Created in 1905 and now celebrating 100 years of forest management, the
United States Forest Service has overcome a myriad of challenges to
conserve some of our most important lands and embrace a vision. It is an
agency we should all be applauding — not once, but twice, initially
for confronting challenge, and then, for what it does today.
Although the Forest Service owes its successes to countless individuals,
it owes its beginnings to a trio of farsighted men who were
environmentalists long before anyone thought to coin the term. It was
Gifford Pinchot and Theodore Roosevelt who first recognized that it
would not be long before America’s vast forests would be in great peril.
They were joined by George Washington Vanderbilt, a man searching for a
place to build a grand European-style castle — and though the hills in
which we now camped were the same ones cleared long ago for farming,
Vanderbilt realized his vision. The man would build his castle, and
then, through the practice of forestry as it had existed in Europe, he
would restore the forest to what it had once been, inadvertently
bringing together men who would one day use skills learned working his
land to remedy some of the nation’s timber problems.
To understand how this agency has become so much to so many, we
could do little better than to start among Vanderbilt’s trees and
mountains and streams on what is now Pisgah National Forest’s “Cradle of
Forestry.” This was America’s first eastern national forest, and quite
arguably, it can be said that the agency and practice of timber
management began on these North Carolina swaths at a time when land was
cheap and people had little more than their pride.
Essentially, the making of our national forests can be traced
to the Forest Reserve Act of 1891, which authorized the president to
establish forest reserves. That same year, President Harrison created
the nation’s first reserve, the Yellowstone, separated today into the
Shoshone and Bridger-Teton national forests. In 1897, Congress passed an
expanded Forest Reserve Act, intended to protect the watersheds and
furnish a continuous supply of timber for the people of the United
States. The following year, President William McKinley hired Pinchot
away from his work for Vanderbilt and made him chief of the Division of
Following the assassination of McKinley in September of 1901,
Theodore Roosevelt ascended to the presidency, and retained his good
friend Gifford Pinchot as chief. The following year — in part because
of Pinchot’s powers of persuasion — Roosevelt transferred more than 63
million acres of forest reserves from the Department of the Interior to
the Department of Agriculture. But the most memorable legislation saw
Roosevelt create a name change. On July 1, 1905, the Bureau of Forestry
became the U.S. Forest Service.
Read more about the Forest Service’s century-of-service history
and see the 100-year timeline highlighting the agency’s important
dates. Pick up the July 2005 issue of MotorHome magazine on the
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