Last Summer, the National Forest Foundation launched their first ever National Forest WeekSM to raise awareness about the positive impact that National Forests have in the United States. National Forest WeekSM is July 13 – 19 this year, and it’s a great opportunity to learn about and celebrate these national treasures.
Forest Service Chief, Vicki Christiansen, emphasized in her 2019 blog post kicking off National Forest Week: “[W]e’re in this together and we can’t do it alone. This week, we can all be proud of our work stewarding our great lands.” The US Forest Service partners with a wide variety of organizations to steward its own forest lands as well as develop collaborative programs that steward state and private forests.
National Forest WeekSM demonstrates that no one organization alone sustains and manages our nation’s forests. We all play a part in this task, and partnerships and collaboratives are essential to ensure our forests are intact and healthy, which in turn leads to tangible benefits including safe and reliable drinking water, healthy communities, and strong economies for us all.
The US Forest Service demonstrates its continuous commitment to collaboration by funding and supporting initiatives like Keeping Forests, the Southeastern Partnership for Forests and Water, and being an active member of the Southern Group of State Foresters.
History of National Forests
From 1876 onward, the agency that eventually became the US Forest Service grew to manage, steward and use millions of acres of public forest land. Gifford Pinchot, an early forest appreciator and advocate, along with President Theodore Roosevelt and conservation organizations together led the effort to manage forests for public benefit. Pinchot became the Chief Forester for the US Forest Service at its inception in 1905.
At that time there were only about 56 million acres of forested land managed by the agency now known as the US Forest Service. Originally called “forest reserves,” these lands were officially labeled “National Forests” in 1907. The National Forest System today has grown to 193 million acres.
In 1911, Congress passed the Weeks Act, authorizing acquisition of forest land into the National Forest System specifically for stream-flow protection. This made it possible for the National Forest System to expand into the eastern United States.
Though the National Forest System was originally established to provide timber resources and protect watersheds, its mission has expanded to provide many other valuable services including fish and wildlife management and habitat, and recreation. The US Forest Service has recently developed a Shared Stewardship Strategy to conduct collaborative and appropriate land management across federal, state, and private lands.
National Forests in the Southeast
The Southeast is home to 32 of the 154 National Forests in the United States. Southeastern National Forests include many that supply drinking water downstream, including Ouachita, Ozark-St. Francis, Chattahoochee-Oconee, Pisgah, Francis Marion and Sam Houston National Forests. Cities like Charlotte, NC, Little Rock, AR, Atlanta and Columbus, GA, Houston, TX and many others depend on National Forests to protect the headwaters of their drinking water supplies.
In 2014, the US Forest Service Southern Research Station conducted an analysis of the surface drinking water supplies in the Southern United States, in which it emphasized the role of the National Forests System. The US Forest Service manages about 13 million acres of forest land in the Southeast, and these National Forests contribute to protecting drinking water for 56 million people, nearly half of all southerners dependent on forests for their drinking water supply.
Our Southeastern forests face challenges and threats that need to be addressed to ensure our communities remain strong. According to the US Forests Service Southern Forest Futures Report, pressure to urbanize caused by expanding populations, as well as disease and wildfire threaten our Southeastern forests, which will impact our drinking water supply over the long term. While many organizations and partnerships are working to conserve our forests and drinking water, there is still much work left to do.
National Forests give us all so much – clean water, recreational opportunities like hiking, fishing and camping, and beautiful scenery and vistas. During National Forest WeekSM, consider visiting a National Forest in your region, either in person or virtually, and use this opportunity to teach your family and friends about the importance of these and all forests for our way of life.
The following reports and tools provide more information about the forests-water connection:
- · Videos documenting forest-water relationship
- · Southeastern Partnership for Forests and Water Fact Sheet
- · Infographic on the forests-water connection
- · New report and interactive story map from the US Forest Service Southern Research Station, quantifying contribution of forests to drinking water in southern US
- · Report Quantifying the Role of National Forests in Providing Drinking Water