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Washington's Timberlands (Part 1)

Reporter: Historylink

 Washington's Timberlands (Part 1)

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During the nineteenth century, Washington's forests underwent significant transformations. Initially, these forests were homelands for Indigenous nations with deep connections to the land. However, European and American settlers arrived in greater numbers, leading to treaties that extinguished Native title to millions of acres and allowed forests to be transformed into non-Native-owned property. The mid-nineteenth century saw an influx of settlers intent on farming, building towns, and exploiting resources like timber. The California gold rush increased demand for lumber, leading to the establishment of sawmills owned by Californians in strategic locations around Puget Sound. Fraudulent practices in acquiring timberlands were common until federal intervention began regulating forest ownership. The construction of transcontinental railroads played a crucial role in shaping Washington's forests. Congress supported railroad development through land grants, which significantly impacted forest ownership patterns. Large timber companies emerged as dominant players by acquiring vast tracts of forested land. Concerns over rampant fraud and unsustainable logging practices led to the establishment of federal forest reserves in the late nineteenth century. Presidents reserved forests across the West, including in Washington, to prevent settlement and exploitation. Timber companies raced to secure holdings amidst changing regulations and increasing conservation efforts. The sale of 900,000 acres of timberland from the Northern Pacific Railroad to Weyerhaeuser Timber Company marked a pivotal moment at the turn of the twentieth century. This transaction symbolized a shift towards private ownership dominating Washington's forests alongside federal control. The stage was set for commercial timber companies and government agencies to shape the state's forestry landscape in the coming years.

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