As Idaho grew, so did laws and policies about forests

Key policies and laws over time

Unlike national parks, created primarily to preserve natural beauty and outdoor recreation, our national forests were working forests established to provide timber and water for the nation’s benefit.  Federal laws and policies outline how national forests are used and managed.

An early 1900s view of the mountains around Henry’s Lake, near Island Park, Idaho, and a working sawmill.  Photo courtesy of the Idaho Historical Society digital archive.   

As Idaho’s population grew, so too did laws and policies to protect the forest.

The Late 19th century

In the late 1800s, as populations migrated westward, the federal government took steps to protect forests. In 1876, the US Department of Agriculture created a special agent to assess the quality and condition of the forests in the US. Five years later, a Division of Forestry was created.  In 1891, the Forest Reserve Act placed western public lands into “forest Reserves” under the US Department of Interior and in 1897 the Organic Act established that the purpose of national forest reserves was to improve and protect forests and water flows and to provide a continuous supply of timber for citizens.  

The entrance to the Grandjean Forest Camp in the Boise National Forest circa 1960s.  Photo courtesy of Idaho Historical Society digital archive. 

The 20th century

At the turn of the 20th century, conflicts between competing forest users led to laws focused on specific interests. By the 1960s and 1970s, numerous environmental laws passed that vastly changed how federal lands were managed and increased public involvement in the decision making process

Bitter conflicts and litigation over forest use in the 1980s-1990s involved a range of issues from spotted owls, old growth, fire and wilderness.  This conflict set the stage for President Clinton’s

1994 Northwest Forest Plan that re-designated forest use and established a new ecosystem approach to resource management on federal lands.  Policies from this time drastically reduced timber harvest, resulting today in dense forests that are less resilient to drought, disease and changes in climate and fire.

The Early 21st century

In the 2000s, the roadless rule prohibited road construction, road reconstruction and timber harvesting on 58.5 million acres of inventoried roadless areas on national forest lands. Another 9.3 million acres, including 6.9 million forest land acres, was designated in 2008 in Idaho.

Read Critical Choices for OUR Forests: Background and management of National Forests in Idaho here.