Forest to Faucet: Why National Forests Are More Than Recreational Spaces

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"One of the foundational principles of the U.S. Forest Service is water," observed Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell in an interview with me in mid-February. His observation was made in reference to the impact of the Clean Water Act on and importance to watershed management within the national forests. His insight is now a matter of heightened concern as a shifting climate alters the levels of precipitation across the country.

But to understand the hydrological challenges of our immediate present, and the drier future they may presage, it is critical to recognize the implicit thrust of Tidwell's comment: history matters.

No one better understood the power of water to define life in the American west than the 19th-century activists and scientists who articulated the need for the creation of the national forests. They predicated their arguments on a close reading of the land and the tight ecological relationship they believed existed between upstream watersheds and downstream economies.

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