American Forests’ Rich Legacy Shapes the Future of Forestry
By Jad Daley
OUR ROOTS RUN DEEP. In the early 1900s, we rallied forest advocates across the country to champion the creation of the
U.S Forest Service and the network of national forests that now span nearly 190 million acres. In the 1930s, we helped create jobs for half a million Americans, many of whom helped to plant 3 billion trees. And, in the 1970s, we helped shape the guidelines for managing America’s national forests.
These are just some of the moments in our 145-year history that transformed a seed of inspiration into a towering legacy, much like an old-growth tree. The achievements and lessons learned from how we reached them shape our thinking about what we can and should do over the next 145 years. And beyond.
The challenges we face today are different from those we faced when we were founded in 1875 as the American Forestry Association by a small group of concerned citizens in Chicago. In our early days, the challenges were mostly created by people — people who did not know how to manage forests responsibly and others who did not have the skills to properly govern our national forests. As a result, the tragedy of the commons played out in many of our country’s forests.
Today, our greatest challenges are driven by natural foes, such as forest pests, tree diseases and wildfires — many of which are intensified by climate change. And we have new challenges that come with a growing population, such as the imperative to plant trees in marginalized city neighborhoods and the need to engage the next generation in forestry careers so we have enough people to care for our forests.
Despite the differing challenges, to solve them we need to show the same level of servant leadership today as we did during our early years. And we need to collaborate just as much, if not more, with our allies and people from across the aisle.
We know from our experience that’s how movements are built.
America is perhaps hungrier now for a forest conservation movement than ever before. Climate change. Urban sprawl. Agricultural expansion. These things — and more — threaten the forests we all rely on to survive and thrive. If we take care of the forests, they’ll take care of us.
We’ve selected nine moments from our history that show the kind of solutions that can be achieved by creating movements that are grounded in science, innovation, collaboration and strong leadership. This is the legacy we strive to match today.