The Weeks Act is a federal law (36 Stat. 961) enacted by the US Congress on 1 March 1911, in the United States. The law, introduced by Congressman John W. Weeks of Massachusetts, authorized the Secretary of Agriculture to "Examine, locate and recommend for purchase ... such lands within the watersheds of navigable streams as ... may be necessary to the regulation of flow of navigable streams...." The Act further allowed for lands so acquired to be preserved and maintained as national forests. Six years earlier, on 1 February 1905, control over the federal forest reserves had been transferred from the General Land Office of the Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture and its Forest Service. Responsibility for the lands purchased through the Weeks Act was not given to former Chief Forester Gifford Pinchot because he resigned in 1907, prior to the law's existence. His resignation came with a stipulation that he dictated in a letter, stating that he would only resign if he could appoint his successor, thus establishing the Forest Service's tradition of picking a head with forestry knowledge. With these lands, Pinchot's successor gained the power to issue permits for water power development on National Forests. The Weeks Act appropriated $9 million to purchase 6 million acres (24,000 km2) of land in the eastern United States.
The Act also provided for cooperation in fire control between federal and state authorities. The fire season of 1910 greatly influenced this legislation because it raised havoc across the western United States, especially in the state of Idaho where fires killed 85 people (72 of them firefighters), burned more than 3 million acres (12,000 km2) and destroyed an estimated 8,000,000,000 board feet (19,000,000 m3) of timber and put the US Forest Service 1.1 million dollars in debt.
The drafting of Weeks Act was originally motivated by the intent to purchase lands in eastern United States, where the federal government owned no large tracts of land devoted to conservation. Later western lands were acquired under the Weeks Act. The Weeks Act was substantially expanded and modified by the Clarke–McNary Act in 1924.
Major national forests that were formed under the Weeks Act are the Allegheny National Forest, White Mountain National Forest, Green Mountain National Forest, Pisgah National Forest, George Washington National Forest, and Ottawa National Forest.
- A History of Water Resource activities of the United States Department of Agriculture
- Cermak, Robert W. Fire In The Forest-A History of Forest Fire Control on the National Forests in California 1898-1956 USDA Forest Service Publishers, 2005 p.58 ISBN 1-59351-429-8
- The Weeks Act, a history of the bill from the Forest History Society website.
- Library of Congress - American Memory-Evolution of the Conservation Movement 1850-1920, a description and text of Weeks Act