Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act (1974)

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Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act (1974)

The Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act (RPA) was passed in response to the growing tension between the timber industry and environmentalists in the late 1960s and the early 1970s. These tensions can be traced to increased controversy over and restrictions on timber harvesting on the national forests, due especially to wilderness designations and study areas and clear-cutting . These environmental restrictions, coupled with a dramatic increase in the price of timber in 1969, made Congress receptive to timber industry demands for a steadier supply of timber. Numerous bills addressing timber supply were introduced and debated in Congress, but none passed due to strong environmental pressure. A task force appointed by President Richard Nixon, the President's Panel on Timber and the Environment, delivered its recommendations in 1973, but these were geared toward dramatically increased harvests from the national forests, and hence were also unacceptable to environmentalists.

One aspect of the various proposals that proved to be acceptable to all interested partiesthe timber industry, environmentalists, and the Forest Servicewas increased long-range resource planning. Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota drafted a bill creating such a program and helped guide it to passage in Congress. RPA planning is based on a two-stage process, with a document accompanying each stage. The first stage is called the Assessment, which is an inventory of the nation's forest and range resources (public and private). The second stage, which is based on the Assessment, is referred to as the Program. Based on the completed inventory, the Forest Service provides a plan for the use and development of the available resources. The Assessment is to be done every 10 years. A Program based on the Assessment will be completed every five years. This planning was to be done by interdisciplinary teams and to incorporate widespread public involvement.

The RPA was quite popular with the Forest Service since the plans generated through the process gave the agency a solid foundation to base its budget requests on, increasing the likelihood of increased funding. This has proved to be successful, as the Forest Service budget increased dramatically in 1977, and the agency fared much better than other resource agencies in the late twentieth century.

The RPA was amended by the National Forest Management Act of 1976. Based on this law, in addition to the broad national planning mandated in the 1974 law, an Assessment and Program was required for each unit of the national forest system. This has allowed the Forest Service to use the plans to help shield itself from criticism. Since these plans address all uses of the forests, and make budget recommendations for these uses, if Congress does not fund these recommendations, the Forest Service can point to Congress as the culprit. However, the plans have also been more visible targets for interest group criticism.

Overall, the RPA has met with mixed results. The Forest Service has received increased funds and the planning process has been expanded to each national forest unit, but planning at such a scale is a difficult task. The act has also led to increased controversy and to increased bureaucracy. Perhaps most importantly, planning cannot solve a problem based on conflicting values, commodity use versus forest preservation, which is at the heart of forest management policy.

See also Old-growth forest

[Christopher McGrory Klyza ]



Clary, D. A. Timber and the Forest Service. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1986.

Dana, S. T., and S. K. Fairfax. Forest and Range Policy. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1980.

Stairs, G. R., and T. E. Hamilton, eds. The RPA Process: Moving Along the Learning Curve. Durham, NC: Center for Resource and Environmental Policy Research, Duke University.