E.A. Sherman’s 1916 Publications on Recreation and the National Forests

Students of Forest Service policy often point to the 1960 passage of the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act as the agency’s first major commitment to uses other than timber harvest and watershed protection. In fact, some Forest Service officials highlighted the importance of other uses — including recreation, wilderness, and grazing — in the earliest decades of the agency.

After the national forest reserves solidified into a system of national forests in 1905, questions of appropriate use increasingly rose to public prominence. The forests’ role in supplying timber and protecting watersheds was spelled out by law, but other uses such as grazing and recreation were left more to the discretion of Forest Service officials.

By 1916, recreational use of many national forests had become quite popular as more automobiles brought more people farther afield than ever before. Development of recreational lodges and cabins on forest lands had also begun in earnest following the passage of the Term Permit Act in 1915.

In a 1916 article in the journal Landscape Architecture, assistant forester E.A. Sherman clearly stated his views that recreation and the “preservation of natural beauty” deserved priority consideration in various places on the national forest system. Sherman also foretold a time when recreation would prove itself a major player on the nation’s forest lands and that preservation objectives had the potential to overlap with the policies of the Department of the Interior and its national parks (the National Park Service itself would not exist until its organic act passed on August 25, 1916).

Later that same year, in July of 1916, Sherman published a second article, this time focusing on recreational use of the forests of the western United States. In the Proceedings of the Society of American Foresters, Sherman advocated that his agency sanction the “non-use” of recreation as the “highest use” of certain forest lands.

Sherman’s early views were nearly prophetic on several counts: he seemed to anticipate the future importance of wilderness protections, scenic roads, the popularity of national forest recreation, and aspects of other recreational issues such as reservoir developments in the arid West.