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The United States Forest Service is an agency of the United States Department of Agriculturemarker that administers the nation's 155 national forests and 20 national grasslands, which encompass 193 million acres. Major divisions of the agency include the National Forest System, State and Private Forestry, and the Research and Development branch.


In 1876, Congress created the office of Special Agent in the Department of Agriculture to assess the quality and conditions of forests in the United States. Franklin B. Hough was appointed the head of the office. In 1881, the office was expanded into the newly-formed Division of Forestry. The Forest Reserve Act of 1891 authorized withdrawing land from the public domain as "forest reserves," managed by the Department of the Interiormarker. In 1901, the Division of Forestry was renamed the Bureau of Forestry. The Transfer Act of 1905 transferred the management of forest reserves from the General Land Office of the Interior Department to the Bureau of Forestry, henceforth known as the US Forest Service. Gifford Pinchot was the first Chief Forester of the United States Forest Service.

Significant federal legislation affecting the Forest Service includes the Multiple Use - Sustained Yield Act of 1960, P.L. 86-517; the Wilderness Act, P.L. 88-577; the National Forest Management Act, P.L. 94-588; the National Environmental Policy Act, P.L. 91-190; the Cooperative Forestry Assistance Act, P.L. 95-313; and the Forest and Rangelands Renewable Resources Planning Act, P.L. 95-307.

In March 2008, the House Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies asked the GAO to evaluate whether the Forest Service should be moved from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of the Interior, which already includes the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management, managing some of public land.



As of 2009, the Forest Service has a total budget authority of $5.5 billion, of which 42% is spent fighting fires. The Forest Service employs 34,250 employees in 750 locations, including 10,050 firefighters, 737 law enforcement personnel, and 500 scientists.

The mission of the Forest Service is "To sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations." Its motto is "Caring for the land and serving people." As the lead Federal agency in natural resource conservation, the US Forest Service provides leadership in the protection, management, and use of the Nation’s forest, rangeland, and aquatic ecosystems. The agency's ecosystem approach to management integrates ecological, economic, and social factors to maintain and enhance the quality of the environment to meet current and future needs. Through implementation of land and resource management plans, the agency ensures sustainable ecosystems by restoring and maintaining species diversity and ecological productivity that helps provide recreation, water, timber, minerals, fish, wildlife, wilderness, and aesthetic values for current and future generations of people.

The everyday work of the Forest Service balances resource extraction, resource protection, and providing recreation. The work includes managing of national forest and grasslands, including of roadless areas; 14,077 recreation sites; of trails; of roads; and the harvesting of 1.5 billion trees per year. Further, the Forest Service fought fires on of land.

The Forest Service organization includes ranger districts, national forests, regions, research stations and research work units and the Northeastern Area Office for State and Private Forestry. Each level has responsibility for a variety of functions.


The Chief of the Forest Service is a career Federal employee who oversees the entire agency. The Chief reports to the Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), an appointee of the President confirmed by the Senate. The Chief’s staff provides broad policy and direction for the agency, works with the Administration to develop a budget to submit to Congress, provides information to Congress on accomplishments, and monitors activities of the agency. There are five deputy chiefs for the following areas: National Forest System, State and Private Forestry, Research and Development, Business Operations and Programs and Legislation.

Research Stations and Research Work Units

The Forest Service’s Research and Development organization includes five research stations, the Forest Products Laboratory, and the International Institute of Tropical Forestry. Station directors, like regional foresters, report to the Chief. Research stations include Northern, Pacific Northwest, Pacific Southwest, Rocky Mountain, and Southern. There are 92 research work units located at 67 sites throughout the United States.


There are 9 regions in the USDA Forest Service; numbered 1 through 10 (Region 7 was eliminatedin 1965 when the current Eastern Region was created from the former Eastern andNorth Central regions.). Each encompassing a broad geographic area, and headed by a regional forester who reports directly to the Chief. The regional forester has broad responsibility for coordinating activities among the various forests within the region, for providing overall leadership for regional natural resource and social programs, and for coordinated regional land use planning.
  • Northern Region: based in Missoula, Montanamarker, the northern Region (R1) covers five states (Montana, Northern Idaho, North Dakota, Northwestern South Dakota and Northwestern Wyoming), fourteen National Forests and one National Grassland.
  • Rocky Mountain: based in Golden, Coloradomarker, the Rocky Mountain Region (R2) covers five states (Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas and most of Wyoming and South Dakota), sixteen National Forests and seven National Grasslands.
  • Southwestern: based in Albuquerque, New Mexicomarker, the Southwestern Region (R3) covers two states (New Mexico and Arizona) and twelve National Forests.
  • Intermountain: based in Ogden, Utahmarker, the Intermountain Region (R4) covers four states (Southern Idaho, Nevada, Utah and Western Wyoming), nineteen national forests.
  • Pacific Southwest: based in Vallejo, Californiamarker, The Pacific Southwest Region (R5) covers two states (California and Hawaii), Eighteen National Forests and one Management Unit.
  • Pacific Northwest: based in Portland, Oregonmarker the Pacific Northwest Region (R6) covers two states (Washington and Oregon), 21 National Forests and one National Scenic Area.
  • Southern: based in Atlanta, Georgiamarker, the Southern Region (R8) covers thirteen states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Oklahoma and Virginia; and Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands), and thirty four National Forests.
  • Eastern: based in Milwaukee, Wisconsinmarker, the Eastern Region (R9) covers twenty states (Maine, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Indiana, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and New jersey), seventeen National Forests, one Grassland and America’s Outdoors Center for Conservation, Recreation, and Resources.
  • Alaska: based in Juneau, Alaskamarker, the Alaska Region (R10) covers one state (Alaska), two National Forests.

National Forest or Grassland

The Forest Service oversees 155 national forests and 20 grasslands. Each administrative unit typically comprises several ranger districts, under the overall direction of a forest supervisor. Within the supervisor's office, the staff coordinates activities among districts, allocates the budget, and provides technical support to each district. Forest supervisors are line officers and report to regional foresters.

See also: List of U.S. National Forests, United States National Grassland

Ranger District

The Forest Service has more than 600 ranger districts. Each district has a staff of 10 to 100 people under the direction of a district ranger, a line officer who reports to a forest supervisor. The districts vary in size from 50,000 acres to more than 1 million acres. Most on-the-ground activities occur on ranger districts, including trail construction and maintenance, operation of campgrounds, and management of vegetation and wildlife habitat.

Major Divisions

Law Enforcement & Investigations

A horse patrol of the Law Enforcement & Investigations unit.

The U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement & Investigations unit (LEI), headquartered in Washington, D.C., is a federal law enforcement agency of the U.S. government. It is responsible for enforcement of federal laws and regulations governing national forest lands and resources. All Law Enforcement Officers and Special Agents Receive their training through Federal Law Enforcement Training Center marker. As the Name implies this division's operations are divided into two major functional areas; Law Enforcement: uniformed high visibility enforcement of laws and Investigations: special agents who investigate crimes against property, visitors and employees.

Uniformed Law Enforcement Officers (LEO) enforce Federal laws and regulations governing National Forest Lands and resources. As part of that mission LEO'S carry firearms, defensive equipment, make arrests, execute search warrants, complete reports and testify in court. They establish a regular and recurring presence on a vast amount of public lands, roads, and recreation sites. The primary focus of their jobs is the protection of natural resources, protection of Forest Service employees and the protection of visitors. They use Mounted patrols, K-9s, Helicopters, snowmobiles, Dirt Bikes and Boats to dispense their duties.

Special Agents are criminal investigators who plan and conduct investigations concerning possible violations of criminal and administrative provisions of the Forest Service and other statues under the United States Code. Special agents are normally plain clothes officers who carry concealed firearms, and other defensive equipment, make arrests, carry out complex criminal investigations, present cases for prosecution to U.S. Attorneys, and prepare investigative reports. All field agents are required to travel a great deal and usually maintain a case load of ten to fifteen ongoing criminal investigations at one time. Criminal investigators occasionally conduct internal and civil claim investigations.

National Forest System

The 193 million acres of public land that are managed as national forests and grasslands are collectively known as the National Forest System. These lands are located in 44 States, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands and comprise about 9 percent of the total land area in the United States. The lands are organized into 155 national forests and 20 national grasslands. The mission of the National Forest System is to protect and manage the so they best demonstrate the sustainable multiple-use management concept, using an ecological approach, to meet the diverse needs of people.

State and Private Forestry

The mission of the State and Private Forestry program is to provide technical and financial assistance to private landowners, state agencies, tribes, and community resource managers to help sustain the Nation’s urban andrural forests and to protect communities and the environment from wildland fires, insects, disease, and invasive plants. The program employs approximately 537 staff located at 17 sites throughout the country. The delivery of the State and Private Forestry program is carried out by eight National Forest System regions and the Northeastern Area.

Research and Development

The research and development (R&D) arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service works to improve the health and use of the United States' forests and grasslands. Research has been part of the Forest Service mission since the agency's inception in 1905. Today, Forest Service researchers work in a range of biological, physical, and social science fields to promote sustainable management of Nation's diverse forests and rangelands. Research employs about 550 scientists and several hundred technical and support staff, located at 67 sites throughout the United States and in Puerto Rico. Discovery and technology development and transfer is carried out through seven research stations.

Research work has a steady focus on informing policy and land management decisions, whether it addresses invasive insects, degraded river ecosystems, or sustainable ways to harvest forest products. The researchers work independently and with a range of partners, including other agencies, academia, nonprofit groups, and industry. The information and technology produced through basic and applied science programs is available to the public for its benefit and use.

International Programs

International Programs of the Forest Service promotes sustainable land management overseas and brings important technologies and innovations back to the United States. The program focuses on conserving key natural resource in cooperation with countries across the world.


More than 80% of the 193 million acres (780,000 km²) of land managed by the National Forest Service is in the western states.
This map shows NFS lands as a percentage of total land area in each state.

Although a large volume of timber is logged every year, not all National Forests are entirely forested. There are tidewater glaciers in the Tongass National Forestmarker in Alaskamarker and ski areas such as Alta, Utahmarker in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest. In addition, the Forest Service is responsible for managing National Grasslands in the midwest. Furthermore, areas designated as wilderness by acts of Congress, prohibit logging, mining, road and building construction and land leases for purposes of farming and or livestock grazing.

Since 1978, several Presidents have directed the USFS to administer National Monuments inside of preexisting National Forests.

The Forest Service also manages Grey Towers National Historic Sitemarker in Milford, Pennsylvaniamarker, the home and estate of its first Chief, Gifford Pinchot.

Fighting fires

In August 1944, to reduce the number of forest fires, the Forest Service and the Wartime Advertising Council began distributing fire education posters featuring a Black Bear. The poster campaign was a success; the Black Bear would later be named "Smokey Bear," and would, for decades, be the "spokesbear" for the Forest Service. Smokey Bear has appeared in untold TV commercials; his popular catch phrase, "Only YOU can prevent forest fires", is one of the most widely recognized slogans in the United States. A recent study found that 95% of the people surveyed could complete the phrase when given the first few words.

In September 2000, the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior developed a plan to respond tothe fires of 2000, to reduce the impacts of these wildland fires on rural communities, and to ensuresufficient firefighting resources in the future. The report is entitled "Managing the Impacts of Wildfire onCommunities and the Environment: A Report to the President In Response to the Wildfires of 2000"—The National Fire Plan for short. The National Fire Plan continues to be an integral part of the ForestService today. The following are important operational features of the National Fire Plan:
  • Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy: The 1995 Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy and the subsequent 2001 Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy act as the foundation of the National Fire Plan.
  • Basic Premise of the National Fire Plan: Investing now in an optimal firefighting force, hazardous fuels reduction, and overall community protection will provide for immediate protection and future cost savings.
  • Funding: Initially (2001), the National Fire Plan provided for an additional $1,100,994,000 for the Forest Service for a total wildland fire management budget of $1,910,193,000. In 2008, the total amount for the Forest Service in wildland fire management (not including emergency fire suppression funding) is $1,974,276,000.


Although part of the Department of Agriculture, the Forest Service receives itsbudget through the Subcommittee on Appropriations—Interior, Environment, andRelated Agencies.

Forest Service Appropriations, FYs 2006–2008

Appropriations Title (Dollars in thousands) FY 2006 FY 2007 FY 2008
Research $277,711 277,711 280,488
State and Private Forestry 308,966 308,966 279,961
National Forest System 1,455,646 1,455,646 1,452,729
Wildland Fire Management 1,846,091 1,846,091 2,193,603
Capital Improvement and Maintenance 438,334 436,400 488,768
Land Acquisition 43,056 46,667 43,091
Other Appropriations 8,618 7,948 8,779
Subtotal, Discretionary Appropriations * 4,377,972 4,697,796 5,039,428
Subtotal, Mandatory Appropriations 795,170 721,068 767,215
Total Forest Service $5,173,142 5,418,864 5,806,643
* Discretionary Appropriations includes Regular Appropriations plus Supplemental and Emergency Appropriations.


The history of the Forest Service has been fraught with controversy, as various interests and national values have grappled with the appropriate management of the many resources within the forests. These values and resources include grazing, timber, mining, recreation, wildlife habitat, and wilderness. Because of continuing development elsewhere, the large size of National Forests have made them de facto wildlife reserves for a number of rare and common species. In recent decades, the importance of mature forest for the spotted owl and a number of other species led to great changes in timber harvest levels.

In certain fire-adapted ecosystems the ensuing decades of fire suppression unintentionally caused a buildup of fuels that replaced the historically natural fire regime of slow-burning, relatively cool fires with fast-burning, relatively hot wildfires in the fire-adapted forest lands across the nation.

In the 1990s, the agency was involved in scandal when it illegally provided surplus military aircraft to private contractors for use as airtankers. (See U.S. Forest Service airtanker scandal.)

Another controversial issue is the policy on road building within the National Forests. In 1999 President Clinton ordered a temporary moratorium on new road construction in the National Forests to "assess their ecological, economic, and social values and to evaluate long-term options for their management." [7060] Five and half years later the Bush administration replaced this with a system where each state could petition the Forest Service to open forests in their territory to road building.

Some years the agency actually loses money on its timber sales.

See also


  1. Christopher Lee, "Forest Service May Move to Interior: Some See Agency As Out of Place Under the USDA", Washington Post, March 25, 2008
  2. Per Chris Risbrudt, Director Forest Products Laboratory, September 2008
  3. The Land We Cared for… A History of the Forest Service’s Eastern Region. 1997, Conrad, David E., Forest Service.
  4. Western States Data Public Land Acreage

External links

Management arm

Research arm

History sources

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