National Forest Service Celebrates 100 Years

Posted by | March 9, 2011

Please welcome guest author Mark File, who runs the RomanticAshville site. The following article ran March 8, 2011 on that site.

Throughout 2011, the National Forest Service is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Weeks Act, which led to the creation of Pisgah National Forest and Nantahala National Forest, along with other national and experimental forests in the East. Why celebrate? The Pisgah and Nantahala Forests now provide more than one million acres of protected land for all of us to enjoy!

The Weeks Act is one of the most successful land conservation efforts in the U.S. The Weeks Act was signed into law in 1911, after a decade-long debate about the role of the federal government in protecting forestlands. The Weeks Act, named after Massachusetts Congressman John Weeks, allowed the use of federal funding to purchase forest land for conservation. The Weeks Act appropriated $9 million to purchase 6 million acres of land in the eastern United States.

The Pisgah National Forest was established in 1916, one of the first national forests in the eastern United States. Some of the forest tracts were among the first purchases by the Forest Service under the Weeks Act of 1911. Pisgah National Forest covers 510,119 acres of mountainous terrain in the southern Appalachian Mountains, including parts of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Great Balsam Mountains.

Elevations reach over 6,000 feet and include some of the highest mountains in the eastern United States. The forest covers many areas surrounding the city of Asheville, the town of Brevard and land in the French Broad River Valley. It includes Looking Glass Rock, Looking Glass Falls, Sliding Rock, Roan Mountain and Linville Gorge. Visit the Cradle of Forestry to learn more about the birth of Forestry in the United States.

The Nantahala National Forest, established in 1920, is the largest of the four national forests in North Carolina with 531,286 acres. It includes the Nantahala Gorge and River, Whiteside Mountain, Wayah Bald and Wesser Bald. Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest features 400-year old trees and Whitewater Falls is the highest falls east of the Rocky Mountains.

More than 800 miles of the Appalachian Trail wind through forests that were purchased under the Weeks Act, and those same forests provide habitat for important species including the brook trout, bald eagle and black bear.

The Weeks Act provided the cooperative relationship with states, tribes and individuals to protect and enhance forests, grasslands and watersheds from fire and other threats. About one-fifth of the nation’s clean drinking water has its origins in forests preserved under the Weeks Act.

“The Weeks Act led the way for millions of acres of cut-over, eroded lands to be replanted. Today, those lands are resilient national forests” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “The Weeks Act established a way for the Forest Service to work across boundaries with a broad array of partners to achieve conservation success. It set the stage for the current approach of working together on challenges such as climate change, water supply and restoration issues.”

During the last 100 years, the Weeks Act has led to the creation of 52 national forests in 26 Eastern states, and the addition of 19.7 million acres on national forests and grasslands across 41 states and Puerto Rico.

The National Forests in North Carolina is currently engaged in a collaborative restoration planning process, with partners and the public to identify and prioritize ecological restoration goals for the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests. Restoration efforts in western North Carolina are focused on restoring and maintaining healthy forests and ecosystems that are resilient to existing and future stressors including climate change.

During 2011, you will see a lot of repairs of the facilities in the National Forests, thanks to nearly $15 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars. The U.S. Forest Service’s maintenance backlog in North Carolina has grown to $76 million — more than three times its annual operating budget.

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