A national forest is forest land owned and administered by a national government. Mandates designating national forest ownership, administration and the distribution of benefits vary greatly around the world. Some nations (e.g. Canada) retain little or no national forest, delegating public land ownership to regional provinces or communities. Other nations (e.g. Albania and other formerly Communist States) retain all public forests as national forests. In many former colonies, national forest administration is patterned after that of the colonizing nation, and lands now comprising national forests were appropriated from indigenous peoples . In all cases, the term national forest refers to a type of state (i.e. government) property and must not be confused with forests that are owned as common property (i.e. private forest owned by a group) or private property. The precepts of modern national forests originated in early eighteenth century France and Germany where feudal lords set aside forests to preserve hunting grounds. National forest administration stems from this tradition of managing the forests for the direct benefit of central government authorities.
As in several nations in Southeast Asia, national forests in Indonesia comprise the vast majority of national territory, and colonial-style legal and organizational structures continue to dominate management. Forests are centrally administered by the State Forest Corporation with provinces given some authority over harvesting and marketing. Shared government and private party forestry successions are common. Indonesia derives a substantial portion of national income from timber production and has been charged with excluding the concerns of indigenous peoples from management decision.
In 1957 the government of Nepal nationalized all forested land, the majority of which was previously managed as community common property. This act resulted in the breakdown of community management systems and accelerated deforestation and forest degradation. The Forest Act of 1992 seeks to reverse these trends and divides national forests into five classes: community forests (managed by community user groups); leasehold forests (leased to private entities for timber production); government managed forests (retained by government for national purposes); protection forests (managed by government for environmental protection); and religious forests.
In the United States the term national forest refers to specific federal land units that are administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service (USDAFS). The USDAFS currently administers 156 national forests entailing 223 million acres and covering about one-tenth of the nation's land area. Establishment of these forests beginning in 1903 was largely a response to growing public fears of timber famine , wildfires, flooding , depleted wildlife populations, and damage to the beauty of the national landscape. National forest management is governed by federal law and edicts from the executive branch of government. The USDAFS is currently mandated to: 1) manage forests for multiple uses (wood, water, recreation , wildlife, and wilderness in perpetuity); 2) protect the habitats of endangered species ;3) impartially serve the public interest in choosing between management alternatives. National forests have been the focus of great conflict since the 1960s when the environmental movement began challenging USDAFS actions. Recent legislation, and numerous federal court decisions, have resulted in greater integration of public opinion into the USDAFS decision-making process.
[T. Anderson White ]
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