Forests and the Department of Agriculture

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is controlled by the Secretary of Agriculture, who is a member of the president's cabinet. Besides a handful of farming, food safety and rural development programs, the USDA also oversees our national forests, grasslands, and promotes programs for private lands. The Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service are the agencies that handle forests related issues.

Forest Service
Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)


Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) Mission Area

The Natural Resources and Environment mission is composed of the Forest Service (FS) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Both agencies also assist with rural development and help communities with natural resource concerns, such as erosion control, watershed protection, and forestry.

Forest Service

The Forest Service supervises the 191 million acres of National Forests and Grasslands. At the begininng of the twentieth century, the Forest Service opposed clearcutting of forests as environmentally destructive, and advocated selection logging for public and private lands. Beginning around World War II, the Forest Service vastly increased logging on the national forests, and used clearcutting as the primary method of logging. During the rest of the century, it converted most of the virgin and mixed natural forests on our federal lands into monoculture tree plantations, destroying the natural forest landscape. This skewed the output of the national forests towards short term lumber production at the expense of most other natural values.

The Forest Service is supposed to address the sustainability of ecosystems by restoring and maintaining species diversity and ecological productivity to provide for recreation, range, water, timber, fish, and wildlife. Environmental groups are continually suing the Forest Service in federal courts to try to make it comply with these environmental goals. The Forest Service also assists States and private landowners in private forest logging on the Nation's 472 million acres of private forestland.

National Forest System

Authorizing Legislation: The Organic Administrative Act of 1897; the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act, P.L. 86-517; the National Forest Management Act, P.L. 94-588; the National Environmental Policy Act, P.L. 91-190; the Cooperative Forestry Assistance Act, P.L. 95-313; and the Forest and Rangelands Renewable Resources Planning Act, P.L. 95-307. Home Page Address:

Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)

Natural Resources Conservation Service provides leadership for conservation activities on the Nation's 1.6 billion acres of private and other nonfederal land. This agency provides technical assistance and information to individuals; communities; tribal governments; Federal, State and local agencies; and others. The NRCS staff partners with staff of the local conservation district and state agencies and with volunteers. NRCS also offers financial assistance, surveys the Nation's soils, inventories natural resources conditions and use, provides water supply forecasts for Western States, and develops technical guidance for conservation planning.

National Resources Inventory
Wetlands Reserve Programs
Backyard Conservation

Authorizing Legislation: The Federal Crop Insurance Reform and Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994, P.L. 103-354; Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act of 1935, P.L. 74-46; Watershed and Flood Prevention Act of 1954, P.L. 83-566; Flood Control Act of 1944, P.L. 78-534; Food and Agriculture Act of 1962, P.L. 87-703, Sec. 102; Agriculture and Food Act of 1981, P.L. 97-98, Sec. 1528-1538; and Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996, P.L. 104-127.