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Laws and Regulations

Title 16: United States Code titled Conservation covers a wide range of law governing how the Forest Service and other agencies manage public lands.

  • Chapter 2: National Forests
  • Chapter 3: Restoration management
  • Chapter 4: Protection of Timber
  • Chapter 3: Forests, Forest Service, Restoration, Management
  • Chapter 36: Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning
  • Chapter 41: Cooperative Forestry Assistance
  • Chapter 65: International Forestry Cooperation
  • Chapter 81: User Fees Under Forest System Recreation Residence Program
  • Chapter 81A: National Forest Organizational Camp Fee Improvement
  • Chapter 84: Healthy Forest Restoration
  • Chapter 86: Southwest Florida Health and Wildfire Prevention
  • Chapter 92: Forest Landscape Restoration

Other U.S. Code titles and chapters also cover work conducted by the Forest Service.

Landmark laws

Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act of 1937 (PDF): Directs the Secretary of Agriculture to develop a program of land conservation and utilization to correct maladjustments in land use and thus assist such things as control of soil erosion, reforestation, preservation of natural resources and protection of fish and wildlife.

Clean Air Act of 1970: A part of environmental law, the act promulgates uniform national standards for a wide range of air pollutants and sources, through a handful of systems.  The act regulates air quality levels and allows regulation of sources of pollution. 

Clean Water Act of 1972: Sets the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into U.S. waters.

Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act of 1980: The law, known as the “superfund,” is aimed at cleaning up already polluted areas. This statute assigns liability to almost anyone associated with the improper disposal of hazardous waste, and is designed to provide funding for cleanup.

Endangered Species Act of 1973: The goal is first to prevent extinction of endangered plants and animals and, secondly, to recover these populations by preventing threats to their survival.

Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act of 1960: Addresses the establishment and administration of national forests to provide for multiple use and sustained yield of products and services, including recreation, range, timber, watershed, and wildlife and fish purposes. The act augments Title 16, Chapter 2 of the U.S. Code.

National Environmental Policy Act of 1969: Signed into law by President Richard Nixon on January 1, 1970, NEPA set forth a bold new vision for America.  Acknowledging the decades of environmental neglect that had significantly degraded the nation's landscape and damaged the human environment, the law was established to foster and promote the general welfare, to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony, and fulfill the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations of Americans. Learn more about the National Environmental Policy.

National Forest Management Act of 1976: This act amends the Forest and Rangeland Resources Planning Act of 1975 and recognizes that the management of the Nation's renewable resources is highly complex and the uses, demand for, and supply of the various resources are subject to change over time. Congress found that public interest is served when the Forest Service, USDA and other agencies assess the nation’s renewable resources and develop and prepare a national renewal resource and program that is periodically reviewed and updated. Learn more about the National Forest Management Act.

National Historic Preservation Act of 1966: Secures protection of archaeological resources and sites on public and Indian lands.

Native American Graves Repatriation Act of 1990: Specifies special treatment for Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony. The act stipulates that illegal trafficking in human remains and cultural items may result in criminal penalties.

Resource Conservation and Recovery Act 1976: The primary law governing the disposal of solid and hazardous waste to protect human and environmental health.

Weeks Act of 1911: Permitted the federal government to purchase private land in order to protect the headwaters of rivers and watersheds in the eastern U.S. and called for fire protection efforts through federal, state and private cooperation. It is considered one of the most successful pieces of conservation legislation in U.S. history.
Wilderness Act of 1964: Established the National Wilderness Preservation System composed of federally owned areas designated by Congress. The act also stipulates these lands be administered for the “use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use as wilderness and preserve their untouched character.

Related content

Chapter II: Forest Service, Department of Agriculture, Code of Federal Regulations Title 36—Parks, Forests, and Public Property: This chapter is the agency’s official and complete text of agency regulations in one organized publication. Included are such topics as travel management; notice, comment and appeal procedures for National Forest System projects and activities; law enforcement activities and cave resources management. There also is a section for the allowed use for the Smokey Bear and Woodsy Owl symbols.

Environmental Appeals and Litigation: Information about agency land management planning and appeals.

2012 Planning Rule: The National Forest Management Act of 1976 requires every national forest or grassland managed by the Forest Service to develop and maintain an effective Land Management Plan, also known as a forest plan. The process for the development and revision of plans, along with the required content of plans, is outlined in planning regulations, often referred to as the planning rule. Managers of individual forests and grasslands follow the direction of the planning rule to develop a land management plan specific to their unit.