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Future Forest Service Leaders Learn About Agency History

Elers Koch was a U.S. Forest Service forest ranger. He often patrolled the Lolo National Forest in New Mexico while armed with a weapon. (U.S. Forest Service photo)

Elers Koch was a U.S. Forest Service forest ranger. He often patrolled the Lolo National Forest in Montana while armed with a weapon. (U.S. Forest Service photo)

Imagine men mounted on horses, armed with rifles and sidearms, patrolling millions of acres of public land. These men were typical U.S. Forest Service rangers over a century ago. This is how the Forest Service first approached forest management.

Forest Service historian Dr. Lincoln Bramwell recently shared the history of the Forest Service to the agency’s Class of 2011 Presidential Management Fellows, a federal government leadership development program.

Early European settlers approached the abundant forests in the United States as a source of resources, but also as an obstacle to their preferred agricultural use, said Bramwell.

In 1891, the Forest Reserve Act gave U.S. Presidents authority to reserve forested land from the public. Gifford Pinchot, the first Forest Service Chief, was personal friends with President Theodore Roosevelt, a proponent of public lands, and convinced him to allow trained foresters in the Department of Agriculture to manage national forests.

From the Forest Service’s creation until 1939, the agency focused management primarily on timber, range, and fire. During World War II, the Forest Service supported the war effort by providing timber, and after the war, the agency supplied the suburban housing construction boom.

After the mid-20th century, the United States began undergoing major cultural and policy changes. The 1960 Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act mandated that the Forest Service equally manage: outdoor recreation, range, timber, watersheds, and fish and wildlife.

From 1945 to 1953, the average number of annual visits to national forests increased from 10 million to 35 million. Additional legislation also helped shape attitudes toward forest management, and placed the federal government as a regulator of the environment.

National forest management has come a long way since forest rangers primarily patrolled forests about a century ago. Today, the Forest Service manages 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands, and serves as the world’s top conservation organization with its broadened mission that includes resource protection, research, state and private forestry, and international forestry.

8 Responses to “Future Forest Service Leaders Learn About Agency History”

  1. Bill says:

    Check out the Book The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America by Timonthy Egan for a good history of the early FS and how Teddy Roosevelt & Gifford Pinchot would wrestle each other.

  2. Julie Ito says:

    I must say this is a very cool article, shows how much things change and possibly come back around. Thanks for sharing this history of Agency history.

  3. Kim Brown says:

    More articles like this, please – I enjoy the history!

  4. Brian Bergman says:

    Per photo caption – I always thought the Lolo NF was in the great state of Montana?! We wouldn’t Presidential Management Fellows to be mis-informed.

  5. Ellen Goodman says:

    Thank you for an interesting article. Tim Egan’s “The Big Burn” is indeed a wonderful book.

  6. Jill Romanello says:

    Horses have always been in the forest and hopefully continued to have that right.

  7. Marcia Moore says:

    Great story!

  8. Don Driscoll says:

    As one who has been retired for 20 years and who spent four decades with the outfit, memories of the likes of Elers Koch mean a great deal. Elers’s son, Peter, followed in his dad’s footsteps and was a very distinguished Forest Service scientist. The Forest Service is rich in father/son tradition and I believe it results from the work ethic and dedication that was a way of life for those who served in the public interest. History does come to life through the writings of such authors as Timothy Egan and Norman Maclean. The latter wrote “A River Runs Through It”, which has its setting in Montana and in 1992 he authored a book, “Young Men and Fire”, which describes the Mann Gulch fire in August of 1949 on the Helena NF. For this book, Mr. Maclean received the National Books Critic Award in 1992.

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