Protecting the Forest: The Weeks Act of 1911

Thomas Cole, “The Notch of the White Mountains,” 1839. Courtesy of the NH Historical Society.

Thomas Cole, “The Notch of the White Mountains,” 1839. Courtesy of the NH Historical Society.

By 1900, the White Mountain forests of New Hampshire were disappearing at an alarming rate. What was once an area with vast forests and incredible natural scenery was becoming an area blighted by clear cuts and burned-over mountain slopes. Unregulated forestry practices in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries brought devastating results that impacted the environment and the landscape of the White Mountains. Tourism, logging, pulp mills, hotels, hikers, farmers, and railroads all competed for resources in the area. A growing number of advocates called for protection of the White Mountains and its forests. As forest devastation grew, all concerned with the long-term vitality of the White Mountains joined the call for change. What could be done to save the mountain forests? Conservationists called for the purchase of private lands to establish a protected national forest.

In the end, efforts of the forest advocates succeeded in creating a national movement, resulting in the passing of the 1911 Weeks Act. The White Mountains and its forests were saved. Today there is a wealth of photographs, personal accounts, and calls for action that demonstrate the efforts of the forest advocates, the original beauty of the White Mountains, and the negative effects of unsustainable practices on the environment, landscape, and local communities.

The accompanying activities have been designed to use the history, stories, photographs, and conservation efforts resulting in the 1911 Weeks Act as a catalyst for exploration, investigation, and discussion of the importance of forested and natural areas. Students will explore the history of the conservation and progressive movement and the connections among its messages and actions and their own community and personal feelings about the environment and nature. They will look at the debates and arguments among the forest advocates and industry and the role that sustainable forestry plays, benefiting community and industry.

The activity and essential questions have been designed to meet a range of ages and abilities. It is a foundation that may be modified and changed to meet the needs of educators in their classroom and community.

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