1953 Robert W. Sawyer Response to Chamber of Commerce Speech

In an article published in the March 1953 issue of American Forests titled "The Whole Story," Robert W. Sawyer fired back at Laurence Lee's view that federal lands represented a drain on county revenues. Sawyer contended that Lee's Chamber of Commerce position was filled with "half-truths" geared toward opening the national forests up to commercial exploitation. Of corporate designs on national forest timber Sawyer stated, "Here is the one natural resource in sole government control that private operators would like to reach."

Sawyer also pointed out that the national forests -- and federal ownership of lands more generally -- do not represent the burden to state revenues that Lee portrayed. In addition to subsidies for highway and roads programs, grazing fees, and payments to states and counties in lieu of taxes, Sawyer noted that the majority of federal lands were in public ownership because they had long been deemed the leftover wastelands. Furthermore, the few federal moves for land acquisition had nearly all been initiated not by the government, but by private land owners -- many of whom had cut or grazed the lands so heavily they no longer found them valuable.

In a speech he gave later in December 1953, at the "Mid-Century Conference on Resources for the Future," Sawyer brought out another reason for public ownership of lands. Distinguishing "service" uses such as watershed protection and access for public recreation, from the "profit" uses of logging, grazing, or mining, Sawyer asserted that public control of lands was essential if these service uses were to be preserved. "[S]ince there is no profit use in the service uses there must be public control [of public lands]."



"The Whole Story" by Robert W. Sawyer, reprinted from March 1953 American Forests.

"Mid-Century Conference on Resources for the Future" transcript from speech by Robert W. Sawyer, Bend, Oregon, December 2, 1953.