Composition Over Division: The Statutes of the National Forest System

01 September 2021

Most crises like those facing the National Forest System (NFS) have complex origins. But few of them result from as vast or as tangled a range of causes as do those facing the NFS. Appropriations to fight the wildfires now consuming our forests and choking the West have steadily grown, far outpacing inflation for a generation now. Timber and other commodity production has remained at historic lows for as long. And biodiversity conservation measures cannot gain the acquiescence of different constituencies long enough to withstand the inevitable lawsuits or turnover in administrative personnel. If Congress originally expected that judicial oversight would keep the Forest Service managing the NFS consistent with its own intent, that assumption has long since been buried. This study puts the NFS statutes' distinct facets in a truer light, though, offering what it calls a compositional interpretation. It shows how Congress's reiterations of research, reporting, and analysis requirements, combined with its multi-level planning mandates and varied oversight mechanisms, should fit together to enable continuous, deliberate improvements within the Forest Service.