National Forests

Originally called "Forest Reserves" after the Forest Reserve Act of 1891, the name was changed to National Forests under President Theodore Roosevelt's leadership in 1907. National Forests are located on Public Lands and owned collectively by the American People.

The Forest Service, an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture, manages 154 National Forests and 20 National Grasslands, on over 193 Million Acres of Land, for the benefit of the American People. The Forest Service manages our National Forests, under the general directive of “Multiple Uses”.

Multiple use means that our Forests are managed for their recreational values, in addition to other values, like sustaining healthy habitats for wildlife, preserving waterways, and providing timber for our people.

Key Facts About National Forests:

  • 7.2 Million Acres of Wetlands
  • 400,000 Acres of Lakes
  • 158,000 Miles of Hiking Trails
  • 4,300 Campgrounds
  • 5,000 Miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers
  • 36 Million Acres Designated into the National Wilderness Preservation System
  • Note: Wilderness designation means that these specifically defined lands, have been removed from the “Multiple Use” Directive, and are Managed to Preserve Natural Values

    Bureau of Land Management

    The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), an agency within the United States Department of the Interior, was established in 1946 after two existing government agencies were combined: the General Land Office and the Grazing Service. Today, the BLM manages more Public Land than any other government agency in the United States, at over 244 millions acres.

    The vast majority of BLM managed Public Lands are located within 12 Western States: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. BLM Lands are also managed under the General Directive of "Multiple Use".

    The BLM manages our National Conservation Lands in the United States. This system includes more than 35 million acres of Public Lands, protected to preserve natural values for the benefit of the American people. From deep canyons, wild rivers, and mountainous landscapes, the Conservation Lands System preserves a multitude of national treasures in the United States.

    Key Facts About BLM Managed National Conservation Lands:

  • National Monuments: 25 individual sites, 6.8 million acres
  • National Conservation Areas: 16 individual sites, 3.9 million acres
  • National Wilderness Preservation System: 221 individual sites, 8.7 million acres
  • Wilderness Study Areas: 545 individual sites, 12.7 million acres
  • National Wild and Scenic Rivers: 38 Rivers and 2,400 miles
  • National Parks

    On March 1st 1872 Yellowstone became the first National Park ever established in the United States. It was also the first National Park ever established in any nation, on planet earth. Founded by an act of the U.S. Congress, Yellowstone was protected for the stated reason: "as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people".

    In 1916, the National Park Service (NPS) was established to manage our National Park System in the United States. Today, the NPS is charged with the dual role of protecting and preserving the ecological integrity of our National Parks, in addition to ensuring that our parks remain available and accessible to our people.

    The NPS manages approximately 80 million acres of Public Lands in the United States. The National Park System includes a total of 419 individual units, of which, 62 have been designated as National Parks. As of 2020, the remaining units of the National Park System include 84 National Monuments, 57 National Historical Parks, 18 National Recreation Areas, and various other designations, including National Preserves and National Memorials.

    National Parks protect many of our best known natural landmarks in the United States:

  • Grand Canyon National Park
  • Yosemite National Park
  • Glacier National Park
  • Zion National Park
  • Olympic National Park
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  • Grand Teton National Park
  • National Wildlife Refuges

    When President Theodore Roosevelt established Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge in 1903 by Executive Order, he was also establishing the first unit of our modern-day National Wildlife Refuge System. In the years since President Roosevelt's invaluable foresight created our nation's system to conserve fish, wildlife, and plants, the National Wildlife Refuge System has grown to cover more than 150 million acres, on over 600 individual, wildlife protecting units.

    The United States has a rich history of plant and animal life. Tens of thousands of native birds, fish, reptiles, and mammals call the United States home. And, these animals have the same needs that we have. They need places to rest, safe areas to rear their young, and access to healthy food. National Wildlife Refuges are places where our nation’s wildlife can find the healthy habitats they need for survival.

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Manages the National Wildlife Refuge System for the benefit of the American People and the wildlife being protected.

    Key Facts about the National Wildlife Refuge System (NWR)

  • Alaska has more than 51% of the total NWR system → 76+ million acres
  • Hawaii and Pacific Maritime Areas include about 37% of the NWR system. These regions are mostly coral reefs and open ocean → 54+ million acres
  • 12% of the NWR system is located within the Contiguous 48 States → 18+ million acres
  • The remainder if the NWR system can be found in the Caribbean, with small holdings in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands → 400,000 Acres
  • National Wilderness Preservation System

    The Wilderness Act created the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) in 1964. The Act itself, defined wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

    Howard Zahniser, the primary author of the Wilderness Act said:
    "We deeply need the humility to know ourselves as the dependent members of a great community of life... to know the wilderness is to know a profound humility, to recognize one’s littleness, to sense dependence and interdependence, indebtedness, and responsibility."


    Today, the NWPS includes 111+ million acres of Public Lands in the United States, all of which are managed to protect natural values. The system itself, is owned by the American People, and administered by the four major federal land managing agencies: the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management, all agencies within the United States Department of the Interior. In addition, the Forest Service, an agency within the United States Department of Agriculture, also manages lands designated as wilderness in our National Forests.

    President Lyndon B. Johnson

    SIGNS THE WILDERNESS ACT INTO LAW
    SEPTEMBER 3RD 1964


    "If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them something more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it."

    National Wild & Scenic Rivers

    The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was passed by Congress in 1968, intending to protect American waterways in a free-flowing and natural state. Rivers designated into this system contain a variety of outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values, while remaining in free-flowing condition, without alteration by dams or diversions.

    In the 50+ years since the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was passed, the system has grown to include 13,413 miles, on 226 rivers in 41 states and Puerto Rico; just over one-quarter of 1% of our nation’s rivers. In comparison, 75,000 major dams have modified at least 600,000 miles of American rivers, or at least 20% of our collective American waterways.

    Management of designated rivers, falls onto the agency in charge of the public land they run through, either the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service, or the Forest Service.

    Wild, Scenic, and Recreational River Designations

    “Wild” Rivers – Those rivers or sections of rivers that are free of impoundments and generally inaccessible except by trail, with watersheds or shorelines essentially primitive and waters unpolluted. These rivers represent vestiges of primitive America.

    “Scenic” Rivers – Those rivers or sections of rivers that are free of impoundments, with shorelines or watersheds still largely primitive and shorelines largely undeveloped, but accessible in places by roads.

    “Recreational” Rivers – Those rivers or sections of rivers that are readily accessible by road or railroad, that may have some development along their shorelines, and that may have undergone some impoundment or diversion in the past.
    "In a country where nature has been so lavish and where we have been so spendthrift of indigenous beauty, to set aside a few rivers in their natural state should be considered an obligation."

    -Frank Church, U.S. Senator Idaho, 1957-1981
    Author of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act

    National Monuments

    National Monuments are a type of protected area in the United States, that's similar to a National Park in function and form. The difference being, is National Monuments are usually created by proclamation of the President of the United States. The President can establish a National Monument on any land that is controlled by the federal government.

    Depending on the section of land thats been designated, National Monuments can be managed by any one of four, major federal land managing agencies. Either the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, or the National Park Service.

    The Antiquities Act of 1906 gave the President the power to declare National Monuments on federally held public lands. The law authorized the President to declare “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest” as National Monuments.

    President Theodore Roosevelt established the first National Monument at Devil's Tower in Wyoming, three months after the Antiquities Act became law in 1906. President Roosevelt eventually declared a grand total of 18 National Monuments during his presidency. Several National Monuments declared by President Roosevelt would later become National Parks, including the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
    "The idea of preserving in a national grouping such spots of scenic beauty and historic memory originated here in this country...In Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America, other countries have followed our pioneering example and set aside their most magnificent scenic areas as national treasures for the enjoyment of present and future generations."
    - Dwight D. Eisenhower
    34th President of the United States

    Wilderness Study Areas

    Wilderness Study Areas (WSA's) are similar to lands that have been designated into the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS), retaining an inherently natural character and value. The main difference between these two different types of Public Land Designations, is Congress hasn't yet made a decision as to either designate a WSA into the NWPS, or to release a WSA for other uses.

    Once a WSA becomes released for other uses the land can be developed and modified, including the construction of new roads. Until that happens, WSA's are managed to preserve natural values, as to protect the possibility that the land will someday become preserved in a wild and natural state forever, with designation into the National Wilderness Preservation System.

    "Leave it as it is. The ages have been at work on it and man can only mar it."
    -Theodore Roosevelt
    26th President of the United States

    More National Public Lands

    The United States Public Land System is a vast and complex area of the earth. In addition to our most well known types of Public Lands, other regions and designations included within the aggregate United States Public Land System are also available to our people.

    Additional Designations of the U.S. Public Land System

  • National Recreation Areas
  • National Scenic Areas
  • National Lakeshores
  • National Seashores
  • National Historical Parks
  • National Preserves
  • National Memorials
  • National Battlefields
  • National Trails
  • And More
  • State Public Lands

    Each state has also established a system of state parks and lands. Public lands administered through individual states are a little different than our National Public Lands. While state lands are oftentimes still publicly available and assessable, these regions are not owned collectively by all U.S. citizens. Instead, these lands are held under the authority of each individual state government, which results in a varied assortment of different rules governing state lands.

    Public Lands held under the authority of individual states remain important and valuable regions to be treasured by our people. However, State Public Land management occurs at the state level, meaning out of state residents have no voice in the management of these lands. Many states do an excellent job at managing Public Lands, and protect their lands for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations. Nevertheless, state lands are not owned collectively by all U.S. Citizens, in the same way that our National Public Lands are.

    Local Public Lands

    Many local jurisdictions in the United States have also established an assortment of publicly assessable and managed lands. City parks are a good example of public lands that are managed at the local level.

    County governments in some locales have also gotten in on the act, and established their own unique systems of publicly assessable lands. The Spokane County Conservation Futures Program in Washington State provides a good example.

    In 1994, Spokane County voters approved an advisory ballot measure authorizing a new property tax levy. Up to 6.5 cents per $1000 of property value was newly taxed, to acquire and preserve open space, rivers, streams, and other natural resources. By 2020, the Conservation Futures Program had acquired 8,875 acres through 49 acquisitions, which are lands now owned and managed by Spokane County, the City of Spokane, and the City of Cheney.

    More information about the Spokane County Conservation Futures Program @
    spokanecounty.org