Legislative History

Valentina Balatsenko

When looking at the history of deforestation in the United States, a good place to start is in the 1600’s, when roughly 46% of the country’s land area was covered in forests (Tom, 2016). By the early 1900’s, this number had dropped to 34% and then dropped again to 33% by the end of the century. The forest land that covers the country now is about 70% of the total number it was in the 1600’s. Early settlement and the beginning of the industrial revolution would lead to rapid deforestation in the country. 

Deforestation With the Beginning of the Industrial Revolution

With the excessive logging and overuse of timberlands in the United States occurring over roughly three centuries, the government introduced the The Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act of 1960 (16 U.S. Code). Through this act, the government intended to monitor the use of national parks in order to protect the forest land. This code would regulate national park land usage for recreation, wildlife, fish, and timber. This act would only apply to lands within federal national parks. A few years after the passing of this act, the government would see the creation of NEPA as a step further to protect national forests and land. 

National Environmental Policy Act

Signed into law on January 1st, 1970, this act requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions prior to making decisions (2020). Title 1 of the act states that the federal government must “use all practicable means to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony” (2020). 

National Forest Management Act

A few years after NEFA was signed into law, the National Forest Management Act was passed. Signed in 1976, this act aimed to manage forests sustainably, as well as provide reports on use of forests. This act stated that while the federal government would not directly regulate forest land that was owned privately or by local governments, it would “encourage and assist these owners in the efficient long-term use and improvement of these lands and their renewable resources consistent with the principles of sustained yield and multiple use” (National). 

More Acts Passed under the United States Forestry Service

The Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act was created as an effort to prevent soil erosion and help with reforestation, as well as aiming to preserve natural resources and wildlife (Laws). 

One of the earlier and most important acts passed in relation to deforestation was the Wilderness Act in 1964. This act aimed to leave some land in the country for preservation purposes, in spite of the growing population (Wilderness). This act took into consideration the growing economy and population, as well as the growing need for land for expansion, but recognized the necessity to leave some land designated for preservation of forests and wildlife.  

Paris Climate Agreement

An extremely recent development to this history is the creation of the Paris Climate Agreement that involved many countries around the world. At first, the United States did ratify it, but under Trump’s administration, the United States sent a notification of intention to withdraw from the Agreement. More updates regarding this topic will most likely be seen with the coming election. 

16 U.S. Code § 528 – Development and administration of renewable surface resources for multiple use and sustained yield of products and services; Congressional declaration of policy and purpose. (n.d.).

Laws, Regulations & Policies. (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2020, from https://www.fs.fed.us/forestmanagement/aboutus/lawsandregs.shtml

National Forest Management Act (NFMA)/Planning. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.fs.fed.us/emc/nfma/index.shtml

What is the National Environmental Policy Act? (2020, September 17). Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.epa.gov/nepa/what-national-environmental-policy-act 

Wilderness Connect. (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2020, from https://wilderness.net/learn-about-wilderness/key-laws/wilderness-act/default.php

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