First Federal Timber Act Passed (1799)

Today the U. S. Forest Service oversees the management of about 232 million acres of our nation’s forests and related ecosystems.  But it had to start somewhere.  That starting point was the first federal law dealing with forestland—the Federal Timber Purchasers Act of February 25, 1799.

Sunset over Blackbeard Island National Wildlife Refuge (photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region)

The 1799 act gave the government authority to purchase wood and land to provide resources for the navy.  The primary target was the live oak, which grows in the southeastern U.S. and was highly coveted as a material for wooden ships—decking, framing for hulls and other needs that required large planks of wood.  The government purchased two islands off the Georgia coast—Blackbeard and Grover Islands.

The 1799 act was followed with an amendment in 1817 that authorized the government to buy a number of islands in Louisiana, also filled with live oak forest.  Another act, in 1827, reserved about 30,000 acres near Pensacola, Florida.  This was intended to be the first forest experiment station, where research into the silviculture of live oaks could be conducted.  Unfortunately, politics intervened and no research occurred.

New laws and new presidential decrees kept adding timber holdings to the lands reserved for their use to grow live oak for the navy.  Through 1860, about 200,000 acres of live oak forest had been set aside for conservation, to assure a steady supply of high quality live oak resources.  With the transition to steel-hulled and power ships after 1860, the need for these reserves declined, and over the next half century, all of the live oak reserves were sold off or turned to other purposes.  For example, the two original reserves were given new lives; the 5,600-acre Blackbeard Island is now a National Wildlife Refuge, and the much smaller Grover Island is now in private ownership.

Map of the U.S. National Forests and Grasslands (U..S. Forest Service)

From these early laws and commitments to conserving important forest lands came our current National Forest System.  Today, the U.S. Forest Service administers 283 separate units, composed of 154 national forests (97% of all their lands), 20 national grasslands (2%) and about 100 smaller units for various specialized purposes (1%).

Most federal forests are in the western U.S. (about 70%) and Alaska (10%).  Only about 20% of federal forests are in the eastern U.S.  The states holding the most federal forest land are California (24 million acres), Alaska (24), Idaho (22), Montana (19) and Oregon (17).  Several eastern states have no federal forest land (Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts and Rhode Island), and Connecticut has 23 acres.

References:

Sullivan, Buddy.  2003.  Blackbeard Island.  New Georgia Encyclopedia, July 17, 2003.  Available at:  https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/geography-environment/blackbeard-island.  Accessed February 15, 2018.

U.S. Forest Service. 2017.  Land Areas report (LAR) – as of September 30, 2017.  Available at:  https://www.fs.fed.us/land/staff/lar/LAR2017/lar2017index.html.  Accessed February 15, 2018.

Williams, Gerald W.  2003.  Private Property to Public Property:  The Beginnings of the National Forests in the South.  American Society for Environmental History, Providence, RI, March 26-30, 2003.  Accessed February 15, 2018

This Month in Conservation

February 1
Afobaka Dam and Operation Gwamba (1964)
February 2
Groundhog Day
February 3
George Adamson, African Lion Rehabilitator, Born (1906)
February 4
Congress Overrides President Reagan’s Veto of Clean Water Act (1987)
February 5
National Wildlife Federation Created (1936)
February 6
Colin Murdoch, Inventor of the Tranquilizer Gun, Born (1929)
February 7
Karl August Mobius, Ecology Pioneer, Born (1825)
February 8
President Johnson Addresses Congress about Conservation (1965)
February 8
Lisa Perez Jackson, Environmental Leader, Born (1982)
February 9
U.S. Fish Commission Created (1871)
February 10
Frances Moore Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet, born (1944)
February 11
International Day of Women and Girls in Science
February 12
Judge Boldt Affirms Native American Fishing Rights (1974)
February 13
Thomas Malthus Born (1766)
February 14
Nature’s Faithful Lovers
February 15
Complete Human Genome Published (2001)
February 16
Kyoto Protocol, Controlling Greenhouse-Gas Emissions, Begins (2005)
February 16
Alvaro Uglade, Father of Costa Rica’s National Parks, Born (1946)
February 17
Sombath Somphone, Laotian Environmentalist, Born (1952)
February 17
R. A. Fischer, Statistician, Born (1890)
February 18
Julia Butterfly Hill, Tree-Sitter, Born (1974)
February 18
World Pangolin Day
February 19
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial Established (1962)
February 20
Ansel Adams, Nature Photographer, Born (1902)
February 21
Carolina Parakeet Goes Extinct (1918)
February 22
Nile Day
February 23
Italy’s Largest Inland Oil Spill (2010)
February 24
Joseph Banks, British Botanist, Born (1743)
February 25
First Federal Timber Act Passed (1799)
February 26
Four National Parks Established (1917-1929)
February 27
International Polar Bear Day
February 28
Watson and Crick Discover The Double Helix (1953)
February 29
Nature’s Famous Leapers
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