Multiple-Use and Sustained Yield Act (MUSY) Essay

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The Forest Management Act of 1897 limited the purposes of federal forests to “securing favorable conditions of water flows, and to furnish a continuous supply of timber for the use and necessities of citizens of the United States.” The MultipleUse Sustained-Yield Act (MUSY) of 1960 defined the purposes of the national forest to include “outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, and wildlife and fish purposes” (16 USC 528). The passage of MUSY marked the culmination of years of efforts by recreational, grazing, and wilderness advocates to secure statutory authority for additional activities in federal forests. The act gives the U.S. Forest Service wide latitude in determining the appropriate uses and yields of any given activity on any given area of the federal forest system.

The decade prior to the passage of the act was marked by increased pressure on the federal forest system by competing user groups. In the 1950s, recreation visits to national forests increased by over 300 percent. During the same period, timber production more than doubled, from 3.5 billion board feet to 8.3 billion board feet. Likewise, throughout the decade, ranching interests repeatedly sought to codify a right to grazing access of national forest ranges. In response to the efforts to increase nontimber uses on forest lands, the timber lobby began to actively campaign beginning in the late 1950s to clarify and confirm the importance of timber in Forest Service management. At the same time, the Forest Service actively positioned itself as the mediators of multiple user demands. As Paul Hirt has argued, in theory and practice, however, Forest Service decision makers worked in tandem with timber interests to protect the preferential position of timber production on forest service land while also insuring that sustained yield remained solely an economic term.

Despite the general support offered to the bill during debate by various interest groups, the resulting act has done little to redefine sustained yield and multiple use or prescribe new procedures for balancing the multiple uses stipulated in the act. Prior to MUSY, timber industry and Forest Service definitions of multiple use were nearly identical. Multiple use was understood to be hierarchical, with timber being the critical and priority use of forest resources. All other uses were subordinate to continued timber harvesting. Although the act required equal consideration be given to each of five resources on the federal system, the act was “supplemental to, but not in derogation of, the purposes for which the National Forests were established as set forth in the Act of June 4, 1897.” The Forest Management Act of 1897 was the very same act that privileged timber in the establishment of the forest system

Likewise, prior to MUSY sustained yield was understood to mean the maximum feasible production of timber in any given area. In the act, however, this definition was not redefined. Rather, sustained yield was described as a process of planning for yields of forest resources at such a level as to be sustained in perpetuity without impairment of the productivity of the land. The act defined sustained yield as “the achievement and maintenance in perpetuity of a high-level annual or regular periodic output of the various renewable resources of the National Forests without impairment of the productivity of the land.” The bill received support from timber, grazing, and wildlife advocates among groups as disparate as the American Pulpwood Association and the National Wildlife Federation. In practice, the act codified the set of practices and policies already in use on the national forests. Though the Forest Service claimed the authority previously to manage the national forests for multiple uses, the act provided the statutory authority necessary for the Forest Service to defend policies that limited, privileged, or restricted certain activities on federal lands.

Following the passage of the act, the Forest Service engaged in multiple-use planning on federal forests throughout the system. Forest and district-level multiple-use plans were prepared. Despite language in the act that required equal consideration be given to all five uses of the national forest lands, Forest Service budgets remained tied to timber production targets and thus received the largest portion of funds. Though the act codified the rights for nontimber uses of Forest Service lands, the decade following the passage of MUSY saw increased timber harvesting and clearcutting controversies in the national forest system. The budget environment and timber revenue generation guaranteed the continued dominance of timber production in the national forests following the act.

Bibliography:

  1. Paul W. Hirt, A Conspiracy of Optimism: Management of the National Forests since World War Two (University of Nebraska Press, 1994);
  2. Le Master, Decade of Change: The Remaking of Forest Service Statutory Authority during the 1970s (Greenwood, 1984);
  3. W. Rowley, S. Forest Service Grazing and Rangelands (Texas A&M University, 1985);
  4. Wilkinson and M. Anderson, Land and Resource Planning in the National Forests (Island Press, 1987).

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