here to visit Utah's National Forests
after arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, the pioneers constructed
sawmills in the nearby canyons. Several Utah businessmen
prospered from these and other types of lumber operations
up to and until Utah logging reached its peak in 1880.
Unfortunately, this unregulated logging together with
overgrazing by livestock left many of Utah's mountain
slopes denuded. Consequently, between 1880 and 1884, Utah
became a net importer of lumber. By 1890, range and forest
deterioration had become critical.
In the long run, grazing on Utah's forests proved even
more damaging than did logging. The federal government
initially did little to effectively regulate the use of
grazing on forest land in the West until influential private
organizations and citizens provided the needed support.
The results were the Forest Reserve Act of 1891 and the
Organic Act of 1897, which authorized the president to
set aside forest reservations for the protection of timber
and watersheds. Responsibility for administering these
reserves rested with the General Land Office.
In 1905 Congress transferred responsibility for the reserves,
renamed national forests, to the newly created Forest
Service. Decentralization under the Forest Service led
to the creation of six administrative districts in 1908.
Utah fell under the Intermountain District (later renamed
Region), with its headquarters at Ogden, Utah.
Under the Organic Act, national forests could be designated
for the protection of timber or watersheds. Although the
first national forest in Utah--the Uinta--was extremely
large, covering parts of what are now three national forests,
most of the early national forests were quite small. After
1905, however, the Forest Service consolidated various
forests into larger units, a movement that accelerated
after World War II. Today Utah includes six national forests,
all located in mountainous or plateau regions. These include,
from north to south: Wasatch; Ashley; Uinta; Manti-LaSal;
Fishlake; and Dixie National Forest.
From the designation of the reserves until the 1950s,
grazing rather than timber production was the major commercial
activity for which they were used. Unfortunately, excessively
large numbers of cattle and sheep overgrazed the forests
and caused erosion and rock-mud floods into the nearby
valleys. Experiments at the Davis County Experimental
watershed developed means for rehabilitating the watersheds
and, after 1950, these measures plus aggressive reductions
in numbers of livestock permitted and the length of grazing
seasons facilitated the rehabilitation of the land.
After World War I, as lifestyles changed and people had
more leisure time, recreational activities increased.
The impact of the Depression also contributed in the decline
of timber sales and grazing permits. At the same time,
funds and personnel of the Civilian Conservation Corps
helped to substantially improve recreation areas in addition
to advancing erosion control, roads, trails, timber stands,
and administrative facilities in the national forests.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the National Forest Service
faced considerable difficulty as it began to implement
multiple-use management. This meant considering a variety
of activities in relation to one another including recreation,
grazing, timber management, watersheds, wildlife protection
and management, and mineral extraction.
Legislation and court rulings during the 1970s radically
reduced the Forest Service's discretion in making resource
management decisions. Under the federal acts of 1974 and
1976, planning required extensive public discussion. At
the same time, periodic budgetary reductions and resulting
staff shortages made proper management extremely difficult.
By the 1980s the Forest Service faced additional challenges.
The creation of new wilderness areas placed an additional
emphasis on recreation and watershed management. Pressure
from timber and grazing interests to increase cutting
permits and facilitate ranching operations epitomized
pressure from commodity interests. Often the public with
which the service had to deal could not agree on the mix
of activities to be followed on the various forests. In
the years to come we can expect that the one constant
will be increased pressure from many sources in their
demands on our national forests.
Thomas G. Alexander and Rick J. Fish