In 1960 the Forest Service was charged by law with management of the national forests according to a philosophy of sustained yield and multiple use: production of timber, preservation of fish and wildlife habitat, watershed maintenance, mining, grazing, and recreation. In 1964, however, demand for timber led the Forest Service to adopt the practice of clearcutting used also by the commercial timber industry. Vast forest tracts are stripped of all trees, leaving an unsightly bald area. Environmentalists claim that clearcut areas are liable to insect infestation, landslides, and erosion, and that runoff causes siltation of neighboring streams and spoils fish spawning grounds. Environmentalists have also decried the ecologically disruptive effects of strip mining and overgrazing in the national forests and have urged restoration of blighted areas and more equitable multiple-use management in the future. In particular, emphasis has been placed on managing the forests in terms of broad concepts of land use and environmental quality. Like other federal agencies, the Forest Service must now assess the environmental impact of proposed actions, such as building new roads through the forests or granting rights to drill for oil or mine for coal and other minerals (see environmental impact statement; environmentalism).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.