Experimental Forest and Savenac Nursery Archive

Historical photographs of Experimental Forests and Savenac Nursery in Northern Idaho and Northwestern Montana, 1910-1989

Contents: About the Collection | Locations in this Collection | Tech

About the Collection

The Experimental Forest and Savenac Nursery Photo Archive contains photographs related to or depicting the establishment of two Forest Service Experimental Forests in north Idaho, Priest River and Deception Creek, and the Savenac Nursery in Montana. These images were taken over almost 80 years, from 1910 to 1989, and depict the people, places, and machinery of forest workers in Northern Idaho and Northwestern Montana.

Shows growth during two seasons on good white pine land on level bench near river
Shows growth during two seasons on good white pine land on level bench near river

This collection was provided to the University of Idaho Library’s Digital Initiatives Department by Bob Denner, Forester with the Rocky Mountain Research Station, in the fall of 2013. Denner was the Superintendent at the Priest River Experimental Forest before being transferred to the Moscow Forestry Sciences Lab. While at Priest River, he found boxes of photos and documents stored in the office attic! Eventually he brought them to Moscow, where he was able to digitize and catalog each one. The Moscow office also provided a large number of photos and documents that add to the historical record of these sites.

Service gages used each summer in Region One
Service gages used each summer in Region One

Original copies of these images remain the property of the Forest Service; they may be reproduced with acknowledgement to the USDA-Forest Service. Those photos from Priest River of original cottage interiors, J.A. Larsen, his wife Jenny and daughter Margaret are from the private collection of Ms. Susan Marsh will require authorization from the Marsh family for reproduction.

Locations in this Collection:

Priest River Experiment Station

The Priest River Experiment Station was established in 1911 at a site on the east side of the Priest River, about midway between the towns of Coolin and Priest River. It was the headquarters for Forest Service research in Region 1 until the administrative headquarters moved to Missoula in 1922. The Missoula unit was then named the Northern Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station; Priest River then lost the "Station" in its name and became the "Experimental Forest".

The scientists working at Priest River first planned to study the silviculture of western white pine and its associated tree species of the mixed conifer forests of northern Idaho. However, forest fire research very quickly became a top priority. Between 1935 and 1942, the buildings that make up the present administrative site were constructed by Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) enrollees. The administrative site and outlying features were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. Priest River remains a very active research facility used by Forest Service and academic scientists, and students of all ages.

About Priest River Experimental Forest

In the early days of the Forest Service, the practice of the unrestricted extraction of natural resources was common in many parts of the nation. The creation of the Forest Service was in large part a response to this and would not be tolerated in the National Forests. President Theodore Roosevelt and his first Chief of the Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot, saw the role of the Forest Service as a regulating agency to oversee the wise use of public lands and provide the public with the amenities that come from well managed forest environments. The exploitation of forested land in the eastern half of the country was appalling to both of them and they were convinced that the Federal government could do a better job of managing western forests than the "cut and run" practice so prevalent in the east.

Pinchot appointed Raphael Zon to the Office of Silvics, who was responsible for managing the timber resource on National Forests. Zon and Pinchot were convinced that science would be the basis for sound management decisions. With that in mind, Zon promoted the idea that experiment stations would be established throughout the western districts, each tasked with the research responsibility for the forest types found in that district. Thus, researchers were assigned to these facilities and lived and worked in close contact with the forests and their attendant issues.

In August 1911 Zon, together with Donald Brewster, F.I. Rockwell, and others selected a site north of the town of Priest River for the District 1 (now Region 1) experiment station. Originally known as the Priest River Experiment Station, this was the beginning of what is now the Priest River Experimental Forest (PREF). The site was chosen for its proximity to Priest River and the railroad, there was the Benton Ranger Station on site to provide local expertise and labor, the forest was composed of tree species of great economic importance commonly found in the northern Rocky Mountains, and the range of forest stand ages, from recently cutover land to mature and old growth stands lent itself to a wide variety of research opportunities.

The first few years were spent constructing residences, office/lab, a domestic water system, and installing weather stations. Donald Brewster was the first Station Director and Forest Examiner at PREF; J.A. Larsen joined the staff in 1913 as a Forest Examiner and assisted Brewster with the research and constant repair and improvement of the Station facilities. The great fire of 1910 was still a recent event and focus of research in the early years was on tree seed and seedbed studies. Very little was known about the requirements for collecting, germinating, planting, and transporting conifer seedlings for planting on burned or cutover land.

The research efforts shifted in 1916 when the seed studies were transferred to Savenac Nursery and the first investigations of forest fires began. Larsen started this effort with a study of the relationship of litter and duff moisture to fire danger, which led to more thorough investigations of meteorological conditions as related to fire hazard. In 1922 Harry Gisborne was transferred to the research station headquarters, now in Missoula, as a full time fire researcher. He spent most of each summer at PREF for the next three decades studying all of the variables (weather, forest fuels, slope, aspect, elevation, forest types, and so on) that effect wild fire occurrence, rate of spread, and fire intensity. As a direct result of Gisborne's investigations, the Forest Service became very efficient at controlling forest fires. Fire research continues to the present, examining fire effects on soil productivity, soil erosion potential, site preparation after harvest, and tree regeneration.

Other investigations ongoing at PREF include studies to develop seed transfer rules, long term soil studies, root disease biology, silviculture of western white pine, and the study of white pine blister rust. In addition to Forest Service scientists, many studies have been conducted by academic scientists and graduate students from universities throughout the region. The climatic record accumulated at PREF has provided a foundation for many of the ongoing studies and climate change research; there are daily weather observations from 1911, streamflow and snowpack measurements since 1937, and atmospheric chemistry since 2003.

A momentous period in the history of PREF began with establishment of a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp at the southwest corner of the Forest in the summer of 1932. This was a summer camp until 1935 when Company 1235 arrived and stayed year-round until the program was discontinued in 1942. The men of Company 1235 were responsible for a huge amount of work accomplished during this period, including construction of the present buildings in the headquarters site, road construction, Benton gauging dam construction, stand improvement work, fire hazard reduction, blister rust control measures, tree planting, and research assistance. In 1994, the buildings of the headquarters area and other features in outlying sites were accepted into the National Register of Historic Places.

Groups interested in tours of PREF and the facilities may contact the Moscow Forestry Sciences Lab.

These images from PREF and surrounding areas depict the facilities, weather stations, infrastructure, research sites, equipment, and people that started with a tent pitched in a meadow. The photos were taken by staff and visitors to PREF, including a well-known Forest Service photographer, K.D. Swan. These were located at PREF, the Moscow Forestry Sciences Lab, and reproduced from the private collection of Ms. Susan Marsh, great-granddaughter of J.A. Larsen. Where a Forest Service accession number was visible in the lower right corner of a photograph, the date taken, location, description, and photographer were crossed checked against the official Forest Service Photographic Record. The digital images were created on a Hewlett-Packard flatbed scanner, model 8290 and scanned as .tif images with a resolution of 300 dpi.

The photos by Forest Service personnel are in the public domain and may be reproduced with acknowledgement to the USDA-Forest Service. Those photos of interiors of the original cottages, J.A. Larsen, his wife Jenny and daughter Margaret are from the private collection of Ms. Susan Marsh will require authorization from the Marsh family for reproduction.


Deception Creek Experiment Station

Because most of the facilities and staff at Priest River were occupied with fire research, the Deception Creek Experimental Forest was established in 1933 for the purpose of examining and understanding the ecology of forests dominated by western white pine, since the issue of studying western white pine was still very important. Extensive stands of white pine were found in the Coeur d'Alene Mountains, so it was decided to reserve about 3500 acres that encompassed the Deception and Sands Creek drainages. The Honeysuckle Ranger Station stood near the site, being located at the confluence of Deception Creek and the Little North Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River; the station was able to provide assistance with management activities.

Research activities continue to examine uneven-aged management, cultural activities to promote white pine growth, and strategies to reduce the impact of blister rust. The buildings that were constructed by CCC and Emergency Relief Appropriations (ERA) no longer exist. They were removed in the early 1970's after constant vandalism made them unusable.

About Deception Creek Experimental Forest

Western white pine, the State Tree of Idaho, was responsible for the influx of the timber industry into northern Idaho at the beginning of the 20th century as the stocks of eastern white pine were liquated. Capable of impressive size, the wood was straight grained, easily worked, and had very little taper in its logs; there were vast areas in northeastern Washington, northern Idaho, and northwestern Montana where white pine was the most dominant species. The economic value of white pine cannot be understated as communities, sawmills, and roads were established while the timber industry wasted no time in developing the means to harvest and process this resource.

The Forest Service timber sales in white pine forests would employ a variety of cutting methods and cultural treatments as an informal means to test their effectiveness in producing natural white pine regeneration for the future. However, scientists and foresters recognized the need for a systematic and long-term process to monitor and evaluate these methods. And so, the Deception Creek Experimental Forest (DCEF) was established in 1933 to study to ecology of western white pine and provide a site dedicated to research and demonstration purposes. Located within the Coeur d'Alene Mountains, an area of extensive white pine forests, DCEF is composed of 3500 acres and includes the Deception Creek and Sands Creek watersheds. It is located just upstream from the confluence of Deception Creek and the Little North Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River at the site of the Honeysuckle Ranger Station (now the Honeysuckle Campground).

Construction of the headquarters site began immediately as a spike camp was built in an area on Sands Creek that was cleared and homesteaded in 1905. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), and the Emergency Relief Act (ERA) programs made possible the construction of 2 residential cottages, shop, garage, fuel house, bunkhouse, and office. The remote location of DCEF made it difficult to keep a year-round employee and winter damage from deep snow was a constant and expensive problem. In the early 1970s vandalism reached a level that made the repair costs prohibitive and the buildings unusable. All were subsequently demolished and cleared from the site.

Timber management was and remains the primary activity on the Forest. Several early sales by the Forest Service prior to the establishment of DCEF are examples of certain cutting methods, both good and bad, and have provided opportunities for the testing of timber stand improvement activities such as the timing and intensity of pre-commercial thinning. Recent cuttings have been used to investigate selective harvests and uneven aged management for successful regeneration of white pine; other studies have examined and compared mechanical slash reduction with traditional slash burning. White pine blister research has been prominent and resulted in extensive planting and monitoring the progress of certified resistant seedlings.

Group tours of DCEF may be arranged by contacting the Moscow Forestry Sciences Lab.

The images of DCEF and surrounding areas depict the facilities, weather stations, infrastructure, research sites, equipment, and people. The photos were taken by staff and visitors to DCEF, including a well-known Forest Service photographer, K.D. Swan. Where a Forest Service accession number was visible in the lower right corner of a photograph, the date taken, location, description, and photographer were crossed checked against the official Forest Service Photographic Record. The digital images were created on a Hewlett-Packard flatbed scanner, model 8290 and scanned as .tif images with a resolution of 300 dpi.

The photos by Forest Service personnel are in the public domain and may be reproduced with acknowledgement to the USDA-Forest Service.


Savenac Nursery

Savenac Nursery is located near Haugan, Montana and is 15 miles east of St. Regis, Montana. Savenac was once one of the largest and oldest USDA Forest Service tree nurseries in the western United States, operating from 1907 until 1969. The nursery site was selected by Elers Koch, of the Forest Service, who also helped fight the Great Fire of 1910 that burned much of the northern Rocky Mountains, including a portion of the nursery.

Savenac once produced over 12 million seedlings annually for use in reforestation of national forests throughout the western United States. In 1969, its operations were moved to the Coeur d'Alene Nursery. Savenac was listed in the National Register of Historic Places August 16, 1999. Today ten buildings built during the 1930s by Company 956 of the CCC remain at the site, together with landscaped grounds, a stone bridge, interpretive trails and a small arboretum.

About the Savenac Nursery

In 1907, Elers Koch, Forest Supervisor of the Lolo National Forest, was on his honeymoon (via horseback) in Mineral County, Montana. Koch and his bride came across an abandoned homestead along the Savenac Creek and he thought it an ideal site for a tree nursery. Within a year, seed beds were prepared; such was the beginning of Savenac Nursery and several other modest nurseries, including the Boulder Nursery (also in this collection), which was established to serve the Helena National Forest.

When the great fires of 1910 spread through the area, the Nursery site was burned over. As the extent of the damage was realized, the Forest Service recognized the need for a large scale operation to produce seedlings in the quantity needed to plant the recently burned area and for disturbances in the future. The smaller nurseries such as Boulder were discontinued. The following year, more land was cleared at Savenac and by 1915; some 10 million seedlings were in the ground, producing about 3 million seedlings annually for planting. Research conducted at the Priest River Experimental Forest investigated seed ecology and seed bed requirements; this was put to good use and advanced the nursery practices at Savenac.

By 1916, all seed and seed bed research was transferred to Savenac. Now the nursery conducted research in addition producing millions of seedlings annually and making constant repairs and improvements to the facility. Tools, equipment, and methods developed at Savenac found a wider application at other nurseries. Savenac had become recognized as the source of innovative ideas and practices for large scale tree nurseries. Through the decade of the 1930's. Savenac produced 8-12 million seedlings annually for planting and became the largest, most productive tree nursery in the nation.

Much of the nursery and facilities expansion was the direct result of an infusion of labor provided by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). In 1935 enrollees of Company 956 settled into Camp Taft, across the St. Regis River from the nursery. The crew stayed until the program was discontinued in 1942. Most of their labors took place in the seed beds but these with the necessary skills built the office, two cottages with garages, the packing plant and stock storage room, an implement shed, improved the water and sewer systems, completed the cone storage shed and seed extractor, and graded and graveled roadways within the nursery.

After a downshift in production during WW II, production increased to earlier levels and the nursery continued operations through the 1960's. In 1969 the nursery program was transferred to a new nursery in Coeur d'Alene, which now serves the needs of the region. Since then the Forest Service has maintained the facilities for educational and environmental programs. In 1999, the site was listed on the National Register of Historical Places. Savenac is open to the public and offers a self-guided tour of the facilities and grounds. Contact the Superior Ranger District, Superior MT for details.

The images of Savenac Nursery depict the facilities, equipment, and people. The photos were taken by staff and visitors to Savenac, including a well-known Forest Service photographer, K.D. Swan. Where a Forest Service accession number was visible in the lower right corner of a photograph, the date taken, location, description, and photographer were crossed checked against the official Forest Service Photographic Record. The digital images were created on a Hewlett-Packard flatbed scanner, model 8290 and scanned as .tif images with a resolution of 300 dpi.

The photos by Forest Service personnel are in the public domain and may be reproduced with acknowledgement to the USDA-Forest Service.


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