Law Library’s printed holdings and online legal reference services. 

Essentially, the heart of the reference work, the administrative history of the national forests, 1891-2019, and carto-bibliography are now complete for all regions of the Forest Service and are being edited for uniformity.  As a special feature, all Forest Service, General Land Office, and Geological Survey cartographers whose names appear on the maps of the forest reserves and national forests, have been taken down and listed alphabetically.  Cartographers most often recorded their names on maps with initials for their first and middle names or with their entire name in initials. These names and initials were searched in commercial city directories held by the Library of Congress as well as resulting in the most complete form possible of the individual’s name.  This exercise identified quite a few women cartographers working for the Forest Service who had their gender disguised behind initials.  Having cartographer’s full names should also prove useful to scholars making connections with Forest Service staff and to librarians when they catalog Forest Service maps.

Screenshot of Peter's work on National Museum of Forest Service History website.
Screenshot of Peter’s work on National Museum of Forest Service History website.

Regional chapters will be mounted onto these two websites as they have introductions written, illustrations placed within the text, and receive a final edit.  As of today, the two essays addressing the national policies that affected the administrative history and Forest Service mapping (with the listing of cartographers) of the national forest have been completed.  Also completed and can now be viewed are the first five regional chapters of the Forest Service namely, the Northern Region (1), the Rocky Mountain Region (2), and the Southwestern Region (3), Intermountain Region (4), and Pacific Southwest Region (5, former California Region).  Work has begun on the final edit of the Pacific Northwest Region (6), Southern Region (8), Eastern Region (9) and Alaska Region (10).  Region 7 was eliminated in 1965 with its merger with Region 9).  Bookmark the page or pages or include on your map library’s web page.

Please address any questions to the author, Peter Stark, at    

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