Forest History


Use your investigative skills to gather evidence from the history archives.
Photo courtesy of U.S.G.S.

In the Forest History Investigation, your mission is to uncover what the forests were like in the days before settlers moved. Then, identify what went on in the forests as settlements, towns, and cities expanded around them. 

Why do we care about the forest's history? Because knowing if and how they've changed will give us clues about why they are as they are today. Connecting these ideas to evidence and ideas from the other investigations will lead you to a solution for this case: why do today's challenges harm our forests' health and what can we do about it? 

So, put on your imagination and curiosity, hop into the time machine, and investigate Forest History.

  • Click illustration of activity-launch icon to expand any activity in the list below.
  • Gather evidence: As you read, watch, and play, write your observations into your Investigator's Journal.
  • When you see this icon Investigator's Journal icon, write the answers to the questions shown. These will help you assemble the pieces of the case like a puzzle.

When you feel that you have all that the Forest History Investigation has to give, choose a different investigation, or Solve the Case!

Visit the Scene of the Case


Our friends at the Greater Flagstaff Forest Partnership have created a fun way to investigate forest history.

Click the the link below the picture to Enter the Interactive Forest Kiosk.

There, click on the icons to reveal clues to understanding the forest. Remember that history is your top interest in this investigation, so be sure to click on all four of the Historical Forest icons.

Resources like this tell us a bunch of important information - let's jot down what we thought was important in our Investigator Journal! 

What did you learn about the forest's history from the Interactive Forest Kiosk?

How is today's forest different than the forest in the past? When did the changes come about?

What new questions do you have about Forest History?

Ponderosa Pete

Listen to this intriguing story written by Julie Blake Gidley and read to us by Helena Murray.

Prefer to watch and listen on Youtube? Click here . Be sure to close the tab when you're ready to come back!

Let's write down what we thought about the story in our Investigator Journal!

What did you learn about the forest's history from the Ponderosa Pete story?

From Pete's point of view, how has the forest changed over time? What brought about the changes? 

What new questions do you have about the way our forests used to look?

Historians use photos to tell the stories of the past. These photos show us what the natural forest was like over 100 years ago

As a history investigator, cast your sharp eye upon this old photo of forest life. What do you wonder about this place and time? What questions come to mind?

Click to hear Ranger Will describe the forest of long ago. 

Ranger Will gave us a lot of useful information - let's make sure to write it down in our Investigator Journal!

How did Ranger Will describe the historical forest?

Recall a recent visit that you made to a forest. In what ways is the modern forest like the forest in the past?

Which features of the forest have changed? What, do you imagine, lead to these changes?

Historical photos illustrate grazing - the livelihood of many settlers in the West

As you look over these photos, what do you wonder about these times and places? What questions come to mind?

Northern ArizonaGrazing (2).jpg

Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

Cows over grazing forest_0.jpg

Photo courtesy of U.S.D.A.

Historical fact: cattle numbers in the state soared from 30,000 in 1870 to 502,000 in 1886. Sheep were often left to graze on the forest floor too.

Baaaa, want to hear the stories of grazing in Arizona Forests? Click on each of these links:










What's important from this source? Sounds like something to put into the Investigator's Journal!

Look again at the photos above. Do you notice anything that you might have missed before?

What impact did livestock grazing have on the forest in the past?

What evidence of this impact remains in the forests today?


Early Logging took out the Biggest, most Fire-Resistant Trees

Can you imagine the sound of the loggers' saw cutting into the tree? Can you hear the logs falling onto the truck? What other smells, sounds, feelings do these images bring to mind? What do they tell you about the forest's past?

Logging history_0.jpg

Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service


Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

Ranger Will is a an excellent witness! Let's write down what he said in our Investigator Journal!

Ranger Will refers to one important practice of early loggers. What was it?

Why do you think they did that? How did this practice change the forest?

How does logging affect the forest ecosystem?

This is called a TREE COOKIE! No, you can't eat it, but you can examine it to learn the hidden story of the life of a tree.


Univ of AZ Tree Ring Lab

Clear here to learn how to read tree rings.

Count the Rings! Each line of light and dark wood represents one year of tree growth. To figure out my age, count my dark rings. How old am I? If my outer-most ring grew in the year 2020, when was I "born?"

Look closely! If you examine my annual rings closely, you will see that some are thick and some are thin. In the thick-ringed years, I grew a lot. What might have been happening in the forest around me to make me grow so much?  In the thin-ringed years, I barely grew. What might have been happening to keep me from growing?

Look for strange or irregular shapes, lines, and colors. These happened as I grew around damage like fire scars, bug holes, or cuts in my wood. They also happened when my trunk wood grew around new branches.

What are these trees telling us? Let's write down our observations in our Investigator Journal!

Jot down thoughts that come to mind as you read the lesson and inspect the tree cookie pictured above.

Examine the tree cookie again. Can you write its story from when I was 15 years old until I was 25?

Good work Forest Investigator! Are you ready to gather more evidence?
OR solve the case!