Understanding Laws that Impact Public Lands

The United States has a rich body of Federal environmental and natural resource law that has developed over the years through all three branches of government.  The following are highlights of the  major pieces of legislation that guide and control management  of public land resources.


Appropriations Law and the Federal Budget: Congress allocates federal dollars each year to the Forest Service and through funding, prioritizes activities and focus of the agency.


Clean Water Act: The Clean Water Act (CWA) is the common name for the 1977 amendments to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972 (FWPCA). The objective of the CWA is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation's waters. The law sets water quality standards for all surface waters. It also establishes the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into waters and for addressing nonpoint source pollution. 


Endangered Species Act: The Endangered Species Act (ESA)was passed in 1973 to both conserve and restore species that have been listed by the federal government as either endangered or threatened (referred to as "listed" species). The act broadly prohibits anyone from harming or “taking” a species that has been listed, clarifies the special obligations of federal agencies to ensure full protection, and requires federal agencies to develop plans that show how the listed species could be restored or "recovered."


Multiple Use Sustained Act (MUSYA): The Forest Service manages the national forests and grasslands for multiple use and sustained yield of the products and services obtained from them, as required by the MUSYA. According to MUSYA, to manage a forest for "multiple use" means that all the renewable surface resources of the forests are used in a combination that will best meet the needs of the American people.


National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA): NEPA  requires that before federal agencies take a major action, they must disclose the environmental impacts of their proposed action and evaluate alternatives that would have fewer environmental costs. The full NEPA process can be lengthy and complex, and requires the agency to seek public comment at many points in the EIS process.


National Forest Management Act (NFMA): NFMA, an amendment of the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974 (RPA), established standards for how the Forest Service manages the national forests. Congress amended RPA by enacting the National Forest Management Act of 1976 (NFMA), which requires every national forest or grassland to develop and maintain a Land Management Plan (also known as a Forest Plan).  The process for the development and revision of the plans, along with the required content of plans, is outlined in the planning regulations, or planning rule.  Individual forests and grasslands then follow the direction of the planning rule to develop a land management plan specific to their unit.


Open Government Initiative: Within days of his inauguration, President Obama signed a memorandum to change process in government and ensure public trust  through an established system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration.


Wildlife Protection: Various laws and policies impact how the Forest Service manages its wildlife resources.  Here is an overview of these laws and policies.