Forest Service May Move to Interior. Some See Agency As Out of Place Under the USDA. By Christopher Lee. Washington Post Staff Writer.
While this may seem new, this is one of the oldest controversies in the history of American conservation.
The Forest Service began at the end of the 19th century as the Division of Forestry in the Department of Interior. President Theodore Roosevelt and his key advisor, forester Gifford Pinchot, pushed to move the Division of Forestry to the Department of Agriculture. USDA was then a new department. Many felt it was progressive and science-minded compared to the old line Department of Interior, then properly regarded as a site of corruption. The Division was moved, renamed the U.S. Forest Service, and Pinchot became the first Chief Forester. He had a very close relation with President Roosevelt during his time in office.
Pinchot was the father of the concept that the national forests should be used for many things (multiple use), not protection of wildlife and scenery alone. In fact, he devalued these latter ideas, causing a split in the early conservation movement between the utilitarian and development minded conservationists and those who sided with John Muir — “esthetic conservationists.” Both were disliked in places like Idaho. In fact, Idaho’s senator Heyburn (an early day Larry Craig) successfully pushed legislation to stop the creation of more national forests by the President.
Later during the Franklin Roosevelt administration, there was a long battle where Secretary of Interior Harold Ickes (father of the current Harold Ickes in the news) tried for years to get the Service back in Interior, only to fail. As the article above says, Presidents since have proposed putting the Forest Service back or part of a new Department of Natural Resources. All attempts have failed due to the entrenched interest groups that have struggled over these issues in the last hundred years.
Today it’s hard to say which Department is the most corrupt, although once again I’d say Interior is. It has had both high and low profile scandal after scandal under Bush. I have posted articles on many of these, most recently Julie MacDonald and her politicization of endangered species petitions.