Forests and National Prosperity
A Reappraisal of the Forest Situation in the United States


Bettering the timber situation is only one facet of the many-sided task of making forests produce adequately. They should be managed for watershed protection. Also they should be improved and efficiently used for livestock range, for wildlife propagation, and for recreation.

In general, what is done to assure the Nation's wood supplies will enable the forests to yield more of other products and services. However, furthering the nontimber contributions involves some problems that need additional attention, for they are an integral part of the forestry job lying ahead.

Watershed Protection — A Prime Function of Forests

Water and soil not only sustain forests but are, in turn, profoundly affected by them. This influence extends far beyond forest land itself. Water is a product of most lands, and our 624 million acres of forests materially affect its disposition and usefulness. Moreover, forests are guardians of the soil, keeping it in place for productive purposes and out of streams and water-storage works where it is harmful.

Water use and control have assumed great national importance. One expression of this is the movement for regional development of natural resources, which is spearheaded by the widespread demand for better use of water resources. Another is the magnitude of investments and projected works to assure water supplies or to abate flood damage. There is growing recognition of the flood menace. In 1936 this led to organic Federal legislation that includes broad authority for watershed treatment in aid of flood control.

Cities and communities everywhere face difficult problems of water supply. The per capita use of water in cities averages about 40 gallons a day. Industry uses huge quantities—3,600 gallons to make a ton of coke; up to a million gallons to make a ton of paper; and 70 gallons to make a pound of finished woolens. Billions of dollars are invested in supply works and purification plants. It is a costly, relentless struggle to provide ample, dependable water supplies for growing communities and industries.

Water from forest watersheds also finds other essential uses—for navigation, for hydroelectric power, for irrigation of more than 21 million acres of arid cropland in the West. It lends charm and recreational value to the forest environment. All these uses are increasing and in the long run will have to be underwritten by good watershed management.

Destructive waters are of even more direct concern. Floods and water-borne sediments, originating in many instances on abused forest, range, and farm lands, are exacting a heavy toll. They cause much human misery, loss of life, and about 100 million dollars property damage annually. They also impair the usefulness of thousands of the Nation's reservoirs which represent a total capital investment of more than 4.5 billion dollars.

Watershed services in all parts of the country are below par. Forest fires are a major cause of unsatisfactory conditions. Overgrazing is also important. It has damaged plant cover and soil on perhaps 20 percent of the forest land, especially in the West and North. In addition, sizable areas have been cleared for various uses, for roadways, and for other types of construction.

Except in the virgin timberlands of the West, the greater part of the commercial forest acreage has been cut over—many areas several times. Poor practices which characterize more than half the timber cutting (see p. 46) are more than a threat to sustained timber output. They are leaving their mark on watersheds as well.

The impact of all this is reflected in accelerated erosion, more damaging and more frequent floods, sedimentation, and impaired water supplies. It is clear that forest programs and management plans should give more attention to watershed aspects.

Watershed protection, like timber growing, is best served when forest soils are kept stable and productive. Mainly this involves the elimination of destructive logging and overgrazing, protection against fire and other hazards, and the rehabilitation of devastated or sparsely stocked forest lands, including some of the low-grade noncommercial types. Good forest practices—still far from general attainment—will go a long way toward providing satisfactory watershed conditions on the great bulk of the commercial forest lands.

But under certain conditions, some practices need to be supplemented or modified in the interests of good watershed management. Fire-protection plans should give more recognition to high-risk or special-value watershed areas (see pp. 81, 84). How to lessen disturbances to ground cover and soil in logging operations also needs constructive attention. In some areas the generally acceptable cutting practices may need modification to afford more protection or to increase water yields. Local situations of this kind occur on steep slopes, frozen soils, or in areas of rapid snow-melts such as the White Mountains of New Hampshire; on the unstable, highly erodible soils of the West and of the southern Piedmont and upper Coastal Plain; and in the rougher mountain sections, both East and West.

Good range management also helps provide good watershed conditions. But, as with timber management, practices which would aid recovery are not always applied. There is constant pressure to overstock and the range is often grazed too closely. Livestock are trailed where they should be hauled. These and other practices which are detrimental must be corrected. Deterioration from past abuse is so great on critical areas of the western forest range that it will take many years of careful management to attain satisfactory watershed conditions. Some forest land on steep slopes with easily disturbed soils should be closed because grazing it is virtually impossible without endangering watershed values.

Watershed improvement is beset with many difficulties. Public apathy and lack of understanding is a potent obstacle. For the most part, people are unaware of serious watershed situations even after floods or other calamities occur. Little is done about them because the public does not understand the cause or the cure or is not sufficiently aroused to demand action.

Inadequate technical knowledge also hampers watershed protection. There have been some notable research contributions but as yet they have not come into general application. Land managers have much to learn about how timber cutting, grazing, and other uses may be harmonized with watershed services. They need more information on how forest and range practices affect water and soil. They need a working knowledge of the economics of watershed management, and techniques for maintaining water supplies, stabilizing soil, and controlling runoff. It will take greatly strengthened research to provide all this.

Watershed management is preeminently a public responsibility and public forests afford the main opportunity for it. Many lands of high watershed value are in Federal, State, and community ownership—notably the national forests. Their management should set the pattern for all watershed lands. However, several things stand in the way of putting them in first-rate shape for watershed protection.

Many public forests are remote. Some are poorly consolidated and hence difficult to manage. Much of the land, severely exploited before it was placed under administration, is difficult and costly to rehabilitate. Whatever the obstacles, it will take intensified protection and management and a great deal of watershed restoration to assure satisfactory watershed services. Mostly this is a matter of more adequate facilities to do the work.

Public forests should be extended to include many millions of acres of critical watershed lands not suited to private management. Private owners have little incentive in watershed management, since it yields no direct revenue and mainly benefits others. Furthermore, the high cost of restoring badly depleted watershed lands usually precludes private investment. The job clearly will have to be shouldered mainly by public agencies.

Yet there remains the hard problem of assuring reasonably good management, in the public interest, of watershed lands in private ownership. At present these include about two-thirds of the lands having major or moderate protective influence. [25] Most of the unsatisfactory watershed conditions center here. Bettering them is closely linked with getting good private timber management, though it is inherently more difficult. There are no pat solutions, but basic remedies generally lie in fostering good cutting practices and conservative grazing; in affording Nation-wide protection against fire and other hazards; and in educating both the general public and private owners as to watershed-protection needs.

The Forest Range Resource

Forage is a valuable product of many forest lands, in some regions second only to timber as a source of direct revenue. To use it efficiently and in harmony with other uses requires good management; for unwise or too heavy grazing not only reduces the successive forage crops, but also may impair the land—its timber crops and usefulness for watershed protection, recreation, and other purposes.

About 350 million acres—more than half the forest land—is used as range. In the West there is roughly 155 million acres, of which about two-thirds is in Federal ownership or control, as follows:

Western forest range, 1945

Ownership or control:
   National forests64.141
   Indian lands12.28
   Grazing districts and other Federal21.7
      Total Federal98.063
   State and county4.93
      All ownerships155.0100

The rest is in a variety of holdings. Many of these are small livestock enterprises that are largely dependent on adjacent public lands for grazing. Forest range furnishes an important source of income for thousands of western stockmen.

About 99 million acres of the western forest range is open forest types like ponderosa pine and aspen. These afford much of the spring, summer, and fall range for cattle and sheep and support most of the big game. They are low-cost producing areas for feeder livestock and for the bulk of the fat lambs marketed in summer. Another 43 million acres is pinyon-juniper lands, chiefly in the Southwest. The rest is mainly scrubby woodland chaparral in the foothill country, much used for winter and spring grazing.

East of the Plains, there is 195 million acres of forest range, mostly in farm woodlands and other small private holdings. About 142 million acres is in the South, where more than three-fourths of the forest land, including most of the piney woods, is grazed. Here forests furnish reasonably good low-cost forage in spring and summer—although of indifferent quality later—for millions of farm animals. This has great economic value to rural people, and provides opportunity for badly needed diversification of agriculture.

Forest range is currently in strong demand in all parts of the country. Indicative of this demand are the numbers of livestock, exclusive of dairy cows, in the 11 Western States—11.2 million cattle and 13.9 million stock sheep [26] in January, 1947. Even though there has been a moderate decline in cattle numbers and a material decline in sheep since the peak during World War II, the western range livestock population expressed in animal units is 10 percent above the average of the four prosperous years 1926-29 and 5 percent above the 4-year period preceding World War II (fig. 19). Recent declines in numbers, while favorable, are not sufficient to relieve western forest ranges of rather general heavy grazing. In seven Southern States cattle numbers have increased about 25 percent in the last 10 years. Elsewhere, there has been a similar upsurge followed by a moderate decline. Looking ahead, demand for livestock products is likely to continue high. This means that forest ranges will probably be under continuing pressure to carry as many livestock as possible.

FIGURE 19.—Cattle (dairy cows excluded) and stock sheep in 11 Western States, expressed in animal units (1 unit = 1 cow or 5 sheep), 1910-47. (click on image for a PDF version)

Throughout much of the West there is widespread depletion of forest ranges. Most of the western ranges were fully stocked before 1900, and in many instances they were overgrazed and deteriorating. They deteriorated further as a result of too heavy stocking during World War I and again in the early and mid-thirties. Many have failed to recover. However, some in the national forests and well-managed private ranches have improved considerably over the years.

Although current data are meager, rough estimates indicate that about two-thirds of the western forest range is in unsatisfactory condition. The worst is the pinyon-juniper range, mostly in the arid Southwest; the least depleted is that of the open forest types, chiefly within national forests.

The hardwood forests east of the Plains have also been badly damaged by grazing; here, however, impairment of timber and watershed values is the main consideration. In many instances livestock should be excluded or greatly reduced in numbers. On the other hand, few of the pine forest ranges of the South are overgrazed.

Putting the Nation's forest ranges in good condition is an important aspect of the forestry job. First of all, deterioration of forage and other values should be halted through elimination of over grazing and other unsound practices. This is difficult because of the strong economic pressures to put more animals on a range than it will support. Secondly, millions of acres of badly depleted forest range that are producing only meager forage should be rehabilitated. In a larger sense grazing should be harmonized more effectively with other forest uses; and use of range and croplands should be better integrated for more efficient utilization of available forage.

Basically, this means that a better job of range management needs to be done on both public and private forest lands. More attention should be given to conservative grazing use that will build up and maintain the forage. This would include better seasonal use, more efficient control and distribution of livestock, adjustments in kinds and classes of animals using the range, and improved practices such as deferred and rotation grazing for speedier range recovery. It would call for large investments in water developments, fences, and other range improvements. But research has clearly shown that a reduction of livestock numbers and better management on overgrazed range will result in greater output of meat and larger calf crops because of better conditions for the animals that remain. This usually means more profitable operations.

On the western national forests, progress in range improvement and adjusting livestock numbers to grazing capacity has been made since World War I. Range reseeding has been undertaken on a commercial scale in recent years. Yet about half of the range allotments still need adjustments, ranging from minor changes in management up to 50 percent reduction in numbers or even, in a few cases, total exclusion. In many instances small reductions made from time to time were insufficient to offset the range deterioration. And in some localities the reduction in livestock use has been partly or wholly offset by increases in big game.

Other Federal forest ranges in the West are in a similar although generally less satisfactory status. Constructive efforts to correct the severe overgrazing on public domain lands date mainly from 1935, when large areas in the West, including some 17 million acres of forest range, were placed under administration as grazing districts. Serious overgrazing prevails on many unreserved public domain lands, which are leased for grazing with few if any restrictions as to use. Some of these are forest range. On Indian lands, which include 12 million acres of forest range, there has been progress in recent years toward eliminating overgrazing; nevertheless, some of these are still deteriorating.

Keeping livestock in proper balance with forage and feed supplies is fundamental in range management. Without it, reseeding and other restorative measures accomplish little. Experience has shown that economic inducements to lower the rate of stocking often are not effective. Education and other publicly sponsored programs will help, but the solution to this basic problem rests very largely with range users and owners, who must gain greater understanding of the range and how to manage and use it properly.

Another important need is to unscramble the complicated ownership pattern which in many parts of the West seriously hampers management of forest ranges. Largely the result of earlier Government land-disposal policies, it typically presents a confusing array of small private holdings, State lands, alternate railroad grant sections, and speculative holdings, often interspersed with blocks of Federal land.

Many ranchers make part-time use of public range, some of them grazing lands administered by several agencies under differing policies and regulations. There is need for consolidation of ownership, where practicable, and for better coordination of public procedures and policies. On national forests and grazing districts, administration has been facilitated by transfer, leasing, and exchange of land. Much wider application of these procedures is needed.

Land is frequently a limiting factor in sound private ranch ownership. Ranching often requires 6,000 acres or more to provide a satisfactory living. The amount of land needed depends on such factors as its location and physical character, its capability for forage production, the development of improvements, and the kind of management it gets. Many western ranches are of an uneconomic size or poorly developed, and afford poor prospect for range conservation and betterment. Public aids, such as technical assistance, grants for range betterment, and sound credit on liberal terms, will help small ranchers meet this problem. But in some instances the only practical solution is outright public purchase.

Public forest ranges should serve as models of conservation and good husbandry. Yet range management on many public lands is still in its developmental stages, handicapped by limited facilities. Even on the national-forest ranges, under administration and protection for several decades, there is need for intensified management to improve forage and livestock production. Generally this involves more men and money to do the management job. It also requires capital improvements on a large scale—reseeding depleted ranges, improving stock water supplies, eliminating noxious plants, and providing facilities such as fences and driveways.

More research is also needed. Only in the last 10 years has range research been extended, even on a limited scale, to all western regions and to the South. It has already done much and can do more in fostering range improvement and profitable livestock production.

Forest Recreation—A Large and Growing Use

Much of our outdoor recreation seeks a forest environment. People by the millions go to the forest to picnic or camp; to hunt, fish, or pursue other interests; or simply to enjoy the spaciousness, solitude, or scenic qualities of wooded country.

Most forest lands have potential recreation value. Perhaps two-thirds of the total acreage is actually available, in some degree, for recreation use.

Recreation in the last few decades has become a major forest use and a big business. At least half a million people earn all or part of their living supplying services, accommodations, or equipment to those who seek forest recreation.

Forest recreation especially benefits the countless small, back-country communities which derive much of their income from tourist business attracted, in large part, by the forest setting. For example, in Flathead County, Mont.—a typical forest county—recreation during its season affords more employment than logging and supports about one-tenth of the trade and service employment.

Large investments indicate the importance of forest recreation. On national forests about 27.5 million dollars of Federal funds has been spent on recreation improvements and some 37.5 million of private capital is invested in resorts, ski lifts, summer homes, and other facilities. Throughout the West, hundreds of dude ranches cater to forest visitors. In the East, particularly the mountain forests of the New England States, millions of dollars are invested in hotels, resorts, and other accommodations. Many commercial and civic organizations spend large sums to attract forest recreationists to their communities. These expenditures spell jobs for many rural people.

Recreation values on private forest lands are as yet far from fully utilized. Some of the private forests in New England, the Lake States, the Appalachians, and other sections include superb scenic resources and support flourishing recreation industries. But a limiting factor is that recreational uses are mostly confined to those yielding the owner a money return.

Most people look to public forests for recreation. Of these, the national, State, and municipal parks are dedicated exclusively to recreation use. The national forests—of major importance by virtue of their size, distribution, and character—as well as most State and community forests, are administered under multiple-use policies that give due weight to recreation. In large part, management problems on all public lands are similar, but this discussion focuses on national-forest recreation, for which detailed information is at hand.

People enjoy many kinds of recreation on national forests (fig. 20). [27] In 1941, the peak year before the war, recreational areas received 10.75 million visits, and the other national-forest lands 7.5 million. Recreation uses, which fell off during the war, are now sharply on the upswing. They should about double in volume in the next 10 years (fig. 21).

FIGURE 20.—Primary purpose of national-forest visits, 1941.

FIGURE 21.—Trends in some recreational uses, national forests, 1912-46, and estimates for 1947-55. (click on image for a PDF version)

National-forest recreation has generally developed without serious conflicts with other uses. Mainly this is because many forms of forest recreation—camping and picnicking, swimming, winter sports, and the like—though they involve exclusive use of the land, do not require a large acreage. In the aggregate these uses, present and potential, will require only about 300,000 acres—less than 1 percent of national-forest lands:

National forest lands
reserved or needed
for recreational use
(1,000 acres)

Class of area:
   Camp and picnic44
   Winter sports77
   Special uses26
     Total, 1945147
   Additional area needed, 1946-55150

An additional 14 million acres is set aside as wilderness areas, but only about one-third is commercial forest, most of it remote and economically inoperable; and 1.5 million is reserved in roadside strips.

National-forest recreation facilities include some 4,200 camp and picnic grounds, 254 winter-sports areas, 201 swimming areas, and 54 organization camps. Before the war, these facilities were nearly meeting the demand and were in reasonably good shape, as a result of Civilian Conservation Corps work. They deteriorated greatly during the war for lack of maintenance. Even when fully restored, they probably will not match the growing demands which now tax available facilities to the utmost.

If the demand of the next 10 years on national forests is adequately met, the capacity of winter-sports areas and organization camps will need to be doubled, according to Forest Service estimates; and the area devoted to swimming, camping, and picnicking increased more than twofold. [28]

Good recreation plans are an important corollary need. They are essential to the sound development and proper distribution of facilities and will enable better integration of national-forest recreation with that on nearby private lands.

There is also growing need for better correlation of recreation with other forest uses. This stems from intensified and often competing forest uses. Pressures to open up wilderness and other recreation areas on national forests for timber cutting illustrates the potential conflicts which already loom. Moreover, some recreation uses compete with each other. These conflicts, although not now serious, will assume greater importance as the demand for forest recreation increases.

Forests and Wildlife

Wildlife, closely identified with recreation, is as much a part of the forest as the trees. About 95 percent of America's big-game animals—deer, elk and moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and bear—and roughly one-fourth of the lesser game and fur-bearers live in forested areas. Bird life abounds in most woodland. And forest-sheltered streams and lakes are the habitat of trout and many other fine game fish.

The public has a great and growing interest in forest wildlife. The main values are social and esthetic. But forest game also has real economic value.

For one thing, it supplies large quantities of food which supplements the American diet, particularly that of low-income rural people. In 1942 forest game supplied an estimated 104 million pounds of dressed meat and about 200 million pounds of fish, along with large quantities of fur and hides—all valued at about 150 million dollars. [29]

Moreover, sportsmen, who held some 21 million fishing and hunting licenses in 1946, spend a large sum annually on licenses, equipment, and services, much of it in taking fish and game in forest areas.

Most forest wildlife has persisted despite heavy slaughter and destructive forest practices. Fire, timber cutting, and forest clearing have greatly altered wildlife habitats—often adversely. Locally, some forms of wildlife have disappeared or have been pushed back with the receding old-growth timber. But generally, the more open, less extensive forests of today afford better food and cover than the original virgin stands. They can, however, be greatly improved for wildlife.

America's 215 million acres of public forests—the main areas to which people have ready access—puts about one-tenth of the total land at the disposal of the general public for hunting, fishing, and other wildlife uses. These widely distributed key areas should be proving grounds for new techniques of wildlife management, and serve to demonstrate them to private owners. However, public forests cannot wholly supply the demand for wildlife development.

The 409 million acres of private forest land could produce much more game than the public forests. Practical means should be found to foster wildlife on them.

As yet game management, even on public forests, has gone little beyond protection. Improvement of the forest habitat is a neglected phase which can often be accomplished as a part of other forest uses and activities. Timber management is an especially important tool for improving game food and cover. For example, rather heavy selective cutting or clear cutting in blocks is, on the whole, beneficial since it increases the food supply, yet affords plenty of dense cover for escape and shelter. Timber-stand improvement and other measures also aid habitat improvement, if carried out with suitable regard for wildlife needs. Other forest uses, too—including grazing use by livestock—can be guided so as to complement and avoid conflict with wildlife management.

There are many reasons for slow progress in wildlife management. Some stem from the divided jurisdiction over land and game. Power to regulate hunting and fishing rests in the States whereas game management itself depends largely on the landowner. Without active landowner participation in wildlife programs there will be only incidental crops of fish and game to regulate. And few owners will attempt game management as long as they exercise only limited control of the harvest.

One reason why most private owners are little concerned with wildlife and are slow to adopt management is that game may damage timber or farm crops, and other values. Another is the increased forest-fire hazard and nuisance aspect of hunting and fishing. The small size of most private forest properties is an important deterrent. However, the major reason is lack of financial incentive. So far, States and sportsmen alike have resisted paying forest owners for hunting or fishing on their land.

Private owners should have more technical advice and assistance from public agencies in wildlife management. There is particular need to reach industrial forest owners more effectively and to do a better job of educating the general public on the value of wildlife and how to foster and harvest it. Financial returns, however, will do most to promote wildlife management in private forests.

Inadequate State game laws also hamper progress. Some involve a maze of local laws applicable to individual counties which all but defeat good game management. In some States, skilled administrators are lacking and in about 25 there is inadequate authority to administer wildlife resources. Frequently local courts are unwilling to enforce game laws.

Overstocking on both public and private lands, as in the case of domestic livestock, is another obstacle to good management. Usually this is the result of overprotection, which in some localities has built up game population far beyond the sustaining capacity of the forests. It engenders damage to farm crops, increases the competition for forage, and impairs watershed and recreational values. Correction of overstocking is difficult because of deeply rooted and often mistaken public sentiment for game protection. Public opinion with respect to game surpluses should be tempered by better understanding of wildlife needs and the limitations of the forest environment. Educational work, particularly among sportsmen, seems the most promising approach.

Insufficient technical knowledge also hampers wildlife management. There is not enough research on food and cover requirements and how to supply them. Much research has dealt with species injurious to forest or range—too little with problems of producing and harvesting wildlife crops. Although Federal agencies and the States will have to do most of this, the research facilities of universities, museums, and private organizations should be enlisted more effectively. Cooperative wildlife research units, now established in 13 States, need strengthening, and the program should be extended to many more States.

There is also a very important need to get capacity crops of game from public forest lands. To facilitate this, some public forests should be enlarged to include lands essential for wildlife management. This would open additional areas to the general public for hunting and fishing, especially east of the Plains where less than 1 acre per capita is available for such use. Some western national forests should be extended to include range badly needed to assure year-long feed for deer and elk.

The chief need, however, is more intensive management of public forests—which is the main way to get a greater contribution of all their products and services. In large part this is a matter of additional facilities to do a good wildlife-management job. But beyond that it involves more widespread adoption among public land-managing agencies of multiple-use management practices that seek not only to increase forest wildlife but also to utilize it effectively.

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Last Updated: 17-Mar-2010