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Woods and Forests

Author: Michael J. Tyrkus and Carol A. Schwartz

"Woods and Forests." Gale Encyclopedia of American Law, edited by Michael J. Tyrkus and Carol A. Schwartz, 4th ed., vol. 10, Gale, 2022, pp. 485-486. Gale In Context: Opposing Viewpoints, Accessed 14 Mar. 2023.

Woods and Forests

A comprehensive term for a large collection of trees in their natural setting and the property on which they stand.

State and federal laws govern the harvesting, reforestation, and other uses of woods and forests. The federal government maintains a system of national forests under the direction of the U.S. Forest Service, and most states also have forested land set aside as reserves.


A state may properly compel and encourage private owners to participate in programs for the reforestation of land. It can mandate that private property owners who are engaged in commercial lumbering operations provide for reforesting by leaving a certain number of trees for reseeding purposes, or by restocking the area with seedlings. The property owner's logging permit can be granted with the condition that he or she participate in the reforestation program.

A state can also give its forestry department the authority to arrange for the planting of roadside trees and to regulate the cutting and trimming of trees along the highways. In addition, various state statutes have been enacted to provide for the nurture and protection of shade and ornamental trees on public streets and highways. These statutes are based on a state's police power, which is to be used to promote the general welfare of its citizens.

State laws require precautions to be taken against forest fires. The state can prevent property owners from having fires during the summer without permission, or it can authorize a state forester to determine whether an owner of forest land has provided sufficient protection against fire. During drought periods, when the fire danger is increased, the public may be prohibited from entering forests and woodlands.


Since the early twentieth century, it has been federal policy to reserve federally owned wooded areas as national forests. The goal is to improve and protect these areas so they can provide timber to be used by the public. Congress has the authority to provide for the development and maintenance of national forests and to acquire land for such purposes. Federal laws and regulations concerning national forests and their protection are paramount and preempt conflicting state laws. The Forest Service, which is a branch of the Agriculture Department, manages and regulates national forests and grasslands. The National Forest Management Act of 1976, 16 U.S.C.A. §§ 472a, 521b. 1600, 1611–1614, is the primary statute governing the administration of the national forests. It directs the government to manage the renewable resources on national forest lands.

When a national forest is created, the reserved land is no longer subject to use for private purposes, except according to applicable statutes and regulations. The Forest Service can, therefore, issue permits for occupancy and the cutting of timber within national forests.

The granting of logging rights to private companies has proved controversial since the mid-1960s, when the practice of clearcutting was introduced. Clearcutting is a method of harvesting and regenerating timber in which all trees are cleared from a site and a new, even-aged stand of timber is grown. Many conservation and citizen groups object to clearcutting in the national forests, citing soil and water degradation, unsightly landscapes, overharvesting, destruction of diversity of plants and animals, and other damages and abuses. Clear-cutting accounted for 63 percent of the national forest area harvested between 1984 and 1994. Beginning in 1992, the Forest Service modified its policies to reduce clearcutting, but the administration of President George W. Bush attempted to reverse course. A final example occurred just before President Bush left office in 2009. The administration issued the Western Oregon Plan Revisions, a harvesting program that would have greatly increased old-growth clearcutting in western Oregon Bureau of Land Management forestlands. The incoming administration of President Barack Obama withdrew the plan in July 2009.

A portion of the proceeds from the use of national forests is given to the state in which the forest is located. The funds are to be spent for the benefit of public schools and roads in the counties that encompass the forest.

Generally a state can create forest reserves when they are reasonably necessary to promote the public welfare. A state can also levy taxes for the support of such forests.


Environmental Law

DMU Timestamp: March 11, 2023 09:24

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