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Welcome to the Forest Service: A Guide for Volunteers

Introduction (continued)

National Forest System

The National Forest System includes 155 national forests and 20 national grasslands (figure 2), covering 193 million acres of land in 44 States, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. These lands represent some of the Nation's greatest assets and have major economic, environmental, and social significance for millions of Americans.

Photo of a small meadow filled with wildflowers in red, purple, yellow, and white.
Figure 2—Wildflowers in Franklin Basin along a road
north of the Utah-Idaho State line, July 16, 2004.
Courtesy of Ann Keysor, Caribou-Targhee National Forest
(includes Curlew National Grasslands)

As directed by Congress, renewable forest resources— water, timber, forage, wildlife, and recreation—are managed under the principles of multiple use and sustained yield. Multiple use means managing resources under the best combination of uses to benefit the American people while ensuring the productivity of the land and protecting the quality of the environment. Sustained yield means that resources are managed to provide services and products at a level that can be sustained without harming the land's ability to continue producing those services and products.

National Level

The highest level of the National Forest System is the national level, commonly called the Washington Office. The person who oversees the entire Forest Service is called the Chief or the Chief Forester of the United States. The Chief, a Federal employee, reports to the Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment in the USDA. The Chief's staff provides broad policy and direction for the agency, works with the President's administration to develop a budget to submit to Congress, provides information to Congress on accomplishments, and monitors the agency's activities.


The Forest Service has 9 regions, numbered 1 through 6 and 8 through 10. Region 7 was eliminated some years ago to standardize the size of regions. The forests in Region 7 were divided among Regions 8 and 9. Each region is composed of several national forests and usually includes several States. The person in charge of each region is called the regional forester. The regional office allocates budgets to the forests, coordinates activities between forests, monitors activities on the forests, and provides guidance for each forest plan.

National Forests and Grasslands

Each forest or grassland is composed of several ranger districts. The person in charge of a national forest or grassland is called the forest or grassland supervisor. The supervisor's office coordinates activities between ranger districts, allocates the budget, and provides technical support to each district.

Ranger Districts

There are more than 600 ranger districts. The district ranger and district staff are usually the public's first point of contact with the Forest Service. Each district has a staff of 10 to 100 people. On-the-ground activities at the districts include trail construction and maintenance, operation of campgrounds, and management of vegetation and wildlife habitat.

International Institute of Tropical Forestry

The International Institute of Tropical Forestry is part of the Forest Service. The institute is located in Río Piedras, Puerto Rico, on the grounds of the University of Puerto Rico's Agricultural Experimental Station. The institute is dedicated to tropical forestry on an international level. Within the Forest Service's motto of caring for the land and serving people, the institute's mission is to: Develop and exchange knowledge critical to sustaining tropical ecosystem benefits for humankind.

Research and Development

The research and development (R&D) arm of the Forest Service works at the forefront of science to improve the health and use of our Nation's forests and grasslands. Research has been part of the Forest Service mission since the agency's inception in 1905. Today, some 500-plus Forest Service researchers work in a range of biological (figure 3), physical, and social science fields to promote sustainable management of the Nation's diverse forests and rangelands. Their research covers a lot of territory, with programs in all 50 States, U.S. territories, and commonwealths. The research focuses on informing policy and land management decisions, whether the research addresses invasive insects, degraded river ecosystems, or sustainable ways to harvest forest products. The researchers work independently and with a range of partners, including other agencies, academia, nonprofit groups, and industry. The information and technology produced through basic and applied science programs is available to the public.

Photo of a tranquilized black bear. A respiratory tube is coming from the mouth and a blood pressure cuff is wrapped around one arm.
Figure 3—Respiratory and circulatory data were collected
from this black bear during wildlife research.
Courtesy of Scott Anderson, Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest

State and Private Forestry

The State and Private Forestry (S&PF) arm of the Forest Service reaches across the boundaries of national forests to States, Tribes, communities, and nonindustrial private landowners. State and Private Forestry is the Federal leader in providing technical and financial assistance to landowners and resource managers to help sustain the Nation's forests and protect communities and the environment from wildland fires.

State and Private Forestry programs bring forest management assistance and expertise to a diversity of landowners, including the owners of small woodlots and Tribal, State, and Federal Governments, through costeffective, nonregulatory partnerships. The staffs play a key role, along with others within the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior, in implementing the National Fire Plan to manage the impacts of wildland fires on communities and the environment.