The Evolving Use and Management of the
Nation's Forests, Grasslands, Croplands,
and Related Resources

A supporting technical document to the 1989 RPA Assessment

This document reviews the management and use of forests, grasslands, and croplands as our nation developed. It also addresses wildlife, recreation resources, minerals, and water resources. It provides a systematic account of the changing status of our natural renewable resources and minerals and their current status, and concludes with an outlook for the future. The focus is on land management and use, but policy, population, and technology as well as resource sensitivity, resilience, and productivity are other important dimensions of this review. The intent it to present an understanding of the whole development of our resources while describing the parts - the individual resources - in relation to each other and the whole.

Several historic stages in the development of natural resources are analyzed:

1) Colonial settlement to the Revolution and independence, 1500-1783;

2) Growth and distribution of the public domain, 1783-1920;

3) Private development and use of public lands, 1783-1920;

4) The rise of conservation and land management by the federal government; and

5) Expansion of the federal role in land use and resource management.

Most renewable resources and their outputs appear to be sufficiently abundant to meet the needs of the nation with prudent management and the promise of emerging and new technology. Generally, the quality of these resources and their outputs is improving. To the limited extent that forecasts can be made with any degree of reliability, the foreseeable future should see continued relative abundance and improving resource quality and outputs. This applies to crops, livestock, and timber as well as to the croplands, grasslands, and forests. It also applies to wildlife, parks, wilderness, and related recreation and aesthetic opportunities. Certainly the claim can be made that a great deal of progress has been achieved in resource production, productivity, and conditions during the past several decades.

Nevertheless, there are continuing issues and problems relating to resource production, productivity, and conditions, and use on public and private lands. The resource management debate on these issues seems related to (1) the balance of resource uses and the distribution of their benefits to different segments of our society; (2) the rates of improvement among the resource uses and conditions; (3) the local and specific exceptions to the general trends; and (4) the general impact of these matters on the future welfare of the nation.

A number of continuing resource issues will require the attention of policy leaders, resource managers, and the public now and in the future. These include:

Fedkiw, John. 1989. The Evolving Use and Management of the Nation's Forests, Grasslands, Croplands, and Related Resources. General Technical Report RM-175. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. 66 p.