Interviewers: Russell Howard and Jamie Canavan
Interview Date: November 16, 2012
Interview Location: Forest Service Office, Gainesville, Georgia
Listen: Read Transcript
Russell: This is Russell Howard and Jamie Canavan on November 16th 2012 at the Forest Service Building in Gainesville, Georgia with Mr. Jim Kidd as part of a Oral History Project with the national Forest Service. Mr. Kidd, can you tell us exactly what lead you to want to join the Forest Service and if you had any experience with forestry before?
Mr. Kidd: I grew up in North Georgia. My father was a professor at North Georgia College and I was around the Chattahoochee National Forest all my life. We’d go on deer hunts in the fall and trout fishing and then when I grew up in high school, I was always trout fishing and hiking and spent a lot of time around the national forest, so I really appreciated it and I liked working in the outdoors, which is most foresters do, so it kind of lead me to go into that profession or that field or the natural resource field is what I went into so then as a result of that…actually I went to Virginia Military for a year and I thought about going into the military but I came back here and I worked on a TSI crew out of Lumpkin County on the Chattahoochee which is a Forest Service field crew is what it is back in the days and I decided that’s what I really wanted to do, so I transferred to the University of Georgia and I got my BSFR at University of Georgia in 1972 and then when I was going to University of Georgia I would go out west in the summertimes. I worked on the lookout in the Bob Marshall Wilderness for a summer out of Augusta, Montana and then the next summer after I graduated I got an offer to work on an interregional hot shot fire crew and I spent a summer working out of northern Idaho on the Conexu National Forest on team, a fire team and we fought fires all over the west that summer and so I was really involved in firefighting and when I came out I tried to get a job with the Forest Service and I couldn’t because they just weren’t hiring so I went to work with Georgia Kraft Company which is a forest industries company and I went to Alabama and I spent a year there and then came to middle Georgia and I spent a couple years down there as a management forester, management/procurement forester’s what I did down there, but still I always wanted to work for the national forest and I never put it out of my mind so I kept applying for it and applying for it and applying for it, so I had an opportunity to go to work for their inventory crews for forest research. It was the motion for me because I was making really good money and was basically a district manager for a forest industries but to get into the Forest Service, I took that job and went to Arkansas and did field work on measuring forest research plots for about a year. Left there and then came to work, got an opportunity to come to work on Chattahoochee National Forest and went up to Clarksville, Georgia as basically a forester, beginning forester working out on the Chattooga Ranger District which has been consolidated, it no longer exists, but it was out of Clarksville Georgia. I did you know, typical stuff like just uh…back in the days, when you came to work with the Forest Service when you started out, the district rangers would say ‘well you got a forestry degree and you’re well educated but you’re going to start cleaning toilets and cleaning recreation areas and you’re going to work on the TSI Crew and you’re going to earn, basically earn your stripes’ and you’d spend about year doing every job that there was to do. I don’t care if you had a Ph.D. in forestry, that’s what you did. Also, when you came to work with the Forest Service back in those days it was understood that when the fire bell rang, you saddled up and you went and fought fire. It wasn’t, there was none of this ‘I don’t want to fight fire’ ‘or I’m not interested in that’ or ‘that’s not my job’ and if you didn’t do that, you’d pack your bags and you left it was expected and that’s what you did. So yeah, for the first year you did a little bit of everything and it seasoned you, you got experience, you understood what the working crews had to experience what they had to go through you got a good broad base to establish your career off of and then from there you could decide, well do I want to work in timber? Or do I want to work in recreation? Do I want to work in lands? Or do I want to focus on fire? As you went up through your career and then you could kind of make your decision and that doesn’t happen today and it’s unfortunate and it’s to the detriment of the Forest Service in my personal opinion, people would disagree with that but I feel very strongly about that. Anyhow after that I went over to the old merchant ranger district over here in the west part of this state and I worked as a TMA, which is Timber Management Assistant, and basically designed sales and appraised timber sales and just handled all the timber operations on that district for several years and then I moved over to Clayton, Georgia and I stayed there for 8 or 10 years working in silviculture, I was a silviculturist up there I did sale planning, sale design, NEPA environmental analysis type work, stayed there for a long time basically because, most people back in the day to let me back up, they transferred around a lot, from district to district to district to state to state to state. I came in on the back end of that and what happened was it was getting very expensive for the transfer costs and they didn’t push you as much to move around in the Forest Service as they did before I came, you stayed about 2 years and you left and you went somewhere else and you went somewhere else and you went somewhere else to get experience in the different states and the different forest ecosystems. You try to get experience in the Florida Flatwoods, you try to get experience in the Ozarks, you try to get experience in the North Carolina mountains, or maybe in the piedmonts, that kind of went away as I came into the Forest Service and then I married a woman that had she was a teacher in Georgia and she was invested in her teacher retirement system and so I chose not to move around so I pretty much stayed there and that can hurt you career wise and I’m sure that had some impacts but then I had an opportunity to go to North Carolina in Highlands and my job changed up there I went into planning and analysis for all projects I did a little bit of everything up there too but the entire time when I was doing this I stayed involved in fire and firefighting and fire operations, that was always on the side, I really enjoyed doing that. Stayed up there for several years 4, 5 years then I had an opportunity, I met a guy named Dave Sherman, from the Washington Office, and Dave worked in the lands department up there and I always had a really interested in lands because the forest is lands without the land, you don’t have a forest and there’s lots of stuff that goes on that I found really interesting there’s acquisitions, land acquisitions if you had the money to do it, there’s right-a-ways there’s easements. You got to remember the national forest here were built out of private lands and you have neighbors around there’s always something going on someone needs to come across the forest, they need to get an easement to get to their house. The boundaries have to be marked so people don’t trespass cutting wood and stuff. It’s a real active thing that goes on consistently and I really liked that a lot so I talked to Dave about that and he kind of mentored me along and got me involved in the lands operations and at the time in North Carolina, they had a program to acquire land around the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River Corridor, it was there but what they were trying to do was buffer it. They had a person that was up there doing it but she quit and there was a lot of money sitting on the table to buy lands and I just sort of picked it up and started running with it and basically just took over the program, just kind of on my own initiative and Dave was really supportive of that and out of Washington and would call me all the time and we’d talk and he kind of handled the money up there, so I kind of built my land acquisition land exchange kind of experience on the highlands ranger district and I spent about 4 or 5 years up there doing that and then I had the chance to transfer down here and take over the lands and the rest, basically it’s a real estate operations program here on the Chattahoochee National Forest and what it is here is I have law land acquisitions, all land exchanges which are very complicated and long drawn out affairs, right of ways, anything dealing with the lands program, I managed, I did that for about 8 or 10 years here and so luckily I didn’t have to move much, I was able to stay here, which is quite unusual for a Forest Service guy, I’ll tell you that for sure, and my wife was able to get her teacher retirement, so it worked out real well for us
Russell: So, you mention moving around a lot, was that a choice or does the Forest Service…?
Jim Kidd: Back in the day it was not a choice. The forest supervisors would get together at the forest supervisors’ meetings and they’d say ‘hey I’ll swap you two foresters for one’ and basically they’d walk in the door to these people and call these guys on the ranger districts into the forest supervisors’ office and say ‘you’re going to be in Arkansas in two months, pack your bags.’
Jamie: You said how back in the day you would work your way up from doing any job to now today you said it’s different, like you started at the bottom before…
Jim Kidd: Well a lot of time people come in out of college and they’ll be a district ranger in 2 years and they’re not seasoned, they’re not experienced, some of that’s for diversity reasons, people don’t like to talk about it but that’s the fact that’s the way it works and these poor kids get into these jobs, they’re not experienced, they’re not seasoned, they don’t know how to make decisions, they don’t have the respect of their employees. It’s not fair to them really. It’s really not and back in the day when you got to be a district ranger, if you had the opportunity to be a district ranger or a manger, you knew what you were doing. You were experienced and you made good sound solid decisions. We’ll talk about this in the background. These people that put the forest together. They were extraordinary people. They were extremely experienced. They knew how to get things done and in today’s world they’re being pushed into these positions and they don’t have the background for it.
Russell: Did your forestry degree help, I know you mentioned while you were in college you did several things, was that a choice of yours or was that part of the forestry program of Georgia?
Jim Kidd: You talking about working out west and stuff?
Jim Kidd: That was my decision, I just wanted to do it, I wanted to experience the western, the Forest Service out west is quite different from the Forest Service in the east because it’s bigger, the forests are much bigger out there again they’re dealing on public lands, a massive forest out there where the Chattahoochee may have 750,000 acres they may have a 7 million acre forest out there. It’s just huge. It’s different, different. I stayed on, I worked on the regional fire team for the last 4 or 5 years, I was a safety officer on the team and whenever they had a big fire, they’d call, you’d pull the team, I worked on hurricanes, hurricane events, what was that big hurricane they had? Not Hugo, but the one they had down on the coast, Fran? But anyhow, the team would be pulled together and we’d go on hurricanes and fires and my last big fires were out west in Oregon and stuff like that, I really enjoyed that and that was an aside. Back when you first started with the Forest Service, when I started, everybody worked on fire or you didn’t work for the Forest Service, that’s it bottom line. Today’s world that’s not the case, they have like a cadre of fire fighters if you don’t want to work in fire, you don’t have to, it’s quite quite different, quite different.
Russell: Were fires a big problem?
Jim Kidd: Yeah, back in Rabun County on the Tallulah Ranger District when they passed legislation for the wild and scenic river up there for the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River, in 1968, they passed national trail legislation that made the Appalachian trail a national trail, and they also passed a Wild and Scenic River Act and the Chattooga River is one of the few free flowing rivers of the southeast, and they made it a wild and scenic river and when they did that, they closed that Corridor off, people used to be able to drive their jeeps and trucks and camping and they closed that off and the locals did not like that and they just about burnt that county up for years and years and years and years and these guys we were on fire call every night, it was unbelievable. Not so much anymore, that generation has passed on, people are used to it now.
Russell: Are you saying that the fires were a result of arson?
Jim Kidd: Oh absolutely, every night, dozens.
Jamie: Were you educated on fire before you joined or did you learn it on the spot?
Jim Kidd: I learned it when I went out west. You know, they had training and stuff and I started as a fire fighter, just a basic ground fire fighter then I worked myself up to a safety officer and onto a fire team, which basically manages fires. The Forest Service has got courses and stuff and you take that and it’s a lot more structured now than it used to be. Now you got kind of a cadre of fire fighters, that’s kind of what they do. If you don’t want to work in fire, you don’t have to. Back when I came to work, if you didn’t work in fire, you were done, it was important, it was a key element to working in the agency at the time.
Russell: Did those fires do a lot of damage to the forests in that county?
Jim Kidd: They did but you know, a fire in the east is different from fire in the west, it recovers pretty fast.
Russell: Does it take a while for one of those big trees to catch on fire?
Jim Kidd: You know you see the big pictures out west with the big roaring flames and the trees torching. You don’t get that in the east, you get ground fires they can get hot running up on the south slope and they’ll kill trees but it’s spotty, it’s completely different than what you’d see out west.
Russell: What kinds of trees are in the East as opposed to in the West?
Jim Kidd: Well we got deciduous trees, oaks and we got pine trees too and you got those furs with the canopies that come all the way to the ground and they catch on fire and you get those ground fires, you very seldom get that in the east, you get your worst fires in the east is on the south slope where you get hot baked dry ground fuels and on the steep slope and the fires run up the mountains and they get really really hot and they hit the top of the ridge and then they just drop down. It can be dangerous, very dangerous, you can get burnt up in a heartbeat but it’s different, it’s a different kind of fire, a different type of ecosystem, a different type of fuel type, everything’s different.
Russell: Was it difficult to fight those fires?
Jim Kidd: It’s hard work I can tell you. There’s nothing romantic about fighting fires. It’s hot, sweaty, hard work.
Russell: Was that before or after those chemicals that they invented that they can drop out of planes?
Jim Kidd: They’ve had fire retardant since probably the 1950s but that’s not what puts fires out, that will knock the head of a fire down so that you can get crews in on it, what puts the fire out is you got to dig a hand line around it so the fire can run up to it, the fires got to get down on the ground and run up to those hand lines and then it has no fuel and it goes out but you see it on TV with these planes coming in, dropping retardant, and you think ‘that is not putting the fire out’ trust me that has nothing to do with it, what it does is it will slow the head of a fire down so that you can get a crew in on it and work on it, it is hand crews and it’s hard, hot, dirty work, that’s what it is.
Russell: Can you talk about silviculture?
Jim Kidd: Well silviculture is just the science of growing trees and it depends on what you want to do. You got to look at the soils, you got to look at the aspects, you got to look at what your objectives are. A lot of these forests that were acquired and I do want to talk about the acquisition later on, but they were acquired from timber companies and basically most of the stuff was bought in the 30s and 40s and 50s in this country and a lot of it was either old farmsteads or it was bought from timber, a lot of big timber companies in this country they had massive sawmills up in Helen, Georgia and they had rail tram lines that ran up all the rivers, railroads if you can believe that, railroads that ran everywhere and they basically hydrated and really did a lot of damage in cutting the timber out and these companies from up north most of them and then basically what they did is when the Forest Service started to buy land, they were happy to dump the land because they were just having to pay the taxes on it and then they’d cut the timber so bottom…going back to silviculture, you had a cut over forest that had been sitting there for years and years and years and a lot of times it wasn’t achieving maximum productivity so what we would do is you would go in and you look at the soils, you look at, again your aspects, and you determine should we be growing hardwoods here or should we be growing pine trees, you got to look at the range of the different trees, where they grow best, and then you just you can do different silviculture systems, you can do shelter woods, you can do seed trees, you can do clear cutting. The Forest Service in the 60s was basically clear cutting everything that’s pretty much what they did, the public didn’t like it but I can tell you right now that I can take you out in to every clear cut that was cut and when the environmental groups were screaming bloody murder and saying that the forest was being destroyed and ruined and raped and I can take you out there right now and I’ll promise you, as a lay person, you will not know that the timber was ever cut, I guarantee it
Russell: Was that a result of big advancements in silviculture?
Jim Kidd: Not really it’s just, this is a very productive land down here. Out west it’s different it may take a hundred years to grow a tree that big and a hundred years here I can grow a white pine that’s 3 feet in diameter, you know. It’s the soils, you got so much rain here in the soils. The damage that’s done in cutting trees, the damage is not done from harvesting trees, it has nothing to do with environmental damage. Now you could change things, you could change the species that grow in there, that could be good or that could be bad in other words you might go in and cut a bunch of oak trees down and then you’ll get a bunch of yellow poppers that pop back up because poppers like full light, that’s part of silviculture, you got to determine how each tree reacts to light conditions. You might remove part of the canopy and that way you don’t get so much popper you can grow oaks, growing oaks, getting an oak tree established has always been a silviculture issue but, what was your question again?
Russell: Was that a scientific breakthrough?
Jim Kidd: No, what I’m telling you about the clear cutting is whether, one of the issues a lot of time they clear cut and plant pines back and get pine plantations back and they say ‘that’s not natural’ and that’s true, it’s not but bottom line is you go out there and you have 20,000 board feet growing to the acre right now and before when they went in they’d have 1,500 feet to the acre as a result of what I was telling you about the acquisition of the cut over lands so it’s just very productive ground, you get a lot of rain, you got productive soils, you can’t really permanently hurt it. What hurts the land is not cutting the trees, it’s pushing the roads in because when you push the roads in to get the timber out, you get erosion that gets in the trout streams and the water quality gets hurt and that is what does the damage and it’s really hard for lay people to understand that, they’ll say ‘you cut this beautiful tree and destroyed the forest. Well I can tell you right now in 40 years, that tree is gonna be back, I’ve seen it, I have seen it where it’s a clear cut, and nothing there, and I can go back in there right now and take you guys and you’ll say ‘this is a beautiful forest’ in 40 years’ time, it doesn’t take long. So, the question is with the public and managing forests, is it’s not destroying the forests, it ain’t going to happen because they’re gonna come back, it came back after the logging companies cut it in the 20s and the 1800s, it’s come back from the Forest Service clear cuts in the 60s, it’s a public policy issue in terms of should we cut on national forest or should we not and if you don’t, you don’t have healthy forest, I can tell you,. You don’t want to cut at all, I think the Forest Service does it right they got management zones, wilderness areas, we got areas that we set aside to raise timber on and that’s how exactly it is and environmental groups just continuously pound the Forest Service about cutting timber and they’re making, it’s a bad mistake because it really makes an unhealthy forest, it’s bad for wildlife populations, you can go right now, I can take you up in Rabun County in the areas where we were actively cutting timber, the deer populations would be 20 to 40 per square mile we haven’t cut in there because of environmental lawsuits they haven’t really cut timber up there in 20/25 years, the deer populations have dropped down to 10 per square mile or less. I mean, it’s measurable, it’s science, you need diversity in the forest and the question is how do you do it?
Jamie: Do you want to tell us about the Weeks Act?
Mr. Kidd: The Weeks Act, yeah, I’ll talk to you about the Weeks Act. The Weeks Act was passed in 1911, they tried to pass it for about 10 years. Theodore Roosevelt was very involved in this. You know, politics are politics. We got politics today, everybody says the world is coming apart because of politics, they were doing the same thing back in 1900 I promise you, different issues but they argued and thought about it, said the federal government had no business owning land, buying land. But what happened was these companies that would come in the southern Appalachians and they weren’t doing scientific forestry, they were just getting the value out and cutting it, running railroads up these creeks, logging down the creeks, skidding, you know, putting the roads I was telling you about and what was happening is they were creating these massive floods and there were some terrible floods around the turn of the century up in Johnstowne Tenness–Pennsylvania, and all of this stuff was a result of land use practices so they said ‘we want to create forest reserves’ and that will protect the watersheds and the Weeks Act was a result of that, that’s a quick and dirty explanation of what it was all about and so was happened was the planners sat down and they said ‘we’re gonna create these forest reserves here and here and here, the Pisgah, and the Southern Appalachians, North Carolina was one of the key areas, the Cradle of Forestry if you ever heard of it up in Asheville, that’s where forestry was, kind of the birth place of forestry. It’s really a neat place that’s where Gilford Pinchot worked, if you ever heard of him
Mr. Kidd: He worked for a very wealthy guy named Vanderbilt that had an estate up there and they started the first forestry school in the United States was right there on that
Russell: Who owned the estate?
Mr. Kidd/Jamie: Vanderbilt
Russell: The Commodore?
Mr. Kidd: Yeah, that family, it’s big, and he had like 20,000 acres up there and Pinchot managed it for him and there’s a guy named Schenck that came from Germany and started a forestry school and a lot of the original foresters for the U.S. Forest Service were educated at that school and when the Forest Service was started in 1905 as an agency, okay remember they created the forest reserves out west, the agency was started, Pinchot, those foresters were brought from those schools, that’s where they were educated. Anyhow, in 1911 there were no forest reserves in the east so they started creating them, so they designed them they said we’re going to put them here and here and here and a lot of the time it was in the worst cut over, worn out areas, and the law said that they had to be in the headwaters of the navigable streams and the headwaters started in, where did they start, they start in the mountains so that’s where they came up with and they sent crews out basically they said ‘okay we’re going to start a national forestry in North Georgia and I want you to, to go make it happen’ how do you do that? So, they sent these crews out and they drew boundary lines called proclamation boundaries around the area and they said ‘within this proclamation, you can buy land and congress is going to appropriate money under the authority of the Weeks Act that will allow you to go talk to land owners and start building a national forest’ I mean, what a task, how do you do that? So, they sent these crews out and you got to remember we’re talking about, the first tracks that were bought, let’s just focus on the Chattahoochee because it’s right here the first tracks that were bought were bought in 1914, okay there’s no highway system, I mean there’s roads, they’re muddy, most people got around on horses and buggies. They’d send crews out that would set up big camps and they focused on, most of the time, not most of the time, but a lot of the time, they focused on these logging, like the Morris Brothers, Pfister & Vogel were these big companies and they owned tens of thousands of acres of land up here in mountains. So, they had to negotiate the purchase of these lands. First of all, they had to convince them to sell, which wasn’t too hard because most of the time they’d already cut the timber and then these teams would go out and then they’d have to. Think of how much work went into this. Okay, ten thousand acres, they had to appraise it, they had to find out where the boundary lines were, they had to survey it, then they had to negotiate a price on it and then inevitably, inevitably on ten thousand acres of land there were people who contested ownerships, there were trespasses that they had to resolve so embedded in all of this was an enormous amount of legal work that the government had to do and what they found, and this is probably the most interesting thing about the whole acquisition process, I don’t know how familiar y’all are with real estate but, you know, you got titles and land titles and stuff like that, but the titles were screwed up. What happened was the lands here were from grants when the Indians were moved out, a lot of the revolutionary war people, the war of 1812 people, were given government grants, there was a lottery system they’d say ‘okay you get land lot x and y in Union County, Georgia’ and they were given these lands. Most of the time these people turned around and sold this stuff. But what happened was, there was no tracts with the deeds, the county court houses would get burnt up, the land records would get burned, and what they did is… okay Jim Kidd is a land examiner and I go out and I’m talking to Morris Brother Lumber Company and they got a 5,000 acre tract of land out there and I got to get a crew that’s going to camp out there and they got to go out there and they got to walk over every inch of that 10,000 acres of land and they’re going to cruise it and then they’re going to come up with, what they’re going to come up with, if I can find it (looking through bag), first of all they’re going to have to survey it. I’m showing examples here. And they’re going to come up with a description of the boundary and this was done in 1935, this is an older track of land. White Water Lumber Company Track and they gotta come up with a survey description and this took months and months of hard work out, out there, about 2500 acres here and then they’re going to have to come up with a map, and that doesn’t mean much to y’all but this is the Chattooga River right here and then they would have to come up with an appraisal and come up with something called a proposed, I mean this is a little different this says proposed exchange and I’m going to talk about that in a minute, they’d have to do a proposal, they’d have to come up with a tract evaluation report, they’d have to appraise it, they’d have to cruise it, they’d have to send timber foresters out there, basically most of the appraisals back in those days were designed on, they revolved around the value of the timber and today, that’s not so much today, it does it can play a part but the old appraisals were done on timber and you can look right here it says mixed oak, chestnut oak, yellow popper, shows how many feet per acre and I can look at this and tell you there’s nothing much, I mean y’all wouldn’t know but I can tell you as a forester that when you got 451 feet of chestnut oak per acre there’s not much timber out there basically this lumber company had cut this land over pretty heavy but then you have a general information sheet talks about the lands of the White Water River Lumber Company, comprising of about 4-5,000 acres and says where they’re located and this is the results of months and months and months of field people being out in the field doing analysis on this stuff. Now, here’s the catch on all this stuff, you have to have a lawyer involved in this
Jamie: Alabama’s been having, for like a hundred years before that with dividing the land and people claiming and squatters…
Mr. Kidd: Mhm exactly so you got a hundred, this was done in 1935, so you probably got a hundred years of land ownership and when they did that, White Water Lumber Company came in here and they consolidated this and they bought land, so they’ve got a consolidated track, but when the attorneys, back what they did in the day, they did what’s called abstracts, this is an abstract of the title of the property of the lumber company, look how much work
Russell: That’s pretty big
Mr. Kidd: The lawyers had to do this, they had to go back and track down every tract that was embedded in this thing and look at the title reports on this and what they found was that there were breaks in the title and 9 times out of 10, they could not guarantee that the government could get clear title to this land because there would be a break in title that there was no record of in theory, somebody could come back, a relative who owned the land 50 years ago and say ‘that’s my land, show me the deed’ so the government had a partnership with the department of justice who did this title work and what they did then is they carried it to federal court in Gainesville down here and they went through a condemnation process and that condemnation process, it was what they called friendly condemnation, and this company wanted to sell this land but what that did is it cleared the title to the land, legally, so not only was there an enormous amount of work done in the field, and once again, cruising it, surveying it, reviewing it, looking at it, then they had to take this stuff to court and actually, this tract actually didn’t go to court (referring to map), it had clear title because the lumber companies had cleared it , but what they do, I didn’t bring an example of it but a lot of them had to go through the condemnation process and the court proceedings would be in the title files. That cleared title, that allowed the government to buy it, then they could purchase it and done. So, for over around 2500 acre tracts of land were bought this way, to put this national forest together and it started in 1914 and it’s still going on today and what they’re doing today is they’re not going out there and buying massive tracts of land but what they are trying to do is consolidate the (—) in the forest, so that the forests can be managed in a better way and the amount of work that went on to create these forests is just unbelievable and it would never, ever happen in today’s world.
Russell: That’s a considerable amount of paperwork for just one piece of land, would that be considered a large piece of land?
Jim Kidd: Yes, pretty good piece, yeah, I can show you…
Jamie: How do you have all of these examples?
Jim Kidd: The Forest Service hired me to, what they’re doing is, there’s a file on every tract of land, this is every tract of land that was bought for the Chattahoochee National Forest and you can see ’96 acres’ there’s one for 17 acres, these are the people who sold it
Russell: It can vary
Jim Kidd: It varies all over, like the Morris Brothers, they bought 30,000 acres of land in one chunk, So, bottom line is they’ve got these old files that they’ve had for many, many years and you can see that the paper it’s getting old and kind of torn up, they’re digitizing this stuff, they’re scanning it and they’ve hired me to come in and go through the files and organize them, like this, and then what they do is they’ll take them to a contractor and they’ll scan it and it will all be put on an electronic database so if you want to look at a tract of land, you’ll be able to get onto the internet and pull it up and see who owned it and when the Forest Service acquired it. Lots of legal, all kinds of little illegal issues, there’s lots of claims, people will come in. In fact in this tract right here, there was a claim right here (pointing to map), there’s a guy named Vogel who claimed he owned that little sliver of land, all of that stuff had to go through court. It’s mind boggling the amount of work that went into creating these national forests. It’s just you can’t hardly get your head around all of this. It took a hundred years to get where we are right now.
Jamie: Yeah, I mean today it’s difficult for if they want to put a railroad somewhere and that’s just a few houses say and this is like an entire forest of figuring out
Mr. Kidd: This is 750,000 acres
Mr. Kidd: And I did this for Alabama for them too, I’ve looked at all of the Talladega Forest and the Coneca Forest and I’ve looked at other land acquisitions, and most of that stuff came from old farmsteads over there, the vast majority of it and some lumber companies. This was a little different over here, a lot of it came from the big, big lumber holdings but then it left lots of holes and what happened too back in the days, back in 1914, 1915 do you know what the average price of land was?
Jamie: I have no clue
Mr. Kidd: 3 Dollars
Mr. Kidd: 3 dollars, even in the 60s, you could buy land up here in Rabun County for 100 dollars, 50 dollars an acre. 5 Years ago that 100 dollar land was selling for 20,000 dollars an acre back in the boom, the second home boom was going on. It’s down now considerably but land was cheap, people had land, they didn’t have any money and they sure as heck didn’t want these old cut over mountain tops, they were just paying taxes on it so what happened is, people were happy to sell this stuff, they’d sell it and then they’d either move out of the mountains and move down to the valleys and the settlements and pick up or buy a nice farm or something like that so, nobody was forced to do anything, these people wanted to sell this land
Russell: So, this was lumber companies too
Mr. Kidd: Lumber companies definitely wanted out
Russell: They would get their timber and then sell…
Mr. Kidd: They wanted out of the southeast, they wanted to get rid of their land holdings they had cut it, they had pulled up their railroads and they moved to the north, Michigan and Wisconsin and started cutting up there
Russell: Why is that is it because they had cut all of the trees?
Mr. Kidd: Yeah, basically that’s exactly right they got their money out and they were ready to go. They got what they could get It was cut out and get out, it was a different, we manage forestry in a different way today, we manage in a sustainable manageable way, it’s different.
Russell: So would the Forest Service then regrow those cut out forests?
Mr. Kidd: Well yeah and a lot of them just reestablished themselves and again I go back to what I said, these are very very productive lands if you leave them alone and you correct the erosion problems, they are going to regenerate and you’re going to get lush forests again. You can help that along by going out there and managing the forests, doing TSI work, planting trees, a lot of trees were planted true I’m not saying they didn’t, they planted a lot of trees and stuff like that especially in the Piedmont Forest and like in Louisiana and Alabama and stuff, they planted a lot of timber, they planted a lot of trees over there too and part of this forest too came from a land utilization program in the Depression, there was a special program called land utilization and what they did is they went in and they bought worn out farm lands, Franklin Roosevelt during the Depression program, and you have to remember too they had the CCC did a lot of work during the Depression but they bought these lands up because they were worn out, eroded lands, unproductive and these people then were moved and a large chunk of this was then transferred to the Forest Service and then became a part of the national forest. The Ocanee National Forest in middle Georgia, that was all soil conservation land utilization process that was transferred to the Forest Service in the 50s. What I was going to tell you about this White Water program right here, I think you’ll find this interesting,. The Weeks Act money dried up around the 40s, so what they did is, there’s a program called Tripartite Land Exchange and what they did is this lumber company traded their land which is cut over for timber found of equal value, dollar value, found on national forest, so then they would go in on existing national forest and do lumbering operations or timbering operations. Let’s say this is worth 50,000 dollars, they’d cut 50,000 dollars worth of timber, then the Forest Service would acquire the land. Thousands and thousands and thousands of acres were acquired for the Forest Service national forest using Tripartite Land Exchange so when I was working in lands, I kept trying to explain to the environmentalists, I’d say ‘look cutting timber, you got a 50 acre tract of land out there in the middle of the national forest that’s getting ready to be developed into 51 acre lots, with roads all over it, in the headwater of the streams, that’s going to impact 10,000 acres of national forest, if we go out there and cut timber, I can do a Tripartite Land Exchange and I can acquire that and it would benefit the national forest forever and it was really hard to get them to understand that but I had some success in doing that and that’s still a tool today, you can still do that today. The Forest Service does it and can do it but it’s just more difficult, it’s more paperwork than it used to be.
Russell: Were environmentalists a big concern?
Mr. Kidd: They just don’t like to see trees cut. I don’t understand it, I never will but I’m a forester.
Russell: Did they ever try anything illegal?
Mr. Kidd: What?
Russell: Did they ever have protests or…
Mr. Kidd: Oh absolutely!
Jamie: Like chaining themselves to the trees…
Mr. Kidd: They filed lawsuits to stop timber operations and stuff and you know some of that, some of that’s probably… you got to have all kinds, and the Forest Service doesn’t want to be a forest industry, cutting everything, we got other objectives and roles to meet but still managing timber on the national forest, in my opinion is a very important role of the national forest system. It provides for the local economies, it provides for diversity in the forest, it provides for great wildlife habitat. It’s just a matter of how much and where you do it. But that’s my opinion, but there’s some , a lot of people out there that think cutting a tree is bad. Unfortunately, we’re humans and need wood and wildlife needs diversity, they need it to survive. But any how that’s a little story about how the forests were put together. I think these guys that did this work in the early 1920s and 1918s, they did an absolutely incredible job with what they had to work with. They basically made these forests that we can enjoy today. If it wasn’t for them and their hard work, they would not be here and also some people in congress that were very insightful and progressive, much more than the people we have in congress today. It seemed like they had more vision back in those days.
Jamie: Less restrictions maybe
Russell: This is the congress of the 1910s
Mr. Kidd: Yes, you wouldn’t think that those people back in the day would have the kind of vision that they did but the vision they had was phenomenal, it’s absolutely phenomenal. That they were able to think…I mean what kind of program do we have in today’s world that is similar to this, it doesn’t exist. We have, when I was working in lands, the way we bought land, I’ll just show you a sample, this is a timber sale that I’m doing, I do consulting work, the white is national forest (indicating on map) right here and the kind of lands, when I was working in the lands program here, that we would want to buy when I was working on lands, we wouldn’t want to come down here and buy a big chunk of land but we would definitely want to buy, the white’s national forest and the grey is private, you can see why it would benefit the national forest to buy that tract of land right there (indicating piece of land separated between private and national land), and you got creeks coming down in it and stuff like that, we would just, people would come into my office on a day to day, weekly basis begging me to buy their land. They didn’t want to see it developed, they knew it was sensitive, they knew it was surrounded by national forest but for me to be able to do that I would have to have cash. Congress does not give the Forest Service a lump sum budget at every year. In other words when the agency gets its budget, embedded in it is not 5 million dollars to go buy land, it doesn’t happen that way. After the Weeks Act ended, they did Tripartite, they passed a law in 64 called the Land and Water Conservation Fund and that money comes from offshore oil leasing, classic example is down in the Gulf of Alabama like the BP oil well that blew out, that came from an offshore oil lease, but those people pay the government billions of dollars every year to lease those lands also there’s a little motor boat oil tax, there’s some little taxes, it goes into what’s called the Land and Water Conservation Fund, billions of dollars go into this fund. And what it is is…It’s real simple, congress was real smart thing they did, they’re saying you’re extracting a nonrenewable resource so there has to be some mitigation, so they appropriate or are supposed to appropriate every year a portion of those lease dollars back to the resource agencies which would be the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Parks Service, and the U.S. Forest Service and their supposed to use those monies to buy additional park lands and sensitive lands for recreation embedded in the national forests. What’s been happening, and they have over the years, in the 60s there was quite a bit of money came through and there were big programs, but trying to get that money out of congress is like pulling teeth and the public is the one that’s suffering for it because your national forests aren’t being consolidated, the wildlife habitat’s not being protected, the national park lands are being developed. The money is available, all the congress has to do is appropriate it. Normally they appropriate about 100 million dollars a year for everything, sometimes 50 million for the Forest Service but it’s a separate appropriation, a separate item and it’s very difficult to get it out of congress and I’ve never understand why. I don’t understand why the public doesn’t just scream bloody murder because it’s your money, it’s your mitigation money, it’s your national forest, it’s for your public lands and the agencies, we’re geared up to buy the land, protect it for future generations for you guys, for your kids, so that the national forests are consolidated and well managed and this is again the national parks too, the bureau of land management lands out west, the money is there, it’s supposed to be used for mitigation and congress will not appropriate that money like they’re supposed to. The only time that they do it is when the public just raises Cain with them and then they’ll do it and it used to drive me crazy because I would have wonderful projects like this (referring back to map) I’d have a willing seller at a fair market value and I’d be counting on an appropriation coming into my office and they wouldn’t pass the budget bill and then there would be no LAWCF for our state and it’s done on a state by state basis and it’s made my job extremely difficult because you come into me and you say ‘you told me you were going to buy my land, where’s the money?’ and let me tell you something about real estate, when people want to sell, they want to sell and they want their money and they want it right now and what we did, we worked with partners, I worked real hard with the Nature Conservancy, have you ever of them? have you ever heard of Trust Public Lands have you ever heard of the Conservation Fund? These people are basically partners with the federal agencies and they’ll go out and they’ll negotiate with you and they’ll pay you up front market value and they’ll hold that land until the land and water conservation gets passed by congress. That was the most frustrating thing in my entire job was dealing with that. It used to drive me bizerk because I lost credibility, the agency lost credibility. Congress would make these wimpy excuses like ‘well we just don’t have any money in the budget’ well they had 500 million dollars to send to Albania, what about us? This is mitigation money, it is set up under the law to be used for this and they wouldn’t appropriate it. 100 percent congress’ fault, 100%. I’ll lay it right on top of them. You would have a few people in congress that were interested in this that were hunters and fisherman, hikers, bikers, boaters, that had an interest in this and they could see the value in it, remember we talked about vision a while ago? These guys most of them don’t have it, there’s a few in congress that do. That care about natural resources and natural resource management. I can get really passionate when talking about that because I’ve seen opportunities that you would just can’t imagine just slide through my fingers because I didn’t have the cash. These guys back in the 14s and the 20s, they had cash, the money came, congress appropriated it, they had all they could spend and that again is why you guys got national forests in the east.
Russell: So there were private organizations that just functioned to buy land and hold it for the national forests?
Mr. Kidd: Yeah, guys look up in the internet look up the Nature Conservancy, look up the Trust for Public Lands, that’s what they do, they work for all of the federal agencies, they’re partners, that’s what they are.
Russell: But, they’re private, where do they get the money from?
Mr. Kidd: They have memberships, they have endowment funds, they may have 100 million dollars in an endowment. It’s not a freebie in other words, they may spend 100 thousand dollars to buy a tract of land and they expect to get their 100 thousand back when we buy it and a lot of times what they’ll do, is they’ll go to a land owner and say you own the land, that the agencies have to buy it at an appraised value, I cannot negotiate a price, it is based on appraised value that’s it, I have no flexibility, if you guys want to sell your house or your car, you can negotiate all over the street you can sell it for 50 cents or 500 dollars whatever you decide you want for it, I can’t do that as an agency person but what these guys can do is they can go out and say ‘your property is worth 100 thousand dollars, if you sell it to us for 95 thousand dollars, you can take a 5 thousand dollar tax deduction’ that covers their expenses, their appraisal expenses, their survey expenses, it covers some of their salaries and it makes them function, it greases the skids of their organization so that they can function and that’s how it works.
Jamie: Do you have license plates that you can buy? I think they do
Mr. Kidd: They do in Alabama, yes they do, in Alabama they have a program in Alabama called Alabama Forever Wild…
Jamie: Oh, that’s what I’ve been seeing on the license plates…
Mr. Kidd: And I’m not sure how they get their money, that’s a state program and the state of Alabama bought a lot of land down around Mobile Bay and all that stuff like that, but that’s a state program
Jamie: Do you ever have run ins with state land versus national land?
Mr. Kidd: No, we work really well with the states, I haven’t got a lot of opportunities to do it but I worked real close with the state people down in Atlanta. They would have state land adjacent to national forests and what we would do is do planning in terms of how we could buy corridors to connect the lands together so the wildlife can migrate through and what not. But no we worked real, that was the best part of my job when I worked here for the last 10 years in real estate operations was working with the public, okay, the people that came in here and wanted to sell their land. These people were passionate about their land, they wanted to see it protected. I really enjoyed working with the partners I told y’all about these people are great people they are really dedicated to conservation. It was just a lot of fun and we did a lot of good things, I really enjoyed it.
Russell: You said that the Forest Service lost credibility among private land owners when the land owners would have to go through these private companies as opposed to…
Mr. Kidd: No, that’s not what I meant, where I would lose credibility is if I were to go out, you got to understand the federal budget process it’s a 3 year process, and in other words I don’t even want to get into it because it’s real complicated but I would look ahead 3 years and I would expect to be given Land and Water Conservation Funds for Georgia, we would lobby for it, we couldn’t but our partners would lobby congress for them, we would feel confident that we were getting 2 million dollars coming through and then I would have the land owner come in on a tract of land that we were trying to buy for years we’d say ‘that’s great’ we’d spend appraisal dollars on it and we would do a survey on it, the land owner would approve the appraisal and say ‘okay I’ll sell it at that price’ and lo and behold, congress would not appropriate the money and a lot of times they’d get up there in congress, you got to understand the budget process, you have a house and a senate, okay there’s three of them, the president has a budget which is basically thrown out the door, the house has a budget and the senate has a budget, the house and the senate both have land and water conservation embedded in their budgeting process okay, the House may want 100 million the Senate may want 50 million, they go into what’s called conference, and when they go to conference that’s where they close the doors and the negotiations take place and then the budget, the national budget comes out, that’s where a lot of times we would lose our money. Maybe our senators didn’t have enough pull, maybe they didn’t care, the people that got the money in land and water conservation were the people that had senators and congressional people that were passionate about it and fought for it and then where I would lose my credibility is when I’ve been working with this land owner for three years or two years and had an approved appraisal, he’s ready to sell, he’s counting on it, he’s wanting his money to send his kids to college next year and guess what I call him up and say ‘our money didn’t come’ and they’d say ‘I ain’t doing business with you guys again’
Russell: Who has to appraise the land?
Mr. Kidd: We usually, the Forest Service has got appraisers in house but normally what I did is they review them, I’d go out on the street and hire an appraiser so that way, the land owner would feel comfortable that the agency wasn’t trying to low ball his price in other words I’d say ‘hey listen this guy, he works down the street in Gainesville, he does appraisals all over the state, you’re getting a fair value’ and the agency would review it and approve it and if they went through appraisal standards and they could check it off then they’d say fine and the bottom line is guys, nobody trusts the government
Russell: especially around here
Mr. Kidd: and so they’d say you guys, you’re not giving me a fair value, I just didn’t go there, I just went on the street and got a straight appraiser and 9 times out of 10, they were fine with it
Jamie: That’s a good idea, is there anything else that you want to talk about in your career
Russell: or anything else about the history of the Forest Service
Jamie: or anything in general that you want to discuss?
Mr. Kidd: I don’t know I think a lot of people don’t understand where the forests came from or why they’re here, I think 99 percent of the people that come off the…you guys are history majors you have an appreciation for this kind of stuff
Jamie: Well I just had no idea, I’ve heard of Gilford Pinchot, I’ve heard of the Weeks Act but I had no idea the amount of work that went into it
Mr. Kidd: Well, I’ll tell you what, I want you to read a book, if you guys are into history, you’ll find it on Amazon.com you probably won’t find it in the library, it’s an old book, it’s by Gilford Pinchot it’s called Breaking New Ground
Jamie: We had that, somewhere, I think our teacher brought that up in class
Mr. Kidd: You should read that book. It’s the history of conservation in our country. This guy was a leader. He was the first chief of the Forest Service, he’s the one that built the Forest Service, that agency. The agency was kind of built around military organizational structures when it first started. You should really read that book if you care. Being history majors and if you have any interest in conservation, it’s written a long time ago, he has a different perspective but you’ll be amazed, it’s really amazing
Jamie: And we’re thinking that this will be accessible to the forestry college at our university, so they’ll probably get to listen to these interviews too.
Mr. Kidd: Okay, but you know to me I find it fascinating the history, because I’m a history buff too, I almost majored in history, I really, that’s all I read is history and stuff. I just, I find it fascinating that these people were able to accomplish what they accomplished. How effective they were in what they did. How they were able to bring things together. In today’s world it just wouldn’t happen, there’s too many regulations and rules and policies and structures and this and that and why you can’t do this and you can’t do that. These people by god just went out and did it, they made it happen, and they did it on horses and they did it in camps on the side of the mountain when it was raining and snowing. They did everything on foot, they had no electronics, and everything was calculated. They had to go to court cases for months and months at a time, sometimes these things would take 2, 3, 4 years to happen but they persisted and everybody from the forester on the ground to the abstracters and the attorneys that all worked in a team to make this happen and I think it’s the most fascinating things that ever happened in this country and as a result of that we got national forest in Georgia and Alabama and Louisiana and Florida and Virginia and New Hampshire and West Virginia and Wisconsin and Minnesota, all of these national forests, millions and millions and millions of acres and I use them all of the time, like this year I went to Minnesota to grouse hunt I went to the Chippewa National Forest in the middle of Minnesota, it’s just a phenomenal resource for the American public. I don’t care if you don’t like to camp, if you don’t like to hunt, if you don’t like to fish, but if you like clean water, guess where it comes from? And that’s just the way I feel about it.
Jamie: Well, that was really interesting
Mr. Kidd: Well anything else y’all want to know?
Jamie: I think we have enough but do you have anything else you’d like to add.
Russell: This is the history of the Forest Service and the Forest Service will want to use it
Jamie: So, thank you
Mr. Kidd: Well one thing you won’t get rich doing is working in a federal agency, I can assure you, you don’t but you make a decent living and I got to do something that I absolutely love to do every day. I can never… I don’t care who you work for or what you do, you always run into people you don’t like or situations that aren’t comfortable, but I can never remember that I didn’t get up in the morning and I wasn’t glad to go to work. I loved it, I enjoyed it, I wanted to go to work and that was a gift, I can tell you right now because most people when they go to work, it’s drudgery. So, I was blessed, absolutely blessed and I was fortunate, I didn’t get shuffled around I was able to kind of stay where I wanted and do what I wanted to do, it worked for my family. Agencies and organizations change over time and the Forest Service certainly has. The Forest Service today is not the Forest Service of this (pointing to map), and it wasn’t, the Forest Service of my time wasn’t the Forest Service of this, but it was sort of morphing and changing and some of the changes are very good and some of the changes are very bad, but that’s just life.
Jamie: Well that was interesting, thank you
Interviewee: Jim Kidd worked for the Forest Service for much of his career, dealing largely with forest land appraisal and acquisition. Currently, Mr. Kidd continues to do that kind of work, but as an independent agent.
Interviewers: Russell Howard and Jamie Canavan are undergraduate students at Auburn University.
Description of Interview: Mr. Kidd met Jamie and Russell at the Forest Service’s building in Gainesville, Ga. A small southern town, the local Forest Service crew was having some type of brunch meeting when our interview began, but we were able to conduct it in a quiet library. Mr. Kidd had to meet us early in the morning, as he had obligations in the nearby forest. In total, the interview runs around an hour. After the interview, Mr. Kidd met one of his old colleagues in the building for some discussion.
Content of Interview: Mr. Kidd talks about his career with the Forest Service, along with his admiration for the history of the Forest Service and the men who created the nation’s national forests. The history of the Forest Service is interjected throughout Mr. Kidd’s description of his career, as he performed multiple jobs and relevant information came to him throughout the interview.
Note on Recording: A Zoom recorder with dual microphones built in was used to record this interview. The audio file is saved as a .wav file and is of high quality. The quiet atmosphere of the interview makes for a very clear recording.