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Changing Conceptions of Sustained-Yield Policy on the National Forests

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Sustained yield has always been an important component of USDA Forest Service timber policy, but the definition of it has changed markedly over the past 75 years. Initial policy, a legacy from Europe, restricted national forest timber harvest to current growth. Sustained-yield policy began to shift in the 1920s, as the Forest Service realized that vegetative composition of most national forests was dominated by old growth and, hence, did not fit the ideal of a fully regulated forest. Policy then focused on harvesting so as to attain a regulated structure as soon as practicable. In the 1930s, a link was forged between sustained yield and a social concern: maintaining stable communities. Thus, Forest Service policy began to emphasize uniformity of harvests, despite the unregulated condition of the national forests. In 1973, in the midst of rising environmentalism and with a highly dependent timber industry, the Forest Service adopted its most restrictive view of sustained yield: nondeclining harvest levels. This conception of sustained yield was reflected in the National Forest Management Act of 1976. With continuing controversy over sustained-yield policy, and a lack of evidence that nondeclining even flow necessarily ensures either stable communities or forest resource protection, the time seems right to ask: "Where should sustained-yield policy go from here?"
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Document Type: Journal Article

Affiliations: Forest Economist, Center for Natural Resource Studies

Publication date: 1983-03-01

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  • The Journal of Forestry is the most widely circulated scholarly forestry journal in the world. In print since 1902, the Journal has received several national awards for excellence. The mission of the Journal of Forestry is to advance the profession of forestry by keeping forest management professionals informed about significant developments and ideas in the many facets of forestry: economics, education and communication, entomology and pathology, fire, forest ecology, geospatial technologies, history, international forestry, measurements, policy, recreation, silviculture, social sciences, soils and hydrology, urban and community forestry, utilization and engineering, and wildlife management. The Journal is published bimonthly: January, March, May, July, September, and November.

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