A Conspiracy of Optimism: Management of the National Forests since World War Two

By Paul W. Hirt | Go to book overview

context of the long-range "Development Program for the National Forests." Otherwise annual budget requests generally remained subject to political constraints. (A new national forest planning act passed in 1974 -- discussed in greater detail in Chapter 11 -- attempted overtly but unsuccessfully to eliminate political constraints over Forest Service budget requests. The Reagan administration succeeded in firmly reestablishing political control.)


Conclusion

The eight-year reign of Democrats proved to be remarkably similar to the Eisenhower years regarding national forest management: intensive production of commodities with increased attention to recreation continued as the leitmotif of the 1960s. Recreation was popular and carried in its wake a form of indirect economic stimulation to rural communities that made it attractive to legislators. Because recreation fees generated little revenue, subsidies for recreational development (campgrounds, boat ramps, etc.) were substantial. Environmental groups and hunting and fishing organizations had gained clout in the political arena and successfully captured a share of the federal pie. This is not surprising. Recreation management is a form of development, requiring construction, maintenance, and federal expenditures in local economies. Recreationists liked it, local chambers of commerce grew to appreciate it, and the Forest Service fully supported it. Members of Congress could bring home the bacon and please a broad spectrum of constituents almost without negative repercussions (aside from the ecological ones, which did not much concern legislators), so long as recreation management did not interfere with other economically important resource development activities. The national forests were, after all, dedicated to "multiple use."

Accelerated recreation development coincided with an even more spectacular growth in the timber sales and road building budgets, however -- despite the fact that the actual volume of timber harvested climbed at a slower rate. Thus, the rise of recreation did not initiate any real redistribution of priorities or funding; it instead reflected continued government efforts to expand the overall resource pie through more intensive management and capital investment. Congress, in fact, failed to recognize that recreational development has a significant impact on forest ecosystems too, requiring even more mitigation efforts. Resource management activities associated with the maintenance of forest health and productivity continued

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