What Are US National Forests?
In the United States, National Forests are areas of protected federal lands. Federal lands are owned by the US government and National Forests are managed by the US Forest Service, which is a division of the larger US Department of Agriculture. These woodland areas are largely set aside to protect forest land and sources of water, as well as provide much needed lumber. Today, the US has 154 National Forests, encompassing 294,275 square miles.
History Of The US National Forests
In 1891, Congress passed the Forest Reserve Act, which gave the president power to conserve and protect public forest lands. Yellowstone Park Timber and Land Reserve became the first National Forest on March 30, 1891. At this time, the US Department of the Interior was in charge of managing these public lands. In 1905, Congress enacted the Transfer Act, which transferred management responsibility to the US Department of Agriculture and created the Forest Service.
President Theodore Roosevelt is remembered for drastically increasing the number of National Forests by 1907. In response, Congress limited presidential powers in this regard. In 1908, the government reorganized the National Forest System. In 1911, Congress amended the Organic Act by adding additional reasons for National Forests, including: recreation, livestock grazing, wildlife protection, timber source, and watershed protection.
Where Are National Forests Located?
Today, the 154 US National Forests are located in 40 different states. The 10 without National Forests are: Rhode Island, North Dakota, Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Kansas, Hawaii, Iowa, Connecticut, and Delaware. Alaska leads the country with the largest area of National Forests - 21.9 million acres. California comes in second place with 20.8 million acres and Idaho is third with 20.4 million acres. Additionally, Idaho holds the distinction of having the largest percentage of its total area covered by National Forests - 38.2%. This percentage is followed by Oregon with 24.7% and Colorado with 20.9%.
Types Of US National Forests
The US National Forest System manages 2 specific types of forests: east of the Great Plains and west of the Great Plains.
The forests in the eastern part of the country are largely considered second growth forests, which means they were previously logged and have since grown back. This is in contrast to old-growth forests, which have remained undisturbed for longer periods of time. The majority of forests in the eastern region were once privately-owned and used as major sources of timber during the colonial-era. The US government purchased these eastern forests in order to slow down logging and permit forest regrowth.
A large number of the forests located in the western part of the country are considered old-growth. These forests have been owned by the US government since the westward expansion, which has helped preserve them from the private timber industry.
Conflicts Over US National Forests
Because resource extraction is permitted in National Forests, conflicts over management issues often arise. This is unique to National Forests because resource extraction is not permitted on other federal lands. Conservationists and environmentalists often go up against logging and mining companies concerning protection and extraction of the natural resources located on these federal lands. The conflicts center around the need to conserve endangered plants and animals, the importance of maintaining old-growth forests, and the construction of access roads through these areas. US National Forests carry an IUCN VI distinction, or Managed Resource Protected Area.