Creation of the US Forest Service

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"Men at Kooskia, Idaho," 1907. An early headquarters for Forest Rangers who explored the Bitterroot region of Idaho and Montana. Courtesy of the University of Montana - Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library via Big Sky Country Digital Network.

Alarm over aggressive logging practices and land use encouraged Congress to step in and pass the Forest Reserve Act of 1891. Fifteen forest reserves were formed as a result of this legislation. By 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt signed an act that transferred the management of these protected lands to a bureau that eventually came to be known as the US Forest Service.

The US Forest Service was tasked with the long-term conservation of timberland resources. Logging companies were required to seek permission and follow regulations in order to log within national forests. Many loggers, miners, and ranchers protested the new restrictions placed on western public lands by eastern politicians.

A devastating series of forest fires swept over Washington, Idaho, and Montana in the summer of 1910, culminating on August 20 and 21 in what would later be called the "Big Blowup." Only five years after the US Forest Service’s founding, this event deeply influenced the early direction of the agency. Forest Service chiefs and other leaders and advocates for particular approaches to fire protection were directly involved in the Big Blowup. It pushed forest fire issues into the public discourse, and led to new fire prevention and suppression policies that continue to influence fire management around the world.