Land & Resources Management

The Role of the Forest Service

National Forests are not owned by the Forest Service, they are owned by every citizen at birth or naturalization. With the mantra of "caring for the land and serving people" the Forest Service strives to manage your National Forests, harmonizing use with protection of these very valuable natural resources.

It is important to be aware that the creation of Forest Reserves, and eventually National Forests, is closely tied to the public. At the turn of the century, public outcry about the "needless destruction" of forests and the "rapid consumption" of natural resources prompted appeals to protect our forests and everything they encompassed, including water and wildlife habitat.

Environmental leaders, such as Theodore Roosevelt, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Gifford Pinchot initiated setting aside tracts of land to protect these resources. Forest Reserves were established to protect use and achieve sustained yield so that resources could be used but not to the point where the health of the forests would be compromised.

Unlike the National Park Service who is dedicated to preservation, the Forest Service strives to balance between timber harvest, grazing, water protection and recreation, just to name a few. All while ensuring the long term health of our forests. The concept of managing for many different purposes is called multiple-use and it can become a delicate balancing act to find the optimum combination of use versus protection.

The Forest Service and its employees are public servants tasked with trying to "provide the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people." But what is the greatest good for the greatest people? That's where you can help.

The Role of the Citizen

A very important piece of legislation, known as the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), was enacted to meet an increased public desire to become more involved with government decisions as they apply to public land.

"The purposes of this Act are to declare a national policy which will encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between man and his environment; to promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of man; to enrich the understanding of the ecological systems and natural resources important to the Nation; and to establish a Council on Environmental Quality."

While NEPA may sound like just another government acronym, it is the most powerful law governing land management. NEPA requires public land management agencies to seek public comment, disclose the effects of decisions and analyze alternatives.

NEPA uses three categories to analyze project criteria and potential environmental impact. However, not all projects are required to go through the NEPA process. If every single decision was required to go through NEPA, the Forest Service could become so bogged down in paperwork that it would become ineffective.

Projects that are exempt from NEPA are administrative, maintenance or actions that do not have a "significant effect on the quality of human environment." Examples of excluded projects would be mowing the lawn at a Forest Service office or resurfacing a road to its original condition.

Projects vary in size and scope so opportunity to comment also varies.

To become involved you can request to be put on the mailing list to receive the Schedule of Proposed Actions (SOPA) . This is a quarterly produced document that details every project taking place on the National Forest that has decisions documented in NEPA. They will be in the form of a decision memo, decision notice, or record of decision. The SOPA contains description, location, and current status information for each project as well as the primary contact person for specific projects.

If you wish to be provided opportunities to comment on that project, the first step is to get a hold of the primary contact and request to be added to the project mailing list.

Sources

  • Harold K. Steen "The Origins of the National Forest: A Centennial Symposium" Forest History Society 1992
  • Shaun R. Nelson "History of the Uinta National Forest : A Century of Stewardship" Uinta National Forest 1997.