This is an example of how historians go about studying a particular environmental history issue.

The National Forests were a timber reserve, harvesting was intended--managing a renewable resource.  But there are different methods of harvesting
WWII and after brings an increase in demand for lumber
technology increased the advantages of clearcutting (video)
loading clearcut timber

foresters argued for the advantages of clearcutting
  • cheaper and quicker
  • didn't leave behind low quality trees
  • provides a variety of habitats for animals and birds--provides clearings
  • some trees regrow better in full sun rather than shaded in a forest
meanwhile recreational use was increasing
recreational users of national forests began to complain about clearcuts: larger areas being clearcut, more in areas that people used

what could the people who disliked clearcutting do?
  • Wilderness Act protected some land from logging
  • but a lot of people making recreational use of the forests were using land intended for harvest--Forest service was still arguing for multiple use
  • National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) of 1970 required environmental impact statements--research and a document on the environmental impact of a government action
  • law didn't require something be done about environmental impact, but public opinion put pressure
  • also created an advisory body to the President called the Council on Environmental Quality

Council recommended the Nixon administration issue an executive order against clearcutting in 1972
Nixon memo
the proposed "ban" on clearcutting was never issued

Instead, what happened to reduce clearcutting was a court decision
  • In November 1973 opponents of clearcutting had won a major court victory
  • The Izaak Walton League (a hunting organization) brought suit against clearcutting in the Monongahela National Forest
  • a federal judge declared that clearcutting in West Virginia (violated the Forest Management Act of 1897 (usually called the Organic Act), which specified that large and mature trees in National Forests could be marked, cut, and sold
  • To the shock of the Forest Service and the timber industry, the decision was upheld by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1975.
Forest Service set out to write a better law, negotiating with industry and environmentalists
National Forest Management Act of 1976 specified that clearcutting should be used only when it was the optimum method.

graph of

Clearcutting has continued to decline--it is hard to protect the old ways of doing things if public opinion is going the other way