A Brief History of United States Forest Management Policy
Forestry. Forest, and Wood Technology of the Ukraine, edited by V. Dudok, V. Lentiakov & L. Myklash (Volume 36, 7p). Lviv, Ukraine: National University of Forestry and Wood Technology of the Ukraine, 2010
9 Pages Posted: 5 Feb 2014
Date Written: June 12, 2010
Active federal management of U.S. national forests began with President Theodore Roosevelt’s creation of the U.S. Forest Service in 1905. The Forest Service exercised substantial independence in its operations until after World War II. In the early 1950s it was one of the most popular and respected federal agencies.
After WWII sociopolitical developments and Congressional inducements led the Forest service to expand logging in national forests using clear cutting techniques. These and other policies aroused widespread opposition, ultimately contributing to enactment of the Wilderness Act (1964) and the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) of 1976. Clear cutting was curbed, along with the longstanding earlier policy of fire suppression. The NFMA’s detailed guidance provisions sharply reduced the Forest Service’s independence. It mandated public input into all forest management plans.
From the 1980s lack of confidence in the Forest Service’s independence (i.e. ability to operate without undue influence by pressure for logging or other commercial uses of forest lands) fostered increasing activism toward forest preservation (as contrasted with conservation) by environmental organizations. Their legal and political influence on Forest Service actions and policies had been greatly enhanced by 1970s laws including the National Environmental Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. When initial attempts to stop logging of old growth and other forested areas proved unsuccessful, a series of lawsuits invoking protection of the habitat of the Northern Spotted Owl ultimately curtailed logging in major areas of federal lands in the Western states.
Downsides of the current legal and sociopolitical constraints on the Forest Service and other federal agencies’ policies include major constraints on their ability to adopt flexible management strategies to deal with insect diseases. A major current threat is posed by bark beetle epidemics in lodgepole pine forests in Colorado and Wyoming. These epidemics are reported to be aggravated by drought and warming trends associated with climate change. Another affected area is the U.S.’s ability to use wood products from federally managed forests to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Both problems are documented by recent comparisons of German and American forest policies made by a Montana professor of forest science.
Germany has a long tradition of interest in and skilled management of its forests. Germany has about the same area and forest cover as Montana. Scientifically managed harvest of insect-infested and killed trees in the province of Bavaria alone has not only prevented insect epidemics. These harvests produce 2 billion board feet of wood annually, equaling the total production of wood from all U.S. national forests. One third of the Bavarian population uses forest products for home heating.
Keywords: U.S. forest policy, federal laws, U.S. Forest Service, litigation, Western states, Wilderness Act, Forest preservation, wildfires, clear cutting, Endangered Species Act, Environmental Policy Act, U.S.-Germany comparison
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