|There are five distinct eras in US public land and resource management.
1. Land Settlement phase (Homestead Act of 1862, etc.)
This first stage was characterized by an all out effort to settle and "reclaim" the nearly 1.8 billion acres of original public domain. Hundreds of laws were passed between 1785 and 1878 which were designed to encourage settlement and development of the public domain's vast timber, mineral and forage supplies.
Generally, this movement to the West was made with little thought or concern for the health of natural resources. As the turn of the century neared, forests were cleared, rivers and streams were dredged and dammed and public rangelands were broadly degraded.
2. Resource Conservation Ethic (Pinchot)
The Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt from 1901 to 1909 signaled the beginning of the nation's first period of public land stewardship. Ten years earlier, President Benjamin Harrison had started a forest reserve system and the Organic Act of 1897 legitimized the creation of federally managed forest reserves. President Roosevelt created the Forest Service and with its first chief, Gifford Pinchot, used the Organic Act to expand federal forest reserves to 148 million acres (about three-quarters of the present national forest system). Other public lands were withdrawn from settlement and established as National Parks, wildlife refuges, and military bases.
In addition, congress enacted a number of laws early in the twentieth century to expand federal control over use of public land and resources. These included the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 and The Taylor Grazing Act in 1934. During the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) helped to restore degraded public lands, expand recreational opportunities and construct much of the infrastructure still present on public lands.
The laws passed during this period promoted sustainable use of natural resources and reflected Gifford Pinchot's resource conservation ethic: national forests should be managed to serve the "greatest good, for the greatest number, for the longest time."
3. Post-War years (national growth and resource extraction following World War II.)
In 1946, the Grazing Service and the GLO(General Land Office) merged to become the Bureau of Land Management. This opened a new chapter in the history of public land administration in the US.
The need to provide materials for the war effort, followed by the desire of returning military personnel to have homes and raise families meant significant energy was focused on the production of minerals, livestock and most importantly, timber. Silvacultural practices favored large clear cut harvest blocks and a road network needed to move the trees to the mills which expanded timber production tremendously. Noncommodity amenities and values such as wilderness, aesthetics, and recreation were perceived as little more than constraints on the production of timber, forage, and minerals.
However, much of the Federal land resource agencies' emphasis during this time focused on balancing federal laws that protected or preserved specific environmental benefits or values "against" laws and congressional directives that emphasized commodity development and production. A philosophy of multiple use in administering public lands and resources was eventually adopted.
4. Environmental Protection (1960s-1980s era of environmental protection)
The passing of the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act in 1960 and Rachel Carson's publication of Silent Spring in 1962 came to symbolize the countries growing concern over environmental protection. The 1970 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) required public disclosure and citizen-involvement in federal land management actions.
Many other Federal acts protecting water, air, wilderness, wild rivers and endangered species clearly expressed the resolve of Congress and the public to protect noncommodity resources such as wildlife and fisheries, wilderness, clean water, recreation and esthetic values.
No longer could federal agencies manage public lands exclusively for livestock forage consumption, timber, and minerals production. Abiding by Pinchot's resource conservation ethic, while implementing often conflicting laws and regulations, has proven a formidable, and often controversial task for multiple use land management agencies.
5. Watershed restoration and reemergence of the land ethic (Present)
As we approach the year 2000, it has become increasingly clear that federal agencies cannot protect individual resources, be they endangered species or timber and forage, without managing them in the context of larger ecosystems. In the words of Aldo Leopold (1947):
"The practice of conservation must spring from a conviction of what is ethically and aesthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right only when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the community, and the community includes the soil, waters, fauna, and flora, as well as people."
Experience has proven Leopold correct in that multiple use agencies, such as the Forest Service and BLM, cannot meet the needs of people if they do not first secure the health, diversity and productivity of the land. As Callicott (1991) noted, "human beings are not specifically created and uniquely valuable demigods any more than nature itself is a vast emporium of goods and services. We are, rather, very much a part of nature.
As watershed health declines, lands become less productive, less resilient to natural events such as floods, drought, and fire; and prone to invasions of exotic species. In contrast, healthy watersheds provide habitat complexity and diversity, which helps to maintain species diversity. The lessons are deceptively simple. Higher diversity results in greater stability, resiliency, and higher productivity. In other words, biological diversity among communities of species can beget stability and productivity, which in turn provides society with potentially higher levels of goods and services from the land.
Ecosystem management has become the basis for contemporary Forest Service and BLM programs including watershed restoration. Emerging strategies for effective ecosystem management include integration of state and federal technical skills and involvement of communities to define and implement common approaches to management of watersheds.
It has been proven that Federal legislation alone will not be the remedy for watershed restoration in the future. Especially in an era of fiscal constraint, a truly comprehensive restoration strategy requires the active participation of all who use, value, and influence how watersheds work and function.
Collaborative Stewardship (as explained in "Healthy Streams Through Bringing People Together" - The National Riparian Service Team Mission Statement -1997)
There is growing agreement among people in the western United States as to the value and desirability of healthy streams and lakes and the need to accelerate restoration of degraded areas. Considerable disagreement exists among people however, about the existing conditions of riparian-wetland areas, about the types of uses that are appropriate, and about the treatments and tools that can be successfully employed to restore or maintain healthy riparian-wetland areas. Strongly held values and interests create polarity among user groups and interested people which is a major barrier to achieving healthy streams.
Given the many laws, regulations, and policies which exist to protect and enhance riparian-wetland areas, efforts at restoration and maintenance of health are often lost in process requirements. Red tape is a problem which is frequently cited as a barrier to effective, efficient restoration. To facilitate the goal of accelerating restoration the program is intended to demonstrate ways of complying with pertinent laws in a more efficient manner. Working collaboratively with the scope of interested parties offers one of the greatest opportunities for reducing process. There are also many technical and procedural changes which may enhance efficiency. The NRST and the riparian coordination network will be working to encourage and implement these changes, where appropriate.