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With a major forest fire burning south of Saratoga, just over the Wyoming/Colorado border, it seems appropriate to again tell the story of the lookout towers built years ago.

Following is an article I had written many years back about establishing better fire control on the National Forest.

On a hot August afternoon in 1912, the supervisor of the Medicine Bow National Forest answered a telephone call reporting a possible forest fire.

On the line was the “lookout man” at a newly established “Lookout Station” atop Medicine Bow Peak.

A 1912 forest supervisor’s report notes that, “Within the space of 60 minutes, a fire which apparently threatened a fine stand of timber on the Medicine Bow National Forest had been discovered, reported to headquarters, investigated and located. All the Forest officers concerned with the protection of that timber stand knew of the fire and its location.”

Thanks to the newly established lookout towers in the Medicine Bow and Sierra Madre mountains.

The report continues, “When it is known that the Medicine Bow Forest covers over 800 square miles, and that every foot of it must be protected from fire, the advantage of a rapid-fire system of discovery and location of fires is apparent. The prevention of fire on the National Forests has always been the chief duty of the men of the Forest Service, but it is only of recent times that they have perfected the system of patrol to the point where such prompt action as that described above is possible.”

Prior to building and manning of lookout towers the forest was patrolled by foot or horseback and it took hours or days to report possible fires.

In a 1912 report written by Medicine Bow National Forest Supervisor C. M. Granger, it was noted that, “For the detection of fire on the Medicine Bow, there has been built up a system of what are known as primary, secondary and tertiary lookouts.

“Primary lookouts are points from which unusually large area are readily visible, on which a man is stationed throughout the season of fire danger, and which are connected directly by telephone with the supervisor’s office and the rangers headquarters.

“Secondary lookouts are somewhat less prominent points on which lookout towers are built; which are visited each day by the ranger or his assistant during the fire season; and which have telephone connection...

“Tertiary lookouts are high points having no tower or telephone lines, which are visited by the ranger or patrolman in dangerous periods.

“On the Medicine Bow there is one primary lookout, four secondary one and a large number of tertiary’s. These lookouts collectively cover almost every nook and corner on the Forest, and it is only...but then that’s the view in our next “Postcard.”

Wyoming experienced above average temperatures and much above average precipitation in May. This said, June has brought record-breaking high temperatures and a sharp decline in the percent of average precipitation – combined with wind. This is resulting in a decline in soil moisture and is causing severe crop stress in parts of the state, particularly the northeast.

The June 23 U.S. Drought Monitor map shows continued moderate drought conditions in the Tongue and Big Horn basins. Severe drought rapidly developed in Crook and Weston counties surrounded by moderate drought in Campbell and Niobrara counties and abnormally dry conditions into Sheridan and Johnson counties on the eastern and western borders, respectively. 

The June 16 Seasonal Drought Outlook through Sept. 30 is less optimistic than last month – showing continued drought in areas currently experiencing moderate to severe drought.

Month and seasonal forecasts

As of June 16, Wyoming has a high probability of above average temperatures for the month of July and equal chances of above, below or average precipitation.

The July to September outlook for Wyoming suggests a greater probability for above normal temperatures. The seasonal precipitation outlook for the state is equal chances of above, below or normal with the exception of northwest Wyoming, where there’s a greater probability for below normal precipitation.

As readers might have heard, El Niño conditions dissipated at the end of May, and the index is currently negative. Looking further out, it appears La Niña will continue to intensify, and we should expect a La Niña winter for 2016-17.

La Niña seasons typically see a more northern track for the jet stream, which often results in higher snowfall for the northern states, and a drier winter for the southern ones. The effects are more defined in the northern, especially northwestern, parts of Wyoming, which would have better chances of seeing the higher snowfall. 

The dividing line between the effects runs through southern Wyoming. We always seem to be in the middle area where forecasts and predictions are less certain. The strength of La Niña also plays a part, and initial forecasts are not showing this to be an exceptionally strong La Niña, at least not for the upcoming winter. This said, the forecast could change, so producers should stay tuned for updated forecasts.

Ag considerations

Noting the above conditions and forecasts, we should be prepared to see more areas in Wyoming become abnormally dry or increase in drought severity particularly in eastern and central Wyoming.

If these conditions persist it could result in elevated fire potential throughout Wyoming given the fuel load, and hotter, drier conditions. Eastern Wyoming and areas bordering Colorado and South Dakota have already experienced wildfires this season.

You can learn more about fires in Wyoming and other states at and

We can’t forget the value and importance of identifying and mapping weed infestations this time of year and, if appropriate, treatment and/or removal of weeds. Visit to view state designated noxious weeds and the 2016 list of county declared weeds.

Contact your local Weed and Pest or Extension office to ensure you use the best method(s) to manage weeds. And join the Play, Clean, GoTM movement and ensure your farm and ranch equipment are clean to help stop the spread of invasive species.

Windy K. Kelley, UW Extension and USDA Northern Plains Regional Climate Hub Regional Extension program coordinator, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 307-766-2205 or Wyoming Water Resources Data System Deputy Director Tony Bergantino at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 307-766-3786.

In the late 1890s, timber was considered a valuable resource, as noted in the rare book, “Collections of the Wyoming Historical Society” by Robert C. Morris.

The following is the second in a series about Wyoming’s wood products.

There is considerable timber, mostly yellow pine, upon the Black Hills, near the Dakota line. Measurements of the timber limits of various mountains have been made, which show the height in their respective latitudes above which coniferous trees – the hardiest of any species – will not grow. The timberline line of Mount Washburn is 9,900 feet above sea level, while the altitude of that mountain is 10,388; the timber line of Mount Hayden of the Teton range is 11,000 feet, while its altitude is 13,858 feet above the sea; the timber line of the Wood River Range is 10,160 while its general altitude is 11,500 feet above the sea.

Yellow and white pine and white spruce are the principal timbers. Many regard the yellow pine as the best and most useful tree, while others think the white spruce furnishes the best timber for all purposes. Lodgepole pine is the prevailing forest tree in a wide area along the mountain range north and south of Laramie. It is also common in the northwestern and other portions of the state. It often replaces the original growth after fires. These trees have an average growth of from eight to 12 inches in diameter but are occasionally found three to four feet in diameter and 60 to 100 feet in height. Red cedar has a scattering growth along the foothills and at lower elevation the streams are fringed with cottonwood, box-elder, willow, scrub oak and other small shrubbery.

The forestlands of the Rocky Mountains are still largely owned by the general government, and its preservation is of vital importance. The principal demands upon the forests are for the manufacture of lumber for local use and railroad ties. Also large quantities of smaller timber are used for fencing and fuel. But little if any timber is exported. The consumption of railroad ties has been estimated at 500,000 per annum, and an equal amount is used for timbering the coalmines. The native lumber is similar to the eastern spruce lumber and is suitable for all ordinary purposes in building except as a finishing lumber. It has too many knots to work smoothly, and the preference is therefore given to Oregon or eastern lumber. It is estimated that between 30 and 40 percent of all lumber used along the lines of railroad is imported and is worth, planed, from $25 to $50 per thousand. The native rough lumber is worth from $10 to $25 per thousand, according to local conditions.

The Pass Creek Drive

Consisting of About 100,000 Ties, Nearly to the River.

No Trouble About Dams or Headgates.

J.H. Mullison came in Monday from Pass Creek where he has been superintending the Teller tie drive of about 100,000 ties. The ties are nearly to the river, and the drive will be finished so far as the creek is concerned in a few days.

Mr. Mullison was asked about the dams and headgates in the creek and said, “There isn’t a dam in Pass Creek which can be called a dam and never was. We were careful about the headgates to the ditches and sent men along ahead to place ties across them in such a manner that they were not harmed in the slightest.

“The bridges across Pass Creek were very low, and it was necessary to prop them up to let the ties under, which interrupted the crossing as long as the ties were passing, which was about a day in most cases. The bridges were then let down, and everything was fixed securely.

“The ranchmen on the creek are perfectly satisfied, and they will tell you that if they had not seen the drive pass, they would not have known, so far as the ties damaged their ditches and headgates, that there had been a drive.”

This story came from a June 7, 1900 edition of “The Saratoga Sun.”

In contrast, an article in the May 1917 issue of the hometown weekly newspaper reads:

Tie Drive will be Late

Andrew Olson of Elk Mountain, manager of the Carbon Timber Company, spent a few days in Saratoga the first of the week, going on to Encampment Tuesday afternoon to look after the company’s property in that section and to make arrangements for the tie drive this spring.

According to Mr. Olson, there is still too much snow in the timber for his men to be able to start the drive for some time, there being as much as 10 feet in many places, and as a consequence, the drive this year will be much later than usual. There are only about 100,000 ties and timbers to be brought out this year by this company.

Records show that 1917 recorded the highest amount of snowfall in both the Sierra Madre and Medicine Bow Mountains, which resulted in the worst floods ever of the Encampment and Upper North Platte Rivers.

In our attempt at continuing education of the Cowboy State, we offer the following historic information concerning timber in Wyoming in 1897 as noted in the rare book, “Collections of the Wyoming Historical Society” by Robert C. Morris.


The timber area of Wyoming has been variously estimated from 7,000,000 to 15,000,000 acres, a variation probably owing to the fact that the sparsely timbered land has been included in the larger estimate. A recent estimate of the forest area of Wyoming is given in the government reports as 7,718,400 acres, or 12,060 square miles.

The several species comprising as far as known, the forest flora of Wyoming, are named in the following list:

Yellow pine (Pinus ponderosa, Dougl.),

White pine (Pinus flexilis, James),

Black, or lodge-pole pine (P. Murrayana, Balfour),

Pinon, or nut pine (Pinus edulis, Engelm.),

White spruce (Picea Engelmanni, Engelm.),

Blue (or white) spruce (Picea pungens, Engelm.),

Black spruce (Picea nigra, Link.),

Red fir (Pseudotsuga Douglassi, Carr.),

Balsam (Abies balsamea, Mill),

Red cedar (Juniperus Virginiana, L.),

Cotton-wood (Populous monilifera, Ait.),

Cotton-wood (Populous angustifolia, James),

Aspen (Populous tremuloides, Michx.),

Willow (Salix longifolia, Muhl.),

Green ash (Fraxinus viridis, Michx.),

Box-elder (Nugundo aceroides, Moench.),

Scrub oak (Quescus undulata, Torr.),

Mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius, Nutt.),

Mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus parvifolius, Nutt.),

Wild plum (Prunus Americana, Marsh),

Wild plum (Prunus Pennsylvanica, L. f),

Black birch (Betula occidentalis, Hook.) and


Writer’s note – Being basically lazy, we didn’t check out the scientific names, or spelling, of the trees. We leave that to our “intellectual” readers. – D.P.

The forests of Wyoming are confined mainly to the mountain ranges, between 4,500 and 10,000 feet above the sea level. Some of them are of wide extent and the timber quite dense and heavy. The best timber is found in the southern part of the Big Horn Mountains, the central portion of the Laramie range, Medicine Bow and Sierra Madre Mountains and the northern spurs of the Uintah range, which extend from Utah into southern Wyoming. The Shoshone, Teton and Snake River ranges also bear quite heavy forests. The timber upon the eastern extension of the Sweetwater range and western portion of the Rattlesnake Mountains is light and scattering. The widest timber area is in the northwestern part of the state, covering the Wind River, Shoshone and other mountains of the main range, including the groups of Yellowstone Park.

There is considerable timber, . . .. Quit chopping and don’t fell another tree until we write again.