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.