Skip to main content
U.S. Forest Service
Caring for the land and serving people

United States Department of Agriculture


Environmental Protection

Graph displaying increasing timber harvest from 1905, peaking from 1975 to 1990, and declining since.

In the 1970’s, concerns about environmental impacts and conflicting uses escalated, leading to increased lawsuits and additional environmental protection measures. As a result, the Forest Service now operates federal timber sales under some of the most substantial and effective environmental protection policies in the world. In response to the public controversy and a greater understanding of how management actions influence the landscape, today's timber sale levels have dropped by two-thirds (back to the pre-1950 levels), even though timber demand continues to increase at a rate of about one percent annually. In addition clearcut harvests have been reduced by 80 percent over the last decade.

Approximately 73 percent of the 191 million acres of national forests are considered forested. Of that forested land, 35 percent is available for regularly scheduled timber harvest and about ½ of 1 percent of those trees are harvested in any 1 year. The remaining 65 percent of the forested land is designated for non-timber uses, such as wilderness and other areas set aside for recreation, or cannot be harvested due to environmental conditions, such as steep slopes and fragile soils.

Research & Product Development

Along with national forest programs, the Forest Service conducts considerable research aimed at finding more effective ways of managing forests in an ecologically sound manner. The knowledge gained from research projects is widely disseminated throughout natural resource management professions and benefits forest management operations throughout the world. In 1910, the Forest Service’s Forest Products Laboratory was created with a specific mission of improving forest resource conservation. The lab has helped to substantially reduce wood use and industrial pollution through the development of wood composites (fiberboard, etc.), improved pulping operations, innovations in the use of recycled wood products, and many more. This research and product development is shared freely with private industry and often results in more environmentally sound and economically efficient operations.

Historical Perspective

An Ecological Perspective