Forest Reserve Act

Looking north from Tomichi Divide, Cochetopa Forest Reserve (S. Hatton, 1904).

Congress established the Forest Reserve Act of 1891 on March 8th. President Benjamin Harrison signed the bill into law. There was both support from within Harrison’s administration and from government agencies for the FRA. Bernhard E. Fernow director of the Division of the Forestry lobbied for the creation of the bill. While John W. Noble, Secretary of the Interior, promoted the bill to Congress. The goal of the FRA was to preserve forest land, by completely closing off the land to outside use. The FRA made the sale and extraction of resources found on closed land illegal. Closed off forest land became designated as a “Forest Reserve.” Under the FRA, the president of the United States could choose land for designation. Congress and Fernow believed that closing off forest land was the only “true” way to preserve it.

Early tourists capture their memories of our nation’s first national park. (1902).

The Forest Reserve Act gave presidents complete authority to create reserves. Section 24 of the Forest Act, stipulated that:
The President of the United States may, from time to time, set apart and reserve, in any state or territory having public land bearing forests, in any part of the public lands, wholly or in part covered with timber or undergrowth, whether of commercial value or not, as public reservations; and the President shall, by public proclamation, declare the establishment of such reservations and the limits thereof.

President Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901).

President Harrison became the first to designate an area of land for preservation. On March 30th of 1891, Harrison created the first Reserve. This first chosen area of forest is known as Yellowstone Park Timberland Reserve. During his term in office, Harrison would designate over 15 forests. Harrison’s reserved acreage totaled to 13 million acres of land. The next three presidents after Harrison would use the FRA to create Forest Reserves. Grover Cleveland would create two Reserves, totaling of 5 million acres. Although, he would try to designate more land during his term. (To read more about Cleveland attempt to designate more land CLICK HERE.) William McKinley would remove 7 million acres of land from the public domain to preserve. Although, it would be President Theodore Roosevelt that would secure the most acreage. Roosevelt used the FRA to create 141 million acres of Forest Reserve land. An amendment to the FRA, in 1907, would limit the power presidents had to designate reserves. This amendment would also reclassify the Forest Reserves to “National Forests.”