The Forest Service is a federal agency of the US Department of Agriculture established in 1905. It manages public lands in national forests and grasslands encompassing 193 million acres – equivalent to the size of Texas. The Forest Service is the largest forestry research organization in the world. Its motto is “caring for the land and serving people.”
According to the first Chief of the Forest Service Gifford Pinchot, the mission of Forest Service is “to provide the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people in the long run.” It is aimed at sustaining the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.
The Forest Service’s mission includes:
- Advocating for a conservation ethic in promoting the health, productivity, diversity, and beauty of forests and associated lands;
- Listening to people and responding to their diverse needs in making decisions;
- Protecting and managing the National Forests and Grasslands so they best demonstrate the sustainable multiple-use management concept;
- Providing technical and financial assistance to state and private forest landowners, encouraging them to practice good stewardship and quality land management in meeting their specific objectives;
- Providing technical and financial assistance to cities and communities to improve their natural environment by planting trees and caring for their forests;
- Providing international technical assistance and scientific exchanges to sustain and enhance global resources and to encourage quality land management.
- Helping states and communities to wisely use the forests to promote rural economic development and a quality rural environment;
- Developing and providing scientific and technical knowledge aimed at improving Forest Service’s capability to protect, manage, and use forests and rangelands.
- Providing work, training, and education to the unemployed, underemployed, elderly, youth, and disadvantaged in pursuit of Forest Service’s mission.
The Forest Service was established with the primary aim of providing quality water and timber for the Nation’s benefit. The agency was directed to manage national forests for the best combination of uses that benefit the American people and yielding renewable resources such as water, forage, wildlife, wood, and recreation. This is done by ensuring the productivity of the land and protecting the quality of the environment. National forests provide opportunities for recreation in open spaces and natural environments. Backpacking in remote, unroaded wilderness areas, mastering an all-terrain vehicle over a challenging trail, enjoying the views along a scenic byway, or fishing in a great trout stream are some of the activities that Americans enjoy.
National forests are becoming more important with more and more people living in urban areas. With over 30,000 employees nationwide, Forest Service administers programs for applying sound conservation and utilization practices to natural resources of the national forests and national grasslands. Forest Service promotes these practices on all forest lands through cooperation with states and private landowners, by carrying out extensive forest and range research. This agency provides technical and financial assistance to state and private forestry agencies. Forest Service managers help people share and enjoy the forest, while conserving the environment for the coming generations. They accomplish the agency’s mission primarily through the following five activities:
- Protection and management of natural resources on National Forest System lands.
- Research on all aspects of forestry, rangeland management, and forest resource utilization.
- Community assistance and cooperation with State and local governments, forest industries, and private landowners to help protect and manage non-Federal forest and associated range and watershed lands to improve conditions in rural areas.
- Achieving and supporting an effective workforce that reflects the full range of diversity of the American people.
- International assistance in formulating policy and coordinating U.S. support for the protection and sound management of the world’s forest resources.
Forest Services offices are organized on four levels:
- Ranger Districts: There are more than 600 ranger districts with a staff of 10 to 100 people in each district. Districts vary in size from 20,000 hectares to more than 400,000 hectares. The first point of contact with the Forest Service shall be the District Ranger and his or her staff. Many on-the-ground activities including trail construction and maintenance, operation of campgrounds, and management of vegetation and wildlife habitat occur on the ranger districts.
- National Forests: There are 155 national forests and 20 grasslands. Several ranger districts constitute a forest. The Forest Supervisor shall be in charge of a national forest. The headquarters of a national forest is called the Supervisor’s office. The rangers from the districts within a forest work for the Forest Supervisor. Activities between districts, allocating the budget, and providing technical support to each district are conducted at this level.
- Regions: A Regional Forester shall be in charge of each region. There are 9 regions; numbered 1 through 10 (Region 7 was eliminated a few years ago). These regions are wide geographic areas including several States. Forest Supervisors within a region report to the Regional Forester. The regional office coordinates activities between national forests. Its staff monitors activities on national forests to ensure quality operations. It provides guidance for forest plans, and allocates budgets to the forests.
- National Level: This level is commonly known as “Washington Office.” The Chief, a federal employee oversees the entire Forest Service. The Chief reports to the Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The staff of the Chief works with the President’s Administration to develop a budget for submission to Congress.
Public lands collectively known as the National Forest System, located in 44 States, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands are managed by the Forest Service. These lands amount to 8.5 percent of the total land area in the U.S. These lands are the source for some of the nation’s greatest assets having major economic, environmental, and social significance. Scientific and technical knowledge necessary to protect and sustain U.S.’s natural resources on all lands is provided by the Forest Service. The Forest Service conducts research through a network of forest and range experiment stations, and the Forest Products Laboratory. The Forest Service cooperates with State and local governments, forest industries, private landowners and forest users for proper management, protection, and development of non-federal forest land including cooperation in urban interface fire management and urban forestry. The agency provides leadership, direction, quality assurance, and customer service in carrying out agency business and human resource programs, such as Americorps, Job Corps, the Senior Community Service Employment Program, and the volunteer program. Forest Service hires, trains, evaluates, and promotes its employees; pays employees and contractors; acquires office space, equipment and supplies; and acquires, supports, and maintains the computer and communications technology necessary to ensure efficient and effective operations. The agency also plays a key role in formulating policy and coordinating U.S. support for the protection and management of the world’s forest resources. The Forest Service’s international work serves to link people and communities striving to protect and manage forests throughout the world.