The American West at Risk: Science, Myths, and Politics of Land Abuse and Recovery

By Howard G. Wilshire; Jane E. Nielson et al. | Go to book overview

Appendix 1
Conserving U.S. Public Lands:
A Chronology
Year(s)Event or Law
1781The states cede former “Indian territories” of British Colonial administration, west of the Appalachian Mountains, to “public domain,” making them the first public lands opened to settlement and development.
1803The United States purchases the Louisiana Territory from France, more than 800,000 square miles, extending from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains.
1862Congress passes the Homestead Act, granting 160 acres of public land to any individual or family for grazing and agriculture.
1865Yosemite Valley and a Hot Springs, Arkansas, site are removed from public domain to become national reserves, the seeds of the future national park system.
1872Congress designates Yellowstone the country’s first national park. The U.S. Army manages the park until formation of the National Park Service.
1872Congress passes the General Mining Law, granting free access for minerals prospecting on public domain lands to individuals and corporations and allowing for filing claims on any mineral deposit discovered. This law still governs mineral prospecting on extensive western tracts.
1878Colorado River explorer John Wesley Powell publishes his landmark “Report on the Lands of the Arid Region of the United States,” calling for careful resource management and prudent water conservation for proper settlement. The report does not envision massive reclamation projects to support large western populations.
1881Congress establishes the Bureau of Forestry in the Department of Agriculture (USDA), starting management and protection for American forests.

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