Curious Nature: National forests have a rich history in the U.S.
Vail, CO Colorado
Naturalists at Walking Mountains Science Center work at a number of different venues during the summer months, including the front desk at the U.S. Forest Service office in Minturn. During my time interacting with the public at this and other locations, I addressed a number of questions about the use and management of the national forest. Comments include complaints about the inaccessibility of some trails because of timberwork on the road up to the trailhead and free-range grazing in certain parts of the forests. Questions were asked about the cause, impact and future of the lodgepole-pine forests. There was also praise about the beauty of the mountains and the biodiversity of flora and fauna found throughout the forest. These conversations got me thinking about our beautiful national forests and the U.S. Forest Service that oversees them.
Our national forests have a rich and complex history. It all began in the late 19th century with the Forest Reserve Act of 1891. This act allowed the president of the United States to set aside forested public lands for protection to ensure healthy timber and water flows. A few presidents utilized this measure and set aside land, the greatest allotments being set aside by Teddy Roosevelt. In 1905, The Transfer Act was passed which moved all forest reserves into the Department of Agriculture and renamed them national forests. The national forests and the Forest Service had very few direct mandates from Congress under these first acts; they were instructed to protect the forested lands while keeping water conditions good and timber flows healthy.
The next important mandates came in the Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act of 1960. In this piece of legislation, the Forest Service’s scope of service was expanded: They now had to manage for not only healthy watersheds and timber but for outdoor recreation, range and wildlife and fish. The list was written alphabetically in the bill, indicating that each was an important and unique aspect of our national forests. Not only was the population expanding but so, too, were the values the people had for the services that their public land provided. The act states that the new multiple-use mandate is “the management of all the various renewable surface resources of the national forests so that they are utilized in the combination that will best meet the needs of the American people.” As much legislation is, this is relatively ambiguous. It leaves specifics of management up to the Forest Service itself. With this broad guidance, coupled with a growing and varying population, there were and are bound to be conflicts.
More legislation has come along, such as the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act, which dictates how the Forest Service must plan, and the National Forest Management Act, which reinforces the multiple-use mandate. And still, the Forest Service manages to provide opportunities for all of us to interact with the land in ways we all enjoy, as well as protecting animals, plants, our water supply and grazing. They do all of this while adhering to procedural laws of the government, protecting us and managing fire and conducting vast amounts of research.
One of the most beautiful aspects of our public lands is that they belong to all of us. We all want to do different things on the land. Often, our desired uses conflict with the enjoyment of others – this is a simple but difficult fact.
Participate in The Longevity Project
The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.
The Forest Service recognizes that this land belongs to all of us and it listens to public feedback on its management. In fact, it is required by law to accept public comment. So, not only is it our responsibility to voice thoughts to the Forest Service, it is also our responsibility to thank it for all the hard work it puts into managing our public lands and ensuring that our forests stay healthy and beautiful for future generations.
Whitney Walker is a summer naturalist at Walking Mountains Science Center. In her free time, you can find her out hiking mountains and napping in the beautiful Colorado sunshine. Learn more about the future of our lodgepole-pine forests via our new show, “Walking the Valley,” on local channel TV8. The show airs Sundays at 6:30 a.m., Tuesdays at 11:30 a.m., Wednesdays at 9 p.m. and Saturdays at 4 p.m.