Sustainability is a popular catchword these days, used in policy debates to focus attention on the question of what will happen to the future quality of the resource base and its ability to support economic growth. Continued growth of the population and of per capita consumption of the world's resources makes the concept of sustainability increasingly attractive as a guide for future development policies, and increasingly contentious as an issue in debates between prodevelopment and anti-development forces.
Responsibility for understanding the effects of development on the nation's renewable resources falls to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as provided by the terms of the Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974 (RPA) and the Resources Conservation Act of 1977 (RCA). The RPA requires "an analysis of the present and anticipated uses, demand for, and supply of the renewable resources of forest, range, and other associated lands" every ten years, while the RCA requires "a continuing appraisal of the soil, water, and related resources of the Nation . . . including fish and wildlife habitat."
In contrast to the future orientation of these acts, this book provides a historical examination of the use and management of the nation's water, forest, range- land, soil and cropland, and wildlife resources. For each of these renewable resources, the book describes in sweeping terms how the quantity and quality of the resource base has changed over the last century, and how the management of these resources has contributed to the changes. As such, it is a record of one country's experience with the ingredients of sustainability that will be instructive in managing future demands on the resource base, in the United States as well as in other parts of the world.
By limiting its attention to renewable resources, moreover, the book concentrates on that part of the resource base that is most amenable to sustainability. Renewability suggests that the resources under consideration have a natural capacity to replace themselves, although the time frame in some cases can be very long, so that one can naturally think in terms of a balance in the use of these resources that will maintain their continued productivity. Finding that balance is critical to sustainable development, particularly when considering the potential of the resources to provide for multiple uses.
This book also demonstrates the importance of social institutions to the proper management of the nation's resources. Sustainability is not possible without management, and management is not possible without a compatible set of institutions that establish the