Read the Multiple-Use Act

It’s worthwhile to re-read the law every once in awhile.  This time, because of some recent discussions here, a couple of things stood out.  Here’s the definition of multiple-use:

‘‘Multiple use’’ means: The management of all the various renewable surface resources of the national forests so that they are utilized in the combination that will best meet the needs of the American people; making the most judicious use of the land for some or all of these resources or related services over areas large enough to provide sufficient latitude for periodic adjustments in use to conform to changing needs and conditions; that some land will be used for less than all of the resources; and harmonious and coordinated management of the various resources, each with the other, without impairment of the productivity of the land, with consideration being given to the relative values of the various resources, and not necessarily the combination of uses that will give the greatest dollar return or the greatest unit output.”

The first italicized phrase indicates that any supposed “commitments” (by Gifford Pinchot or otherwise) prior to this law to any particular uses in particular places have been overwritten by Congressional authorization to change land management to meet current needs (to be determined by a forest planning process).  (I guess that also makes the “high level” of sustained yield in that definition something that has to be determined in light of current needs.)

The second refutes the notion that there is any requirement in the law that national forests be managed for “things” that produce dollars (or jobs).

It’s probably also worth reiterating the part of the law that nullifies the “wilderness is not multiple-use” argument:  “The establishment and maintenance of areas of wilderness are consistent with the purposes and provisions of this Act.”


  1. Let’s also look at the words ” utilized in the combination that will best meet the needs of the American people” The key word is “needs”. It is NOT dreams, vision, wishes, desires, or hopes. I’m fairly sure that “needs” means (as per Maslow) food, shelter, and security – words that in our culture translate into jobs and stable families and communities. When these needs are met we can move on to aesthetics, self-actualization and transcendency. Current N.F. management would seem to be neglecting the basics while over-emphasizing the unessentials: long on icing but short on cake.

    • Maybe all those people asking for greater forest conservation over the last 40 years already have their needs for food and shelter met and they are trying to move to the next level — swimmable waters, biodiversity, climate stability, aesthetic beauty, recreation, and quality of life. When do we stop trying to put everyone in a McMansion and start trying to nourish the human spirit?

  2. That’s one interpretation. There are others. Assuming your construct, would you place any limits on “need” as related to profit, or adjective modifiers like “stable” families or “good-paying” jobs, or “healthy” communities. Even with social and economic elements, what people really NEED is often quite different from what they WANT (and get). I think this is enormously complex and layered, subject to varying interpretations and discretion. I think what is essential for natural resource agencies (especially the FS due to this unique statute) is the bottom-line phrase “without impairment of the land.” As the saying goes “If you want golden eggs, don’t kill the goose!”

  3. There is a difference between wants and needs.

    Do we need to build second, third, fourth vacation houses in the woods? What underlies our country’s ostensible addiction to economic growth? What needs are we trying to feed when we gobble up resources?

    What about on-the-ground jobs you ask? I’ll respond with a question: do we have to pit jobs versus the environment? Are there any other alternatives?

  4. And we’re long overdue on the periodic adjustment needed to get the red zones out of the black…..

    But this is just semantics, Jon, and let’s think that SOME land not used for all resources has already been met. Now it seems like all the lands not used for any of their resources except non-motorized recreation, which is not the only kind of recreation.

  5. The first italicized phrase may overwrite some previous commitments, but certainly not all. Two easy examples: designated wilderness and O&C lands.

    As for the second phrase, it simply tells managers to balance relative values rather than maximizing economic or biological output. If relative values are best balanced by a management scheme which includes ‘things’ of economic value, planners cannot use the italicized phrase as an excuse not to manage for said things.

    • The main point is really that the MUSYA doesn’t require anything (as the courts like to say, it “breathes discretion at every pore”). It passes the buck to the Forest Service to decide what is a “need,” how much is “some” and what the right “balance” is (and even what it means to “impair” the land).

      NFMA added a process for doing that. And importantly, it added a few things that the Forest Service must do or not do (notably related to plant and animal diversity and to timber management).

      My first comment was responding to the idea expressed here that, when national forests were established, there was some commitment made to their future management that is still binding in some way today. I don’t think so.

  6. I remain quite mystified by the allegations that the FS and other voices on this website are devoted to comprehensive non-use of public lands. Even the most casual observation of public lands would demonstrate this not to be the case. And as for ideology, my book “Toward a Natural Forest” articulates for active management. But not mgmt driven primarily by economics, as was the case (in my view) for much of the post WWII period of the 20th century.

    • Agencies have an obligation to the public, if not to make a profit, at the very least to minimize costs while on the way to the greatest good for the greatest number over the long run — which is a balanced, near-optimal outcome. Forests that are fiscally self-sustaining is clearly a possible outcome, but there are too many fixated on the idea that profit is evil, so evil that even breaking even isn’t worthy.
      And the agency obligation is not just that of the land management entities. That is an obligation of all in government service, to look out for the interests of those who are compelled to pay for any shortages.

      • Dave, why do you want the U.S. Forest Service to exist at all, if you believe its mandate should be “fiscally self-sustaining” management? Why not just give all the forests to a private corporation and be done with it? Private timber corporations have a shareholder-driven mandate to be “fiscally self-sustaining” and have been doing so for years. Why keep a government bureaucracy around just to do what Weyerhaeuser can do?

        Of course, the answer is that the uses of the forest which are generally “fiscally self-sustaining” (extractive conversion of resources into money) are not remotely all of the uses which the American people have for the National Forests. You seem to be reducing the “highest and best use” of a certain piece of land to how much money that use could create, and that strikes me as entirely missing the point of public lands – and perhaps entirely missing the point of life itself. I would like to think that the human species can do better than reducing everything to a number with a dollar sign in front of it, or a stock ticker symbol next to it.

        There are a great many values we place on our forests, not just what you can sell them for. I’m proud to work for an agency that increasingly recognizes that.

        • Dave did not say forests should have a mandate to be fiscally self-sustaining; he said forest managers should minimize costs to the public. Since they are playing with our money, we should all agree on that point, even if we don’t agree with all Dave’s proposed prescriptions.

          For example, let’s say the goal is restoration of a fire-adapted pine forest, and managers know they need to reduce fuels to lower predicted fire intensity to manageable levels. If two competing treatment alternatives both achieve all ecological goals, managers should choose the most cost-effective option (including direct and external costs).

          • That’s not what “Forests that are fiscally self-sustaining is clearly a possible outcome, but there are too many fixated on the idea that profit is evil, so evil that even breaking even isn’t worthy” means. That sentence is a clear argument that being “fiscally self-sustaining” should be a primary management goal of public forest managers.

            No one has said that “profit is evil.” What I, and others, have said is that direct financial recovery by the managing agency is not the most important outcome of managing public forests.

            • Had to chime in on this one. I participated in 2 and 1/2 collaborative “forest health” projects. While most participating conservation groups did not categorically exclude supporting timber sales to meet the project goals (pun intended), virtually all at least attempted to insist all other options were exhausted first. I got the impression that, inso far as my conservationist collaborators were conserened, profit may not be considered evil — but should be avoided at all costs!!

  7. I think you might find a good deal of agreement from conservationists that active management of national forests is often not something we should be paying higher taxes for.

    However, I also think you might exaggerate their focus on “profit.” I think the focus is mostly on the condition of the national forest land, and that fiscal arguments are used to help get to that outcome. (Someone can correct me if I’m wrong on that.)

    • I think that’s a pretty accurate summary. Although I would include that their argument is correctly buttressed by the conclusion that “active management” always entail negative external costs, that offset the fiscal arguments. Whereas, the fiscal argument invariably discounts these costs.

      • I would argue both sides cherry-pick the external costs they include or ignore. For example, accounting for carbon removed from forests mechanically, but not accounting for the exact same carbon if it’s released by wildfire. Or accounting for the ecological costs of building an oil pipeline, while ignoring the ecological costs of the trains currently transporting said oil.

    • And as a summary of your summary Jon, I’ll add that to me the opposing arguments seem to simply amount to a reflection of “old-school” vs. “new school” economic thinking. I believe this is what Travis Mason-Bushman was alluding to.

      Old School = Internalize profits, and externalize costs.

      New School = Internalize profit, and account for costs.

  8. Here’s the problem with this idea of “cost recovery” for national forest management – it makes not the slightest shred of sense under any existing legal framework for what the Forest Service can collect.

    The Tongass National Forest earns zero dollars in revenue from salmon fishing. There is not a single dollar which the forest can legally collect from people who fish for salmon in Southeast Alaska. All that commercial fishing takes place in saltwater, over which the Forest Service has no jurisidiction whatsoever.

    Yet it is completely and utterly indisputable that the single most valuable forest product of the Tongass National Forest is salmon. Fully one-third of all the wild salmon harvested in the United States are caught in Southeast Alaska, and the Tongass manages 85% of all the land in Southeast Alaska. Fishing is the largest natural resource-based industry in the region. These harvests, and the thousands of people they employ, would not be possible were it not for the agency’s protection, management and improvement of millions of acres of salmon spawning habitat.

    How are we to reconcile this demand that the forest be “fiscally self-sustaining” with the reality that the forest cannot legally collect a single dollar from the people harvesting its most valuable product?

    It is very convenient to demand that forests be “fiscally self-sustaining” when right now, the Forest Service has very limited legal authority to make money from anything other than selling trees to be cut into lumber.

    • I’ve been saying for a while now that the land management agencies should be structured as a living trust to avoid the result you’ve just highlighted Travis.

      Basically it would work like this: An accounting of forest resource value would be structured into NFMA and be undertaken prior to every new forest plan. By value I mean not just raw goods, but also amenity, recreation and ecological services — these can be read as the “multiple uses.” The future “value” annually generated by these multiple uses is then placed in a trust and serves as the principle, upon which interest can accrue. The forest planning process under NFMA then proceeds based upon the relative weight of these values, bearing in mind the fact that the trust’s principle must be sustainably preserved (if not enhanced) to provide for future beneficiaries.

      Under this system, the public acts as both settlor (the original owner of the principle and creator of the trust) and the beneficiary. The land management agencies serve as the trustee, who, just like in any regular trust, are allowed to fund the administration and maintenance of the the trust from the principle. Here, the agencies would be more than amply funded just from the interest accruing from the principle. The income from the trust would then be distributed perpetually to the beneficiaries based on the weight of the relative values.

      Thus, using the USFS as an example, based on the value generated by public lands recreation, a proportionate amount of the interest would be allocated to fund rec programs. Based upon the competing values of carbon capture and timber extraction, funds from the interest would be allocated to silviculture and forestry. Based upon amenity value funds would be allocated to biology and botany management, etc etc.

      To those that think this idea is untenable due to complexities or inability to account for intangible values, I assure you there are well developed tools already implementing these practices in the private sector. For example, take Matthew’s recent post REIT’s. The value is there. It’s measurable. We benefit from the value everyday. The problem is we are not putting the value to use in a manner that can best benefit the public. Instead, we simply let the interest on the capital that is our public legacy vanish into thin air because we haven’t yet had the foresight to account for it.

        • Thanks Steve. I’d have to put significantly more thought into the idea before feeling comfortable opening it up to general public critique. A good way to do that is to have people on here tear it apart for a while. Unfortunately, like many of my ideas, it’s still long on idealism and short on details at this stage.

          • Sure, it’s long on idealism, but it give folks a new way to think about land management. I’ve espoused the idea of trust-style management for federal forests, in the way that state lands in Washington, for example, are managed. You’ve taken the idea much farther, in a way that might be appealing to folks who otherwise wouldn’t consider this direction. Looking forward to comments from the NCFP bloggers….

      • Clearly the most difficult part of implementing such a living trust concept would be accurately monetizing amenity and ecosystem service values. Resources and recreation are easy to monetize, but good luck getting stakeholders to agree on the dollar value of viewsheds, biodiversity, etc. And without monetizing all values, you can’t truly balance the books, so to speak.

        To second Steve’s comment, I would love to see this idea fleshed out further, here and in the Forestry Source.

        • There have been significant advances made of late in using hedonic value as a proxy. Very basically, what would the price of a home be in an area without access to public lands be, compared to the identical home with adjacent access to public lands. For example:

          There is also a book that I was introduced to in a regional economics course I took, titled “Handbook of Forest Resource Economics” that I’d like to delve into more thoroughly at some point, which addresses the issue in depth.

          • If a trust approach would require using imputed non-market economic values to make land management choices, we’ve been there and done that and it wasn’t very successful. My MS thesis many years ago involved use of these values in the forest planning process (in computer models in particular), and that was the idea behind “RPA values” (since abandoned) Based on that experience, I’m a skeptic.

            Even if there have been improvements in estimating values, I don’t see them ever reaching the point of convincingly demonstrating that one choice is better than another against some objective criterion. People who don’t have similar views of the world and don’t trust the decision-maker are not likely to agree on the outcomes from the kind of abstract approaches that would be available.

            I think non-market valuation efforts have been very useful in demonstrating that things not bought or sold are worth something (and sometimes a lot), which is information that is useful to decision-making in a general way. I don’t think they can be precise enough or transparent enough to become part of a trust accounting system. (Though I have been surprised at the acceptance of artificially created carbon markets, so maybe there’s hope.)

            • Hi Jon. I did, in my idealism, anticipate this argument. Thus, my inclusion of the agencies initial valuation into the 10 year NFMA process. That said, I understand that NFMA is already a tire fire process of finding the right balance between multiple use interests, as long years of litigation demonstrate. However, might not ascribing monetary value to the multiple use interests at least provide a baseline from which the public process could be used to solidify the objective criterion?

  9. The trust idea has been around for a long time…. I worked on a “Second Century Report” facilitated by Randal O’Toole, with a quite diverse team that included Sally Fairfax at UC Berkeley who has researched/published trust concept for federal lands. Trusts have never received serious consideration for NFs (for a variety of reasons which escape me now, altho I could make something up). But she would be a good beginning point to gather info. Not sure if she’s still there…

  10. Yes, it sounds a bit confusing to me. Even if you could compute those values of the forests, still, who pays the bills? Everyone needs a paycheck, (or retirement check).
    I was thinking of something little more simple like maybe the federal land managers could salvage a few a the larger trees to help pay for a project. I think that very few people in the agencies realize the value that a few trees for harvest can have to social and economic heath of the local communities.

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