The Weeks Act
March 1, 2011 marks the centennial of the Weeks Act, signed by President William Howard Taft on March 1, 1911. Debated by Congress for over a decade and named for its sponsor, Congressman John Wingate Weeks of Massachusetts, a renewed era of federal forest development began with its passage.
The vast majority of federal forests are in the West, created within federal lands purchased from France, Russia and Mexico or won in the Mexican-American War. In Eastern states, there was little in the way of federal land. Florida, purchased from Spain, was an exception, hence TR’s Ocala National Forest and his many federal bird sanctuaries.
The Weeks Act allowed the federal government to purchase eastern forest land to regulate the headwaters of interstate rivers. The Pisgah National Forest of Western North Carolina, founded in 1916, was purchased primarily from the vast holdings of the Vanderbilt family, the first national forest born of the Weeks Act.
While post dating his presidency, the Weeks Act is an important part of the Roosevelt legacy. As president and after, TR championed the effort. His National Conference on the Conservation of Natural Resources in 1908 and his post presidential advocacy were critical to forging the coalition successful in its passage. The Big Burn, the destructive fire that raged in the West in August 1910, provided a final reminder that wise use of water and timber resources might help avert such terrible disasters.
Now, go hike a forest trail!