At the turn of the century, the nationís newly created Forest Reserves were in the Department of the Interior. The General Land Office at that time soaked with fraud and incompetence had reponsibility for administering them. Meanwhile, what few foresters existed worked in the Division of Forestry, located in the Department of Agriculture. When Gifford Pinchot took over the tiny Division of eleven people in 1898, he resolved to bring forests and foresters together into what many then considered the more efficient and ethical Department of Agriculture.
On February 1, 1905, after considerable effort, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Act transferring the Nationís Forest Reserves from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture. That same day, Secretary of Agriculture James Wilson endorsed Gifford Pinchotís conservation philosophy of wise use and service to the American people. The Forest Reserves, later renamed the National Forests, were to be managed for the greatest good for the greatest number of people in the long run. Local questions were to be decided by local officials a philosophy that has made the Forest Service, relatively speaking, one of the most decentralized agencies in the Federal Government.
Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot were best friends. Their principles and philosophies helped mold Forest Service culture and values that have always aimed for conservation leadership, public service, responsiveness, integrity, a strong land ethic and professionalism.
Today the mission of the Forest Service is to care for the land and serve people, to help protect and administer forests and rangelands for this and future generations. National Forests and Grasslands are managed in cooperation with the States to help private landowners apply good forest practices on their lands and do research to find better ways to manage and use our natural resources.
The Forest Service is the largest and most diverse agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The agencyís 30,000 permanent full-time employees, plus summer employees, constitute the Governmentís major conservation branch.
Forest Service activities cover three major areas:
Management, protection, and use of the National Forest System, covering 191 million acres of land, for continuous flows of services and products both now and in the future.
Cooperation with State foresters, private forest and woodland owners, wood processors, and private and public agencies. This cooperation is designed to focus scientific management and utilization on forest resources to improve the quality and increase the quantity of goods and services produced from non-Federal forest lands.
Research in forestry and forest products utilization to support National Forest management and cooperative forestry programs, plus management of all the Nationís forests and rangelands in general.
The 155 National Forests, 19 National Grasslands, and 18 Land Utilization Projects that make up the National Forest System are located in 44 States, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. This land includes such diverse areas as mountain glacier fields, forests, range and grasslands, lakes and streams, and tropical rain forests.