President Grover Cleveland proclaims Olympic Forest Reserve on February 22, 1897.

  • By Kit Oldham
  • Posted 1/12/2003
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5047

On February 22, 1897, one of out-going President Grover Cleveland's last official acts is proclamation of the Olympic Forest Reserve. The reserve places 2,188,800 acres, nearly two thirds of the Olympic Peninsula, under government control. It is the forerunner of Olympic National Park.

Cleveland's proclamation was authorized by the Act of 1891. A section of that bill, slipped in at the last minute by conservationist lawmakers on a joint conference committee, allowed the president by proclamation to "set apart and reserve ... any part of the public lands wholly or in part covered with timber or undergrowth, whether of commercial value or not, as public reservations" (Morgan, 164). Passage of the bill reflected the growing strength of the conservationist movement, inspired in large part by the efforts of naturalist John Muir, who had been pointing out for years that the nation's forests were being cut faster than they grew.

The forest reserves were not universally popular. Denouncing the outgoing Democrat as "impetuous" and worse, Western newspapers claimed Cleveland's proclamation would sabotage the system that made this county great (Morgan, 164). In 1900 and 1901, President William McKinley issued proclamations reducing the size of the reserve by more than 700,000 acres. Administration officials asserted that the excluded land was more suited for farming than timber, but the timber companies quickly used it.

Controversy lasted for years, as conservationists continued to press for protection of the Olympic Peninsula wilderness. Mount Olympus National Monument was created in 1909, and Olympic National Park in 1938.


Sources: Robert W. Kaune, Jr., "Olympic National Park Controversy" in Island of Rivers ed. by N. Beres, M. Chandler and R. Dalton (Seattle: Pacific Northwest National Parks and Forests Association, 1988), 80-81; Murray Morgan, The Last Wilderness (New York: Viking Press, 1955), 162-65, 167-71.

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