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The Planet

A Brief History of National Forests

The Planet, June 1997, Volume 4, number 5

by Kristin Sykes
  • 1864 George Perkins Marsh publishes "Man and Nature," which warns that if logging is not reduced, forests in the U.S. will disappear as completely as those in Europe and Asia.
  • 1873 First legislative attempt at forest protection. Franklin B. Hough and Columbus Delano, Secretary of the Interior, draft a resolution declaring forest growth and preservation to be "of general practical importance." Later passed as a rider to an appropriations bill, this establishes the need for management and conservation of forests and timber. Hough appointed chairman to newly created federal forestry commission, the first entity to oversee the logging and management of forest lands.
  • 1886 Division of Forestry established as part of Department of Agriculture.
  • 1891-92 President Benjamin Harrison authorized to set aside forest reserves from public domain. Designates 15 reserves containing more than 13 million acres, including the Yellowstone Forest Reserve.
  • 1897 Organic Act passed as part of Sundry Civil Appropriations Act with the intention of protecting watersheds and forests while still supplying timber.
  • 1905 President Teddy Roosevel creates U.S. Forest Service and appoints Gifford Pinchot as chief.
  • 1907 Forest reserves renamed national forests. Rooservelt adds 99 million acres to system.
  • 1922 Secretary of Agriculture authorizes selling of national forests in exchange for private land of equal value, signaling shift in Forest Service paradigm from conservation of forests to commodity logging.
  • 1925 Forest Service begins authorizing 10-year grazing permits in national forests, furthering private secot profit on national public lands.
  • 1931 Forest Service declassifies wilderness corridors and builds road through former Gila Wilderness, setting precedent of undoing wilderness protection to increase timber output.
  • 1944 Sustained-Yield Forest Management Act authorizes Agriculture and Interior secretaries to establish sustained yield units for private interests on federal lands. Forest Service invites timber companies to build mills throughout the West.
  • 1950 Cooperative Forest Management Act authorizes Secretary of Agriculture to work with state foresters in assisting private landlowners to log national forests.
  • Late 1950s-1960s Following World War II, private forest lands are exhausted. Cutting and roadbuilding in national forests surges.
  • 1970 National Environmental Policy Act requires environmental impact statements for major federal actions that have a significant effect on the environment, allowing for legal challenges of timber harvests and forest management.
  • 1973 Endangered Species Act passes, giving forest advocates a legal tool to challenge logging when it threatens endangered species and their habitat.
  • 1976 National Forest Management Act requires land planning process and management plans for national forests, which must be evaluated periodically for their future environmental impacts.
  • 1980 Logging roads built in national forests now exceed 350,000 miles--eight times more than the interstate highway system.
  • 1990 U.S. District Judge William Dwyer of Washington issues injunction against all logging in northern spotted owl habitat. Significant use of Endangered Species Act to stop logging in national forests.
  • 1994 Northwest Forest Plan announced by President Clinton in effort to slow logging in the last old-growth forests.
  • 1995 Clinton signs budget bill with "salvage logging" rider allowing clearcutting of healthy trees in national forests under the guise of "salvage." Suspends environemntal laws and public appeals process. As a result, more than 3 billion additonal board feet are logged in national forests.
  • 1997 Less than 10 percent of old-growth remains in U.S. national forests.

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