Use of the National Forests
by Dave Iverson
Deciding which interests to serve has never been easy in public land
and resource management. If anything the task of discovering the public
interest seems to be getting harder and harder with the recently awakened
diversity of values in the American psyche, and by "urbanization" of the Western United
States with its accompanying population explosion.
The US Forest Service was established nearly 100 years ago amid controversy
over the public domain and the disposition and use thereof.
As we edge close to the dawn of the 21st century we find renewed, or maybe just continued
controversy over which
National Forest users and owners will be pleased (and which will not) by
Forest Service management decisions.
It might prove useful to go back to the beginnings of the Forest Service and
patch together a brief, selective look at "use" policy to begin an inquiry into
how to best sort out the public interest for the 21st century. We will
somewhat arbitrarily break the history of the Forest Service into four eras: Conservation and
Wise Use, Multiple Use, Sustained Conflict, and Collaborative
Stewardship. With this bit of history as backdrop, we can begin a discussion on
future "use" of the National Forests and other public lands.
Establishing Conservation and "Wise Use": 1900-1950
Following nearly a half century of complaints from American
foresters, and others, nationally owned forest land gained protection by Presidential decrees
(some of them very controversial) under
the Forest Reserves Act of 1891. Legendary naturalist John Muir was among
the early champions of a "Forest Reserves" idea, but as we will see was not supportive
of many later developments. The Forest Reserves, as reserves, was a short-lived idea. Within
15 years from their inception they became National Forests, with "use" and "conservation" as
primary drivers, not preservation.
The Forest Service was created in July of 1905 by the stroke of Secretary
of Agriculture James Wilson's pen, renaming what had been the U.S. Department of Agriculture's
Bureau of Forestry.
"Name of the Forest Service in 1905," Gerald W. Williams)
The creation of the Forest Service was deemed necessary
by President Theodore Roosevelt and his friend and Chief Forester Gifford Pinchot. They had been
recently successful in transferring the Forest Reserves into the Department of Agriculture from
the Department of Interior, and in increasing their size from 63 to 86 million acres. They felt a
need for an independent agency to manage the lands. They satisfied that need by creating the Forest
Service. Just two year later the
Forest Reserves were renamed "National Forests," setting the stage for managed use.
According to historian Harold K. Steen (in The U.S.Forest Service: A
History), Pinchot believed that "the term
reserve suggested the these federal forests were to be held inviolate." This was unacceptable
to Pinchot, who had very clear plans for the National Forests as spelled out in his classic
The Use of the National Forests, first drafted in 1905.
Pinchot's emphasis on "use" of the National Forests set the stage for later bitter
struggles between Pinchot as a champion for "use" and Muir as a champion for "preservation."
Complimenting Gifford Pinchot's notion of use, conservation of soil and
water resources was at center stage in Pinchot's message. Use
was meant to be "wise use"--use that could be maintained in perpetuity, without
impairment to the productivity of the soil. Pinchot insisted on
protecting the soil. In his words, "The permanent wealth of a country comes from the soil.
To ensure permanent wealth the soil must be kept productive." He also stressed the importance
of protecting watersheds as a basis for "wise use" of all resources, with primary emphasis
on wood, water, forage,and minerals. Recreation "playgrounds" were mentioned in passing
in the The Use of the National Forests. "Game" was also mentioned but "wildlife" was not.
"Biodiversity," "ecosystem function," and other terms
common to today's "natural resources" discussions were yet to be invented. In keeping with
American sentiment of the time,
utilitarian conservation formed the core of "public use" in the early 1900s.
The Conservation and Wise Use Era lasted through the Great Depression and
through World War II. During this era multiple constituency groups formed, championing various
uses including timbering, grazing, minerals, recreation, soil and watershed protection, Wilderness,
wildlife and more. I purposefully put timbering -- logging, silviculture, and timber management --
first since it was clearly a dominant focus of the Forest Service. (See David A. Clary's Timber
and the Forest Service.) The seeds
were sown for "Wise Use" to be broadened into Multiple Use in the post WWII frenzy that
opened up the expanses of the National Forests. From these seeds grew an era wherin the Forest
Service embarked on a mission of massive road
building and timbering in support of the new American dream where each family could own a home
in the suburbs. (see Paul W. Hirt's A Conspiracy of Optimism: Management of the National Forests
since World War II.)
From Conservation and Wise Use to Multiple Use: 1950-1970
Although seeds were sown earlier, we could say that the Multiple Use era
began in earnest around 1950,
with the development of forest resources used to fuel the post World War II housing boom in the
United States--and the accompanying expansion of the National Forest road system which could also
accommodate expanding recreation use from a more mobile and more leisure oriented American public.
The Multiple Use Sustained Act of 1960 (MUSY) codified the Forest Service's Multiple Use mission
into law. The MUSY admonished the Forest Service to manage
the public lands judiciously to best meet the needs of the American people; considering the
relative values of the various resources --outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, and
fish -- and considering those relative values in particular areas. Forest Service managers were
further admonished to sort out those values in ways that would "not necessarily provide
the combination that will give the greatest dollar return or the greatest unit
output" (16 U.S.C. 531).
From Multiple Use to Sustained Conflict: 1970-2000
Other legislative mandates like The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969
NEPA ), various Wilderness Acts, The Clean Air Act, The Clean Water Act, The Forest and
Rangelands Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974 (RPA),and The National
Forest Management Act of 1976 ( NFMA ),
and The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA)
broadened and changed the interpretation of Multiple Use as well.
These and other legislative mandates reflect changing social and cultural values that have spawned
much debate, discussion, and too rarely dialogue over forest management in the form of
"new forestry," "new perspectives," "ecosystem management," and most
recently "collaborative stewardship."
At the end of the 20th Century, interests now seem to conflict a lot.
(See "Issues Split Outdoors Fans, Always Will," Jim Wright, StandardNet 2/3/99.)
There are many more people in the United States today relative to a century ago, and much more
use of the National Forests. Increasingly more people are settling in
the West, at least in part to be near the National Forest, the National Parks and other scenic
Even though there is strong agreement that the conservation agenda of
"wise use" still makes sense, there are many who now question whether it goes far
enough to serve the public interest
in the twenty-first century. Biological diversity issues loom large today, as population and
industrialization pressures continue to build. An increasing number of people worry about ecosystem
functions for cleaning air and water systems, and about our stewardship responsibilities for
maintaining and enhancing these and other ecosystem functions. Many people worry about threatened
lifestyles and livelihoods as pressures build to change traditional management of the National
From Sustained Conflict to Collaborative Stewardship: Hope for the Next Century
We might argue that the foundation of the Collaborative Stewardship era
began with the passage of the environmental laws of the 1970s, with provisions for involving both
the public and broadly-based federal interdisciplanary science teams. But the politics of public
lands management in these last couple of decades have generated enough cognitive dissonance that I
have chosen not to formally begin the
Collaborative Stewardship Era until after the year 2000. Right now the American people seem to be
still stuck in the Sustained Conflict Era even though there are at least some signs to indicate
that we are about to cross another threshold and begin to embrace sustainability.
Since his appointment, F.S. Chief Mike Dombeck has continually
emphasized the need to move toward Collaborative Stewardship as have others in the Clinton
Administration. In his "Conservation
Leadership" July 1, 1998 letter to employees, Chief Dombeck reiterated his conservation
" To me, a conservation leader is someone who consistently errs on the side
of maintaining and restoring healthy and diverse ecosystems even when -- no especially when --
such decisions are not expedient or politically popular. If we are to redeem our claim to be the
world's foremost conservation leader, our job is to maintain and restore ecologically and socially
important environmental values. A highly diversified society increasingly demands that our
stewardship result in a legacy of healthier landscapes. ...
"Fifty years ago, Aldo Leopold wrote his seminal work, A Sand County
Almanac. In it, Leopold spoke of his personal land ethic and the need for land managers to
extend their own ecologial conscience to resource decisions. The
Forest Service natural resource agenda
is an expression of our agency's land ethic. If we are to redeem our role as conservation
leaders, it is not enough to be loyal to the Forest Service organization.
First and foremost, we must be loyal to our land ethic. In fifty years,
we will not be remembered for the resources we developed; we will be thanked for those we
maintained and restored for future generations." Mike Dombeck, 7/98
Chief Dombeck asks us to rethink our stance on
conservation, use, and more. But he also stresses the importance of developing relationships
with the users and providers of recreational and other experiences.
In the Forest Service Natural Resource Agenda he says,
"Partnerships with the recreation users, concessionaires, permittees, and local communities help
us to more effectively deliver quality recreation experiences. The private-sector can often teach
us new ways to deliver better services at a lower cost. We will expand the use of such partnerships
and encourage more Americans to volunteer time, labor, and experience in helping us to improve
interpretive services, trail maintenance, facilities, and conservation education."
Mike Dombeck, 3/98
Amid all the talk of "collaborative stewardship," substantial and nagging
concerns remain: Whose interests are to be served? How are
the American people and their elected and appointed representatives to balance the
various uses to serve the public interest?
It is clear from Chief Dombeck's messages and from actual practices on the
ground that corporate influence in the public lands arena is changing rapidly. More traditional
corporate influences in both Forest Service and BLM lands (timber, mining, and
grazing interests in particular) seem to be on the defensive. They seem to lack the political
clout they once had, although their influence has by no means vanished. Corporate recreation
interests, by contrast, seem to be on the offensive. Partnerships are in style, and some
now seem to gain special favor as "partners." Yet in some parts of the world, New
Zealand for example, the government still shuns corporate influence in public lands decisions,
believing that their presence somehow negatively influences the experience the users and owners
of the resources enjoy. Our choices remain open.
- What type commercial uses are appropriate on the National Forest in the 21st Century?
- Is a "wise use"/multiple-use
policy still sufficient when biological diversity, Wilderness, and other public use issues loom
- Is there still reason to be
wary of large scale commercial interests?
- How ought we to fund the management of the National
Forests, the National Parks, BLM lands, National Wildlife Refuges, etc.? Are user fees
appropriate mechanisms? Are commercial permit fees appropriate? If so, in what mix and under
- What roles, if any, might non-government organizations play in the funding federal lands
management? What roles, if any, might corporations and other
for-profit organizations play? What roles, if any, might nonprofit organizations play? Are all
nonprofits created equally?
Gifford Pinchot links:
John Muir and Bob Marshall links:
Aldo Leopold links:
Go to Use
of the National Forests in the 21st Century Public Forum
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