In the United States, national forest is a classification of protected and managed federal lands. National forests are largely forest and woodland areas owned collectively by the American people through the federal government, and managed by the United States Forest Service, a division of the United States Department of Agriculture. The U.S. Forest Service is also a forestry research organization who provides financial assistance to state and local forestry industry. As of 2020, there are 154 national forests in the United States.
The National Forest System (NFS) was created by the Land Revision Act of 1891, which was enacted during the presidency of Benjamin Harrison. This act took land to form national parks in the West, including 15 reserves containing more than 13 million acres of land. At first one would be called a Forest Reserve; a later one would be termed a National Forest. It was the result of concerted action by Los Angeles-area businessmen and property owners who were concerned by the harm being done to the watershed of the San Gabriel Mountains by ranchers and miners. Abbot Kinney and forester Theodore Lukens were key spokesmen for the effort.
There have been multiple legislative acts to expand the scope of the national forest system, as well as shrinking it. In 2020, the Trump administration encouraged more forest products to be harvested in order to support a struggling economy. There was a plan to develop around 190 million acres of protected National Forests in order to increase logging, grazing, and energy resources. This would be facilitated through shrinking the rules and regulations required to get permits to conduct such business. In October 2020, the Trump administration proclaimed its goal of "strengthening markets for wood products and incentivizing innovative manufacturing techniques" and reported "The Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service sold 3.3 billion board feet of timber from national forests in fiscal year 2019 — the highest output since 1997". Furthermore, President Trump signed an executive order to "establish the United States One Trillion Trees Interagency Council" in order to further the Federal Government's participation in this effort and repeal the current $30 million annual funding cap for the Reforestation Trust Fund.
In the United States there are 154 national forests and 20 national grasslands containing 193 million acres (297,000 mi2/769 000 km2) of land. These lands comprise 8.5 percent of the total land area of the United States, an area about the size of Texas. Some 87 percent of national forest land lies west of the Mississippi River in the mountain ranges of the Western United States. Alaska has 12 percent of all national forest lands.
Within the national forest system, there are 1,200 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places and 23 are National Historic Landmarks. The National Historic Preservation Act requires the Forest Service to identify, investigate, and protect cultural resources on lands it manages.
The U.S. Forest Service also manages all of the United States national grasslands and nearly 50% of the United States national recreation areas.
Land management of these areas focuses on conservation, timber harvesting, livestock grazing, watershed protection, wildlife, and recreation. Unlike national parks and other federal lands managed by the National Park Service, extraction of natural resources from national forests is permitted, and in many cases encouraged. Forest products are the resources removed and harvested from national forests. They may be for commercial or personal use such as “lumber, paper, and firewood as well as 'special forest products' such as medicinal herbs, fungi, edible fruits and nuts, and other natural products”. However, the first-designated wilderness areas, and some of the largest, are on national forest lands.
There are management decision conflicts between conservationists and environmentalists and natural resource extraction companies and lobbies (e.g. logging & mining) over the protection and/or use of national forest lands. These conflicts center on endangered species protection, logging of old-growth forests, intensive clear cut logging, undervalued stumpage fees, mining operations and mining claim laws, and logging/mining access road-building within national forests. Additional conflicts arise from concerns that the grasslands, shrublands, and forest understory are grazed by sheep, cattle, and more recently, rising numbers of elk and mule deer due to loss of predators.
Many ski resorts and summer resorts operate on leased land in national forests.
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