Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act (1960)

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Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act (1960)

On June 12, 1960, Congress passed the Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act, designed to prevent the obliteration of national forests by logging and water reclamation projects. This law officially mandated the management of national forests to "best meet the needs of the American people." The forests were to be used not primarily for economic gain, but for a balanced combination of "outdoor recreation , range, timber, watershed , and wildlife and fish purposes."

The Multiple Use Act emerged from a strong history of diverse uses of the federal reserves. Early settlers assumed access to and free use of public lands. The text of the Sundry Civil Act of 1897 mandated that no public forest reservation was to be established except to improve and protect forests and water flow. The act also provided for free use of timber and stone and of all reservation waters by miners and residents. The Act of February 28, 1899, strengthened use policy by providing for recreational use of the reserves.

When the reserves were transferred from the General Land Office to the Bureau of Forestry, the Secretary of Agriculture signed a letter (actually written by Gifford Pinchot ) dictating formal forest policy: "all the resources of the forest reserves are for use... you will see to it that the water, wood, and forage of the reserves are conserved and wisely used." The first and subsequent editions of the Use Book an extensive guide to management and use of national forest landsstated concisely that the aim of Forest Service policy was that "the timber, water, pasture, mineral and other resources of the forest reserves are for the use of the people."

The first use of the term "multiple use" appears to be in two Forest Service reports of 1933. That year's chief's report reaffirmed that the "principle to govern the use of multiple-purpose use." The "National Plan for American Forestry" (the Copeland Report) emphasized that "the peculiar and highly important multiple use characteristics of forest land [involve] five major uses--timber production, watershed protection, recreation, production of forage, and conservation of wildlife."

Multiple use has always been controversial. Some critics argued that multiple uses meant that the Forest Service was losing sight of its original protective function: a 1927 article in the Outlook claimed that "the Forest Service will have to be called from its enthusiasm for entertaining visitors to the original but more somber work of forestry." Many similar statements can be identified. A writer in the Journal of Forestry in 1946 went so far as to propose separating all the lands in each use class, consolidating each type into a separate bureau under one cabinet officer. The Sierra Club proposed a vast land exchange in 1959, hoping to move scenic areas out of the Forest Service and into the U.S. Department of the Interior .

Critics have argued, and feel that subsequent policy and events on the ground bear them out, that the Multiple Use Act did not reduce confusion because it did not eliminate water and timber as priority uses. Proponents of the act feel that it did give statutory authority to all uses as equal to timber and did give the other four uses more stature and visibility .

See also Bureau of Land Management; Commercial fishing; Public Lands Council

[Gerald L. Young Ph.D. ]



Bowes, M. D., and J. V. Krutilla. Multiple-Use Management: The Economics of Public Forestlands. Washington, DC: Resources for the Future, 1989.

Frederick, K. D., and R. A. Sedjo, eds. America's Renewable Resources: Historical Trends and Current Challenges. Washington, DC: Resources for the Future, 1991.

Steen, H. K. "Multiple Use: The Greatest Good of the Greatest Number" and "Multiple Use Tested: An Environmental Epilogue." In The United States Forest Service: A History. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1976.