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U.S. Forest Service History

The United States Forest Service, an agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has existed for more than one hundred years with the express purpose of managing public forests and grasslands. Much can be learned about the changing attitudes of the American people toward nature, natural resources, and each other, by examining the history of the USFS. These webpages are intended to document some of that long history.

From the beginning of his career as the first Chief of the USFS, Gifford Pinchot recognized the value of photography to explain, educate, and influence the public as he worked to introduce the new field of forestry. To learn more about the massive and rich resource that grew out of his enthusiasm, see “SHOOT: Over 100 Years of Forest Service Photography” by former USFS Historian, Aaron Shapiro.

The U.S. Forest Service Headquarters History Collection

The U.S. Forest Service maintains a historical reference collection at the Forest History Society, in Durham, North Carolina. This collection features historical materials amassed since the early twentieth century by U.S. Forest Service employees. The collection is useful for researchers and Forest Service employees interested in the administrative history of the agency and the broader histories of forestry, conservation, and land use. The materials include correspondence, memoranda, legislation, books, periodicals, articles, pamphlets, and photographs. Materials are continuing to be added from a variety of sources. The Forest History Society has produced an online searchable database of the collection to aid researchers.

In addition to caring for the U.S. Forest Service collection, the Forest History Society maintains bibliographic and archival databases. The Society's many resources also include approximately 30,000 photographs, many of which document Forest Service activities. In May of 2008, more than 13,000 Forest Service images from the Eastern Region (Region 9) were incorporated into the Society's image database, creating the largest number of searchable historic Forest Service images on the Web.

2005 marked a year-long celebration of the centennial of U.S. Forest Service management of the national forests within the Department of Agriculture. Several special productions including a book and film were created for the occasion, and a series of oral history interviews with Forest Service employees were also conducted. Chief Dale Bosworth also spoke about the importance of history at the 60th anniversary of the Forest History Society.

For further information about the U.S. Forest Service Headquarters History Collection, contact the Forest History Society staff.

The Forest History Society is a member of the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC #10138).

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Updated: 2/8/2013