San Bernardino Mountains, CA, July 5, 2014 – Long before recorded history, this area was home to Native Americans–in fact, 616 prehistoric archaeological sites remain–and then to Mexicans and Europeans in the early 1800s. Mexico ceded California to the United States in 1848, just a few years before the discovery of gold in the San Bernardino mountains kicked off decades of mining, timber cutting and cattle grazing. The resulting environmental degradation led to an 1886 Board of Forestry report that found, “the necessity of the hour is an intelligent supervision of the forest and brush lands of California, with a view to their preservation.”

The Forest Reserve Act was passed in 1891, giving the President authority to set aside public lands. This set the stage for the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountain Ranges to be designated in 1907 as the San Bernardino National Forest. It was set aside to conserve and study natural resources such as plants, trees, water, soil, minerals and wildlife.

Today, the San Bernardino National Forest comprises three Ranger Districts, and like a government, it has departments for Fire, Police, Planning and Permits, and Recreation. It protects watersheds, provides year-round recreation, and its nearly 680,000 acres contain 71 threatened, endangered and sensitive animal species, along with 85 such plant species.

And for that, we can thank our forefathers for their foresight.