The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1982, Volume 28, Number 3

Book Reviews

Richard H. Peterson, Book Review Editor

Guarding the Forests of Southern California: Evolving Attitudes Toward Conservation of Watershed, Woodlands, and Wilderness. [Western Lands and Waters, XII.] By Ronald F. Lockmann. Glendale, California: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1981. Bibliographical note. Illustrations. Index. Maps. 184 pages. $19.50.

Reviewed by Richard G. Lillard, member of the Board of Directors, The Forest History Society, and author of The Great Forest (1947) and Eden in Jeopardy (1966).

The encompassing title of this brief book names a region with numerous forested mountain ranges, including the seven in the Transverse Ranges, but Lockmann concerns himself mostly with only two of these east-west ones: the San Gabriel and the San Bernardino.

The first third of the book reviews the history of forest use and conservation in the United States and ties in related Southern California data. It surveys botanical explorations in the forested areas, and it asks key questions. Since Southern California had no great lumbering potential, why was the San Gabriel Timberland Reserve of 1892, now Angeles National Forest, the second unit created in the entire national forest system? Why did coastal Southern California, unlike many Western states, work promptly to get forest reserves?

In his central chapters Lockmann goes into the details of how the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the Southern California Academy of Sciences, the Forest and Water Society of Southern California, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, and persistent spokesmen, notably Abbot Kinney and Theodore Lukens, pushed for the creation and protection of the local national forests. Miners, settlers, loggers, even reservoir builders were only minor opposition. The national forests would prevent floods and erosion, ensure stream flow, and thus provide for groundwater storage and a steady surface water supply for specialized agriculture – the glory of Southern California – and for metropolitan expansion – the expectation of the predominant boosters. A weekly paper said the idea was “to furnish the largest possible quantities of that fluid which is king in Southern California.” The whole agitation for conserving nearby mountain water preceded the clamor over imported water in aqueducts that now dominates water politics in the region.

The author reports the important work of conservationists like Frank Elwood Brown of Redlands, John Muir, and the others who argued for fire protection, including firebreaks (first cleared in 1905), and for restrictions on grazing by sheep and cutting by lumbermen. There were early defenders of wooded landscape as an asset to help meet the needs of tourism, early a flourishing business in the strip of Mediterranean climate between the timbered crests and the sea.

Lockmann traces quickly the rise of the forests as locales with “amenity values” despite the Forest Service’s long downgrading of scenery and of recreation such as playing on snow in winter and on water in summer. Ecological awareness came slowly, too, though Lukens had early spoken of nature as a total system. By 1970, when air pollution was killing yellow pines by the thousands each year, the Forest Service had created a half-dozen wilderness tracts or “primitive areas.”

The author’s scholarship is good, though limited in reach. Occasionally he writes ambiguous sentences and paragraphs with jumbled chronology. He gets off some dubious generalizations, notably in his preliminary chapters, as when he says, ” A flood of popular guides extolling the state’s wealth began to appear in the mid-nineteenth century, and many were thorough enough to include the forest resources.” He is at his best in the chapters on events involving his chosen two Southern California ranges in the early twentieth century.