The U.S. Forest Service is an agency within the Department of Agriculture that manages and protects 154 national forests and 20 grasslands in 43 states and Puerto Rico. Managing 25 percent of federal lands, they are the only major national land agency outside the Department of the Interior. They employ around 40,000 people, including firefighters, law enforcement personnel, and scientists.
The Forest Service is the lead federal agency in natural resource conservation and provides leadership in the protection, management, and use of the nation’s forest, rangeland, and aquatic ecosystems. Through the 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.
Their everyday work includes resource extraction, resource protection, and providing recreation. It also includes managing national forests, grasslands, roadless areas, recreation sites, trails, roads, and harvesting trees.
Their mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands. Their motto is “caring for the land and serving the people”.
The U.S. Forest Service manages nine regions, which spans the entire United States.
- Northern—12 National Forests and 1 National Grassland
- Rocky Mountain—16 National Forests and 7 National Grasslands
- Southwestern—11 National Forests
- Intermountain—12 National Forests
- Pacific Southwest—18 National Forests and 1 Management Unit
- Southern—34 National Forests
- Eastern—17 National Forests, 1 Grassland and America’s Outdoors Center for Conservation, Recreation, and Resources
- Alaska—2 National Forests
Major divisions of the agency include the National Forest System, State and Private Forestry, Business Operations, and a Research and Development Branch.
Law Enforcement and Investigations
The U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations Unit (LEI) is responsible for enforcement of federal laws and regulations governing national forest lands and resources.
The concept of national forests came from Theodore Roosevelt’s conservation group, Boone and Crockett Club. In 1876, Congress created the Office of Special Agent in the Department of Agriculture to assess the quality and conditions of U.S. forests.
In 1881, the office 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 Interior. The Division of Forestry was renamed to the Bureau of Forestry in 1901.
It became the U.S. Forest Service when 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.
In February 2009, the Government Accountability Office evaluated whether the Forest Service should be moved from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of the Interior, which already has the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. So far, this change has yet to happen.