On September 10, AMERICAN FORESTS marks 125 years of working on behalf of trees and forests. Our rich history has touched three centuries, beginning in 1875 with a gathering of citizens concerned about the waste of our nation's treasured forests. Throughout the years the organization has counted among its officers and supporters the likes of both Franklin and Teddy Roosevelt and Itzhak Perlman (for 125 such famous names, see www.americanforests.org).
Our work in support of trees and forests includes leadership on forest conservation issues such as the move to set aside national forest and park land, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and urban forestry. Underlying our policy work has been the basic act of tree planting, from our early days, which set the tradition of planting a tree for every groundbreaking, memorial, or celebration, to our present Global ReLeaf education and action campaign. We're proud this seminal objective is still at the forefront of our efforts, not only because tree planting is a simple yet significant environmental action, but because planting puts the people in forest conservation. In the following pages we present a timeline of our accomplishments and a look at the issues of our past and future.
When physician and horticulturist John Aston Warder and like-minded individuals met in Chicago in 1875 and founded AMERICAN FORESTS (then called the American Forestry Association), it was for the purpose of protecting "the existing forests of the country from unnecessary waste and abuse" and "for the propagation and planting of useful trees." New science has changed the specifics, but these objectives still hold as we develop a new ethic for forest conservation in the 21st century. Put simply, AMERICAN FORESTS is about people, policy, and planting.
With so little being done for trees nationally in the 19th century, AMERICAN FORESTS initially focused on changing public policy. After gathering information on the state of the nation's forest resource, we focused our advocacy on a comprehensive plan for forest protection and management. An 1897 study we persuaded the Secretary of the Interior to commission from the National Academy of Sciences pointed out the need to create and manage forest reserves. This led to passage of the Forest Reserve Act, the beginning of the national forest system. State forests and agencies followed.
At the second American Forest Congress in January 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt hosted conferees at a White House reception. A report in our magazine, then called Forestry and Irrigation, described the goal as: "to stimulate and unite all efforts to perpetuate the forest as a permanent resource of the nation." The US Forest Service was launched just one month later. (AMERICAN FORESTS has been a sponsor of subsequent Congresses, including the most recent, Seventh American Forest Congress, held in 1996.) Among the resolutions adopted by the 1905 Congress was having California convey Yosemite Park for national park status and acquiring Calavaras Grove of Big Trees.
AMERICAN FORESTS advocated for the protection and creation of national parks, including Grand Canyon and Everglades, and defended these lands from threats to their integrity. A January 1921 editorial warned that national parks "set aside as permanent recreation grounds for the people of the entire country" were being threatened by "commercial invasions" from two sources. First, a provision in the Federal Water Power Act allowed the issuance of licenses to build and operate dams and reservoirs in national parks and monuments on the same basis as those in the national forests. The second threat was irrigation interests.
"... the greatest value of the National Parks lies in the very fact that they are consecrated to recreational, esthetic, and scientific ends to the exclusion of those commercial activities which elsewhere rule supreme" the editorial warned. …