Wilderness 101: Multiple Use

By Beacon Staff

Welcome back, students. My esteemed colleague, Professor Schneider’s recent lecture (May 21 Beacon: “Wilderness is Multiple Use”) redefining wilderness as the fullest form of multiple use has changed our lesson plan. Today, we’ll backtrack a bit in our study of wilderness politics and take a fuller look at the Multiple-Use Sustained Yield Act of 1960 (MUSYA).

First, fire up your computer or open up a new window, then enter: www.fs.fed.us/emc/nfma/includes/musya60.pdf; the entire text of MUSYA, courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service. As you can see, while the history of multiple use is long and complicated, the law itself, at a page and a half, certainly is not.

Let’s begin with Professor Schneider’s assertion that mining is not a “multiple use.” Semantically, this is correct, but clarification is necessary. The Organic Act of 1897, which laid the groundwork for national forests, reads “it is not the purpose or intent of these provisions, or of the Act providing for such reservations, to authorize the inclusion therein of lands more valuable for the mineral therein, or for agricultural purposes, than for forest purposes.” With MUSYA, Congress re-affirmed this intent: “Nothing herein shall be construed so as to affect the use of administration of the mineral resources of national forest lands.”

Congress explicitly recognized mining and the mineral estate as not only separate from, but superior to, the renewable multiple uses or products available on the surface estate. Through MUSYA, Congress ordered the Secretary of Agriculture to “develop and administer the renewable surface resources of the national forests for multiple use and sustained yield of the several products and services obtained there from.”

MUSYA declared there is more to forests than wood for houses, and water for cities, farms and industry, or as the Organic Act of 1897 put it, “to improve and protect” forest reserves, to secure “favorable conditions of water flows, and to furnish a continuous supply of timber for the use and necessities” of Americans.

Congress through MUSYA explicitly added fish and wildlife, outdoor recreation and grazing to wood and water as renewable products national forests were expected to produce, “making the most judicious use of the land for some or all of these resources or related services” in the combinations “that will best meet the needs of the American people.”

Congress further recognized that perhaps those combinations would change over time, through language granting “sufficient latitude for periodic adjustments in use to conform to changing needs and conditions.”

But Congress also put parameters on how to “best meet” our needs. The new MUSYA multiple uses were “declared to be supplemental to, but not in derogation [revocation] of, the purposes for which the national forests were established as set forth in the Act of June 4, 1897,” the Organic Act.

As Mr. Schneider noted, Section 2 of MUSYA certainly reads that “areas of wilderness are consistent with the purposes and provisions” of the Act. But the preceding sentence reads, “In the administration of the national forests due consideration shall be given to the relative values of the various resources in particular areas.”

Wilderness is an appropriate use, as Congress further affirmed four years later with the Wilderness Act. But wilderness, and its associated set of rather limited “multiple uses,” was not placed above the multiplicity of other uses. Wilderness was, and is today, just one of many options – or “products” – to be given “due consideration.”

Wilderness is certainly a use. But so is timber harvest. So is fishing and hunting, hiking and driving. So is hydropower. So is irrigation. Even mining, or exploring for energy, are uses – in the common and correct vernacular of multiple use.

Finally, so far absent in our discussion of multiple use is its twin, the “sustained yield” of those multiple uses.

For now, consider the definition in MUSYA Section 4(b), “‘Sustained yield of the several products and services’ means the achievement and maintenance in perpetuity of a high level annual or regular periodic output of the various renewable resources of the national forests without impairment of the productivity of the land.”
Class dismissed.

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