In the 1880's, when General Christopher C. Andrews began urging the state to consider the future of its forested lands, most Minnesotans could not believe that there might ever be a shortage of timber. But by the time of his death in 1922 the vast virgin pine forests were gone, lumber was being imported from the Pacific Northwest, and a series of devastating fires had claimed hundreds of lives and millions of acres.
Andrews served as captain, and colonel of the Third Minnesota Regiment of Volunteers during the Civil War, and finally as Brevet Major General United States Volunteers, at the close of the war. He was appointed minister to the combined state of Sweden and Norway in 1869, and while living in Stockholm he became interested in reforestation. When he returned to Minnesota he began his efforts to save parts of the state's remaining forests, to encourage replanting, and to start a school of forestry. He implanted the Swedish idea of only cutting the annual growth of trees for lumber each year and as a result is considered by professional foresters to be the father of "sustained yield" in the United States. He met with little success until 1895, the year following the Hinckley fire that killed more than 400 people. The legislature then passed a bill written by General Andrews and calling for the "preservation of forests and the prevention and suppression of forest fires." Andrews was named the state's first chief fire warden.
Forest preservation was difficult in regions where there were still hundreds of logging camps, miles of railroads with uncleared rights of way, and acres of "slashings" — tree tops and branches left by the lumbermen. In spite of Andrews efforts, carried out with almost no funding, terrible fires ripped through northern Minnesota in the early years of the 20th century.
In addition to his firefighting work, Andrews played a key role in the establishment of Superior and Chippewa national forests and the development of a forestry board to oversee the management of state forest reserves. He served the forest service for 26 years at an average yearly salary of only $1,650, and his work, much admired today, was appreciated by only a farsighted few of his fellow citizens.