A conspiracy of optimism: Sustained yield, multiple use, and intensive management on the national forests, 1945-1991.
AuthorHirt, Paul Wayne.
KeywordsForest management -- United States -- History
Forest policy -- United States -- History
Forest reserves -- Multiple use.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractThis is a historical study of the intersection of political economy with natural resources management, as played out on the national forests between 1945-1991. Specifically, it focuses on two core national forest management policies; sustained yield and multiple use. These two policy directives represent an attempt by the public and elected officials to apply principles of sustainable development to publicly-owned forest lands, and to ensure that a wide variety of both market and nonmarket forest values are preserved for the benefit of present and future generations. Interest groups, the Forest Service, and policy makers have conceived of sustained yield and multiple use in different and evolving ways over the years. This study explores how these principles have been variously defined and either implemented or thwarted. After World War Two, with escalating demands on national forest resources, the U.S. Forest Service turned to "intensive management" as a technological method of enhancing natural forest productivity and mitigating the environmental effects of increased use. But the agency's optimistic vision of efficient, sustained production of forest commodities through technical mastery over nature has met overwhelming fiscal, environmental, technical, and political obstacles. Nevertheless, agency leaders, industry advocates, and politicians have consistently promulgated an optimistic faith that intensive applications of labor, capital, and technology can maximize and harmonize multiple uses, rehabilitate damaged resources, and sustain high levels of outputs in perpetuity--despite repeated failures to achieve balanced multiple use management and to manage grazing and timber extraction at sustainable levels. The conspiracy of optimism ideologically justifies continued unsustainably high levels of resource extraction. Changing public values since the 1960s and the popularization of ecology have initiated a growing skepticism toward the premises of intensive management. At the same time, field level forest managers have grown frustrated with top-down imposition of resource production quotas and the lack of adequate political, fiscal, and organizational support for sound forest management. As the last old growth forests fall to the chainsaw, and as the federal subsidies required to access these remote timber stands on the national forests escalate, public controversy deepens. In this decade of the national forest centennial a revolt of conscience has erupted among grassroots Forest Service personnel, and a strong challenge from the environmental community has gained momentum. Another major period of policy evaluation and revision appears to be taking place. Whether the conspiracy of optimism can continue to sustain the old status quo is questionable.