Congress Passes the Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act codified a history of USDA-Forest Service tradition and policy, establishing as law that the national forests were to be used for a variety of purposes, including recreation, logging, environmental preservation, and providing watersheds.

Summary of Event

When the Organic Act Organic Act (1897) was passed in 1897, mandating the protection of timber and water resources for forest reserves, it remained the only significant legislation concerning national forest management for sixty-three years. Despite the constraints imposed by the act, the Forest Service Forest Service, U.S. did not restrict national forest-management practices to timber and water; range, wildlife, recreation, and minerals also were considered viable uses. Although improvements in timber growing and logging methods had emerged, national forest management before World War II was oriented toward fire protection for the maintenance of forest reserves. Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act (1960)[Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act] Environmental policy, U.S.;federal land National forests, U.S. [kw]Congress Passes the Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act (June 12, 1960) [kw]Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act, Congress Passes the (June 12, 1960)[Multiple Use Sustained Yield] [kw]Sustained Yield Act, Congress Passes the Multiple Use- (June 12, 1960) Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act (1960)[Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act] Environmental policy, U.S.;federal land National forests, U.S. [g]North America;June 12, 1960: Congress Passes the Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act[06530] [g]United States;June 12, 1960: Congress Passes the Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act[06530] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;June 12, 1960: Congress Passes the Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act[06530] [c]Environmental issues;June 12, 1960: Congress Passes the Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act[06530] McArdle, Richard E.[Macardle, Richard E.] Crafts, Edward C. Watts, Lyle Brower, David Humphrey, Hubert H. [p]Humphrey, Hubert H.;environmental policy Eisenhower, Dwight D. [p]Eisenhower, Dwight D.;environmental policy

During the war, national forests contributed a significant proportion of the six billion board feet of timber harvested for American military purposes. Wood was required for housing, ships, wharves, airplanes, trucks, crates, paper products, and explosives, among other items, and the chief of the Army Corps of Engineers Materials and Equipment Section maintained that because lumber was vital to the war effort, the lumber industry was “the most important industry in the country.”

Congress, convinced of timber’s importance and believing that it would foster economic stability in logging communities dependent on federal sales, passed the Sustained-Yield Forest Management Act Sustained-Yield Forest Management Act (1944)[Sustained Yield Forest Management Act] in 1944, authorizing the secretaries of agriculture and the interior to set aside federal forestlands for timber sales that otherwise would not be allowed. The Forest Service, heretofore unaccustomed to commercial silviculture (to avoid competition with struggling private timber companies), consequently reoriented operations toward production forestry.

After the war, Forest Service chief Lyle Watts sought a reappraisal of U.S. forestry and advocated nationwide logging regulation. The country’s timber supply was diminishing at a rate of 18.6 billion board feet a year, largely as a result of the civilian demand for lumber for home building and demands in reconstructing postwar Europe. Supply problems were compounded by poor timber management on private lands. Throughout the postwar years, however, controversy over regulation erupted between private and public forestry concerns. With the appointment of Richard E. McArdle as forest service chief in 1952, the debate eased when cooperation among private and public interests, not regulation, became viewed as a more feasible means of serving the public good.

Although forests were principally considered reserves held by the Forest Service to be tapped when private supplies were depleted, the pace of logging on federal lands quickened after the war and into the 1950’s because a large proportion of private lands were exhausted of timber, and the need for a national inventory of timber resources became more apparent. The Forest Service, pressured to alter its management policies, proposed a major plan, and Timber Resources for America’s Future Timber Resources for America’s Future (government report) was released in 1958, detailing forestry projection and timber demands until the year 2000. The report indicated that surplus forestland in the United States no longer existed, and for wood shortages to be avoided, timber lands must be used optimally.

For decades, Forest Service propaganda had fashioned the image of the forest ranger who protected the forests from rapacious lumbermen. When a strong dollar and affordable transportation enabled the American public to venture into the national forests after the war to hike, fish, and camp, they were dismayed to see logging activity and felt deceived by the Forest Service’s public relations campaign; consequently, the American public and special interest groups demanded protection of recreation areas.

In the meantime, as recreational use of national forests was escalating in addition to other demands such as mining and grazing, McArdle sought to bring a balance among these diverse and often conflicting activities by implementing the National Forest Development Program in 1959. The program called for a forty-year plan designed to accommodate the needs of multiple-use groups that relied on national forests. Only with federal legislation, however, could such a plan be effective.

By 1960, fifty-three bills suggesting multiple-use and sustained-yield management had been introduced in Congress, and on June 12, 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act (MUSYA), which had been passed by Congress four days earlier. It stated that “the national forests are established and shall be administered for outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, and wildlife and fish purposes.” Although the Forest Service had engaged in multiple use throughout its history, the passage of MUSYA marked a highlight in U.S. forestry because multiple use became law. The law defined multiple use as

the management of all the various renewable surface resources of the combination that will best meet the needs of the American people; making the most judicious use of the land for some or all of these resources or related services over areas large enough to provide sufficient latitude for periodic adjustments in use to conform to changing needs and conditions; that some land will be used less than all of the various resources, each with the other, without impairment of the productivity of the land, with consideration being given to the relative values of the various resources, and not necessarily the combination of uses that will give the greatest dollar return or the greatest unit output.

Thus, economic profit would not be considered to be a constraint in all national forest management activities.

Because much of the country’s forestland had been harvested without reforestation, a timber shortage was perceived by many conservationists to be imminent, and the concept of sustained yield was included in the legislation. More than a decade passed, however, before sustained yield became a significant issue. Sustained yield refers to a concept that restricts periodic harvest (annually or every few years) to no more than the ultimate timber growth in the same period. If harvest exceeds growth, timber inventory is reduced. Thus, sustained yield is a notion that suggests maintaining in perpetuity the same quantity of the national forests’ timber.


The Forest Service maintained that all specified uses—outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, and wildlife and fish purposes—were accorded equal status under the new law, but scholars Samuel Dana and Sally Fairfax have noted that “the agency strained to have recreation mentioned first when the multiple uses were listed,” in order to establish priorities. Although the agency claimed that the list was purely alphabetical, the Forest Service was concerned with losing land to the National Park Service, particularly lands designated for recreation use. Their diligent support of MUSYA was believed to be partially a response to that concern. With MUSYA’s passage, the Forest Service was considered a legitimate steward of federal recreation lands, and that concern was alleviated.

Livestock ranchers also were pleased with the bill’s passage. Although national forests had served their interests since the nineteenth century, only with MUSYA were they elevated to equality with other interest groups. In contrast, user groups devoted to timber and water resources reluctantly accepted their demotion to a status equal with that of other interest groups.

It was this lack of prioritization that elicited criticism of the bill because, although Congress passed MUSYA nearly unanimously, the act was not without controversy. The Sierra Club Sierra Club Environmental organizations;Sierra Club failed to support it because MUSYA lacked statutory management standards, and the club’s executive director, David Brower, fought to ensure protection for recreational use, particularly wilderness recreation. Furthermore, the Sierra Club argued that foresters, predisposed to timber production, were not qualified to make value decisions concerning acreage that was to remain unmanaged. Only because a statement was incorporated into the act designating wilderness as consistent with MUSYA’s provisions did the Sierra Club not actively oppose it.

Despite the truce inaugurated between the Sierra Club and the Forest Service concerning MUSYA, the club mounted a campaign in opposition to multiple use after the bill’s passage, belying McArdle’s prediction that MUSYA “undoubtedly will be looked upon in years to come as the basic charter for the administration of national forests.” Public controversy erupted at the Fifth World Forestry Congress Fifth World Forestry Congress (1960) in late summer, 1960, when pamphlets opposing multiple use were distributed at the conference by the Sierra Club. During the 1960’s, the environmental movement gained strength, and the Forest Service was challenged. After decades of public disinterest, the Forest Service was perceived to be an enemy of the environment.

The Sierra Club was not alone in demonstrating a lack of confidence in the government’s multiple-use agenda. Along with other special-interest groups, the Wilderness Society Wilderness Society lobbied intensively for federal wilderness sanctions, which resulted in the Wilderness Act Wilderness Act (1964) of 1964. Although mining interests were allowed to continue their activities for twenty years after its passage, this legislation was significant, because it showed how powerful recreational users were becoming—a potency that increased throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s.

During this time, recreationists and environmental-action groups were disturbed by the increased timber sales in national forests as well as by the visual blight resulting from clear-cutting. The need for development of U.S. forest policy was recognized when the public achieved this greater ecological awareness. This served as an impetus for post-MUSYA legislation relating to forest planning, which included the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973.

Congress was prompted to enact new forest legislation partly because of a sharp rise in timber prices in 1969. In 1972, Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, a longtime wilderness advocate, presented legislation for greater congressional control in national forest management. In 1974, the Forest Service issued the Environmental Program for the Future Environmental Program for the Future , a prospectus on national forest management for the next ten years. Information provided by this project enabled Congress to develop the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act (1974) (RPA), which was signed by President Gerald Ford on August 17, 1974.

The Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act authorized the preparation of national forest decennial management plans, which included an assessment of projected renewable resources supply and demand, a renewable resources inventory, an outline of Forest Service obligations and programs, and forest management policies. RPA also required the Forest Service to investigate alternatives for meeting U.S. forest resource requirements. Critics have claimed that RPA “was an answer to a bureaucrat’s prayer,” because it generated much paperwork and enabled the Forest Service to develop “impossibly expensive” forest management plans. Congress responded by maintaining the agency’s budget at reasonable levels, thus restricting the realization of true multiple-use plans. Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act (1960)[Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act] Environmental policy, U.S.;federal land National forests, U.S.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bryner, Gary C. U.S. Land and Natural Resources Policy: A Public Issues Handbook. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998. Provides a survey of the history of U.S. public-lands policy, as well as an overview of the major debates and issues and specific chapters on national forests, national parks, natural resources, biodiversity, and water resources, among other topics. Bibliographic references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cubbage, Frederic W., Jay O’Laughlin, and Charles S. Bullock. Forest Resource Policy. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1993. A comprehensive textbook that examines the processes, participants, and programs on forest resource policy that have developed over the past century. Focus is on the United States, however, one chapter is devoted to forest resource policy in a global context. Especially suitable for students of forestry, natural resource management, and environmental law but also useful for students of geography and history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dana, Samuel T., and Sally K. Fairfax. Forest and Range Policy: Its Development in the United States. 2d ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1980. A sound volume on the history of forest and range policy in the United States. Of particular value is the bibliographic essay, which categorizes sources under specific headings devoted to public agencies such as the Forest Service, Soil Conservation Service, and Bureau of Land Management.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ellefson, Paul V. Forest Resources Policy: Process, Participants, and Programs. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1992. An excellent overview of forest resource policy that includes specific chapters on policy implementation, evaluation, and termination as well as budgetary concerns in forest management.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">O’Toole, Randall. Reforming the Forest Service. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1988. A well-researched critique of Forest Service practices and policies vis-à-vis forest economics. Proposes radical changes in national forest management.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Robbins, William G. American Forestry. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985. A history of the development of forestry in the United States in relation to cooperation among federal, state, and private interests.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Steen, Harold K. The U.S. Forest Service: A History. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1976. An excellent volume on Forest Service history. Includes numerous well-documented references from primary and secondary sources. Of special interest are chapters devoted to the formulation and evolution of forest resource policy after World War II. Particularly useful for students of forestry and history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">U.S. Department of Agriculture. Timber Resources for America’s Future. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1958. Forest Resource Report no. 14. A comprehensive analysis of American forest resources before the passage of MUSYA. Includes abundant data, collected in the 1950’s, on timber resources such as forestland acreage, timber quality, and forestland ownership.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Williams, Gerald W. The USDA Forest Service: The First Century. Washington, D.C.: USDA Forest Service, 2000. Official history of the Forest Service and of U.S. forest policy. Bibliographic references.

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