REMEMBERING THE CONTRIBUTION OF GENERATIONS PAST
By William Tweed
Our culture changes over time, and we all too easily forget the efforts and dreams of those who came before us. Not knowing how we got to where we are now makes us misunderstand much that goes on around us.
Oddly, conservation has become a sort of dirty word here in Tulare County. It seems, for many citizens, to represent something negative that is done to us rather than something positive from which we benefit. Particularly, this seems to be true about how we think about Tulare County’s public lands – our national park and our national forest. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Today, the twin reservations of Sequoia National Park and Sequoia National Forest include almost all of the higher altitude lands in Tulare County, an area equal to almost half of the county’s acreage. I often hear people say that this land “belongs” to the government, which is, in fact, a serious misrepresentation. These lands actually belong to the citizens of the United States – to all of us.
Moreover, these two large federal reservations were not imposed upon us by outsiders. Instead, local citizens campaigned very hard to create them. Both the national park and the national forest came into being because Tulare County residents worked with determination to bring them into existence.
Four Tulare County men – Tipton Lindsey, Frank. J. Walker, John Tuohy, and George Stewart – stand out in that long ago story, and they deserve to be remembered.
Their efforts began in Visalia in October 1889, when the four began a campaign to protect the mountains lands adjacent to the southern half of the San Joaquin Valley.
Each brought special skills to the movement. Lindsey, because he worked in the United States Land Office in Visalia, provided his knowledge of federal lands. Walker and Stewart were associated with the Visalia Delta newspaper. Tuohy, a rancher, knew the mountains first hand.
They had two primary goals. The first was to protect the watersheds that made irrigation agriculture possible in the southern San Joaquin Valley. They also hoped to preserve some of the region’s surpassing natural beauty.
Initially, they campaigned to protect the entire central and southern Sierra Nevada from illegal logging and destructive overgrazing. Then, when it became apparent that the local giant sequoia groves were rapidly passing into private hands, they shifted their focus to a more limited and immediate goal – the establishment of a national park to protect the best of the giant sequoia trees. This effort gained energy over the summer of 1890, and President Benjamin Harrison signed a bill establishing such a park on September 25, 1890 – one hundred and twenty-two years ago this coming Tuesday.
Meanwhile, at the suggestion of Interior Secretary John Noble, Congress passed a law allowing the president to set aside lands already in public ownership as permanent forest reserves. This statute, signed in March 1891, gave the four Tulare County men a new tool to work with, and they now began to push for a large forest reserve in the Tulare County mountains.
Secretary Noble, responding to their interest, assigned a special land agent to the Sierra to determine how much land might productively be placed in such a preserve. It took agent B. F. Allen a full year, but by January 1893 he had come up with a recommendation to create a reserve of over four million acres. President Harrison concurred and authorized the reserve on February 14, 1893. So was born the Sierra Forest Reserve.
It took another dozen years and a government reorganization before effective management came to the reserve, but the changes did come. In 1905, management of the reserve was transferred to a new agency in the Agriculture Department, the United States Forest Service. In 1907, the new managers renamed the southern portion of the forest reserve the Sequoia National Forest. The huge area has been managed under this name ever since.
Tipton Lindsey, Frank. J. Walker, John Tuohy, and George Stewart achieved their dreams. These four Tulare County residents, using their skills and working through one of the ancestors of this very newspaper, succeeded in creating two enduring institutions that still belong to the people of the United States. Today, a million visitors a year come to see Sequoia National Park, and the adjoining national forest continues to provide timber, grazing, hunting, and wilderness recreation to us all. And most importantly, of course, the rivers of the southern Sierra still provide high quality water for irrigation.
Sadly, few modern Tulare County residents recognize the names of these four late- nineteenth-century local men. Stewart is perhaps the best remembered, and in 1930 his name was applied to a peak in Sequoia National Park. The same park also has a remote meadow named for Tuohy. The other two seems almost completely forgotten. (Incidentally, neither the towns of Tipton or Lindsay were named for Tipton Lindsey.)
In later years, none of these men ever stopped thinking about the benefits of public parks and forests. In his last years, John Tuohy even led the effort to purchase Mooney Grove and turn it into the first Tulare County park.
In these contentious times, when politics seems to be about blaming people for things, it is worth remembering how much of our local history represents the positive contributions of those who came before us. And at the very top of any such list should be the local men who worked so hard to create both Tulare County’s priceless national park and its equally valuable national forest.