Fedkiw, John
Managing Multiple Uses on National Forests, 1905 to 1995: A 90-Year Learning Experience and It Isn't Finished Yet
US Forest Service
Original Date

Review by Frank H. Wadsworth, retired, US Forest Service, Institute of Tropical Forestry, Puerto Rico, in Environmental History, Vol. 4, #1, Jan. 2000, pp. 112-3:

The appearance of this book is opportune. The author was trained in economics, public administration, and forestry and was a career employee with the Forest Service and U.S. Department of Agriculture, where he had a close-up view of national forest development. The result is a well-documented, intimate, and balanced chronicle of the multiple-use significance of legislation, land uses, policies, and consequences during the four periods: 1905-1945, 1945-1970, the 1970s, and 1980-1995. The depth of detail provides a clarification even for those who lived through these events.

Critics of national forest policies and practices might anticipate a whitewash from a former insider. While they will find explanations of controversial issues, they might be surprised in learning that the author does not necessarily justify Forest Service positions. Multiple use is almost unavoidable on lands of multiple resources. On the lands yet to become the national forests mineral claims were essentially unconstrained, and more than half of the area was open range. In 1891 the concern of grazing interests even brought to a halt additional forest reserves. Hunting and fishing were authorized throughout by state laws.

The charge to Gifford Pinchot from the Secretary of Agriculture in 1905 was that all the resources of the forests were for use. The term "multiple use" reportedly first appeared in print in 1920. As a policy it was affirmed legally in the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960, calling for equal consideration of all resources.

Early national forest management was concerned primarily with resource security, as it turned out, a contribution to the later dimensions and intensity of multiple use. National forest area grew from 75 million acres in 1905 to 172 million by 1910. The record burn of 5 million acres in 1910 was reduced by fire control to 600,000 acres per year. Burns were reforested as promptly as funds permitted. By 1908 every national forest had a working plan to limit cutting to a sustainable level, although the timber resources of the national forests were then seen as a reserve to be held while private forests were being harvested. Law enforcement and predator control quadrupled big game populations. The nation's first wilderness was designated in a national forest in 1924, and by 1945, 8.5 percent of the national forests had been admnistratively withdrawn as wild and wilderness areas.

Resource protection proved a foundation and an incentive for multiple use, but no guide to use integration. Repeated reductions in grazing allotments were unpopular and made only minor improvements in the range. Fuel buildups resulting from fire control required prescribed burning, a slap in the face of Smokey Bear. Timber sales, pushed by markets and a favorable Congress to 92 percent of the allowable cut, were believed to be scientifically permissible and desirable, yet clearly were impinging on the quality of the other forest resources. Game numbers grew beyond carrying capacity and called for unpopular control measures. Recreational visits grew from one million in 1919 to 236 million in 1981, exposing management problems to ever closer public scrutiny.

By the 1960s the public was aroused. The Bitterroot study had uncovered unquestionable overcutting. A computer had challenged the cutting rate for Douglas fir. Clearcutting had become a national issue from the Monongahela to the Tongass. Rumors saw a linkage between timber receipts and Congressional appropriations. Chief Edward P. Cliff made an unheralded, pivotal Forest Service response from the top: "We're getting plenty of flak. It is about equal on both sides, so we must be where we ought to be." Cliff subsequently made strong moves to respond to public concerns. Despite threats of a personal nature from the timber industry (to the knowledge of the reviewer) he proclaimed publicly that National Forest programs were out of balance with emerging environmental preferences and that an ecosystem approach to the management of national forest issues was needed. Public relations training was given to fifteen hundred key employees. A review of the timberland base led to the eventual reduction from 75 million acres to 53 million by 1993. Reduction in clearcuts and involvement of the public early in the planning were ordered. The world's largest team of landscaping talent developed visual constraints on timber sales on every national forest.

Still, critics questioned the ability of the Forest Service to respond. The decentralized organization of the Forest Service meant that policies from the top filtered down slowly. Typically application of policies was left to local managers, a circumstance said to undermine public trust. Still another obstacle to change was a fear of loss of authority to public involvement.

The National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 became a vehicle for legal opposition to national forest practice. The Forest Service repeatedly lost court cases dealing with NEPA compliance until intensive training reversed this relation. Reduction of clearcutting lagged until the National Forest Management Act of 1976. Below-cost timber sales were terminated only by Congressional direction in 1995.

The author sees a need for measures of the effectiveness of multiple-use policies and stronger integration of science in decisions. The role of science is seen as one of defining biological and physical space, but not the management decisions that holistically reflect the values of society, interest groups, and managers. With the recent appearance of ORV's, concern for cultural resources, and wild and scenic rivers, the author returns to his title, that multiple-use management is an everchanging learning experience.