United States National Forest

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Camas flowers and the west vista of the Teton Range in Caribou-Targhee National Forest, Idaho

National Forest is a classification of federal lands in the United States.

National Forests are largely forest and woodland areas owned collectively by the American people through the federal government and managed by the United States Forest Service, part of the United States Department of Agriculture. Land management of these areas focuses on conservation, timber harvesting, livestock grazing, watershed protection, wildlife, and recreation. Unlike national parks and other federal lands managed by the National Park Service, extraction of natural resources from national forests is permitted, and in many cases encouraged. National Forests are categorized by the World Commission on Protected Areas as IUCN Category VI (Managed Resource Protected Area).

The National Forest System was created by the Land Revision Act of 1891. It was the result of concerted action by Los Angeles-area businessmen and property owners who were concerned by the harm being done to the watershed of the San Gabriel Mountains by ranchers and miners. Abbot Kinney and forester Theodore Lukens were key spokesmen for the effort.

There are conflicts between timber companies and environmentalists over the use of National Forest land. These conflicts center on endangered species protection, logging of old-growth forests, intensive logging, undervalued stumpage fees, mining laws and road-building in National Forests. Additional conflicts arise from concerns that the grasslands, shrublands, and forest understory are grazed by sheep, cattle, and, more recently, rising numbers of elk.

In the United States there are 155 National Forests containing almost 190 million acres (297,000 mi²/769 000 km²) of land. These lands comprise 8.5 percent of the total land area of the United States, an area about the size of Texas. Some 87 percent of National Forest land lies west of the Mississippi River; Alaska alone accounts for 12 percent of all National Forest land.

There are two distinctly different types of National Forests. Those east of the Great Plains are primarily re-acquired or replanted forests; that is, the land had long been in the private domain but was purchased by the United States government in order to create new National Forests. In these cases, the areas of National Forest noted on most maps do not actually represent the extent of the National Forest, but only the extent of the authorized purchase zone. The actual amount of land acquired in most cases is much smaller.

Those national forests west of the Great Plains are originally-owned forests. These are mostly lands reserved in the public domain by the U.S. government, and with the exception of inholdings and donated land, were never in private hands. In these cases, the areas of National Forests noted on maps are generally the true areas of the forest.

Many ski resorts operate in National Forests, such as the Loup Loup Ski Bowl within the Okanogan National Forest.

The Forest Service also administers National Grasslands.

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