Western Lands and Management History
Hello and I hope everyone is finding interesting things to do that are keeping you safe and happy!

I have been a tour guide for 22 years now; 16 years in Rocky Mountain National Park and 6 years in Olympic National Park, and one of the most common questions and misunderstandings that people have is the difference between the forest service and the park service . In this newsletter, I will give you a little insight into the difference.

For Example : On the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, we have both Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest. When people refer to “the park”, they are talking about land regulated by the Department of Interior. When people refer to “the forest”, they are talking about land regulated by the Department of Agriculture. There is a big difference between agencies and keep reading and you can find out why. 

The United States government owns about 650 million acres of land, it’s a lot of land and to put that into perspective: The two largest private land owners in the United States are John Malone (2.2 million acres) and Ted Turner (2 million acres). The state of Connecticut is just over 3 million acres.  

It might be best to start at the beginning: Although we consider July 4, 1776 the birth date of our nation, the Revolutionary War lasted until September 3, 1783 and didn’t officially end until May 12, 1784, which was nearly nine years of war. The US constitution was written in 1787, ratified in 1788 and became effective March 4, 1789 (a long 13 years after the Declaration of Independence). In 1789, the executive branch had three departments: State, War and Treasury; seemed simple enough…. In 1849 the Department of the Interior was created to handle all domestic issues regarding land and especially the resources of the American West; the country was expanding fast. 

Currently there are three major departments that oversee most of the federal land in the United States: The Department of Agriculture, the Department of Interior, and the Department of Defense (formerly the War Department). 

Department of Agriculture: Created by President Abraham Lincoln 1862, Lincoln wanted to make American lives better and since most American were farmers, the best way to proceed was to make them better farmers, including better home economics. Today most people are not farmers and 80% of the $140 billion budget helps to feed and house Americans through programs such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), which we used to call “Food Stamps”.

The Department of Agriculture oversees the National Forest Service, which manages 190 million acres of land, which is nearly 30% of total federal land. The Forest Reserve act of 1891 allowed for land to be moved from the Dept of Interior to the USDA. The Forest Service was created by Teddy Roosevelt in 1905 and Roosevelt appointed Gifford Pinchot as the department chief. The United States is divided into nine national forest regions and every state is included, but 80% of forest service lands are in the western United States. Most regions are designated as national forests, but there are also national grasslands and most regions allow for “resource extraction” (logging, hunting, mining, grazing etc.). Because extraction is allowed, these areas usually allow for a wide range of recreational uses like mountain biking, dog walking, snowmobiling, ATV’s, etc. Some forest service areas are designated “Wilderness Act” areas (similar to national parks), which offers the highest level of federal land protection, including protection of flora and fauna, which then also limits the types of recreational uses allowed. The “shape and face” of many national forests is constantly changing and will look different to future generations. 

Fire Fighting:  The National Forest Service has a $5 billion budget and about half of it is spent on fire management. In the year 1910, just 5 years after the formation of the forest service, the largest forest fire in US history occurred and burned nearly 3 million acres in Washington, Idaho and Montana and killed 87 people. Sometimes called the “Great Fire” it had a huge impact on the future management of western lands. There is an excellent PBS video: “The Big Burn” (Inspired by Timothy Egan's bestseller book) on the subject. By 1911, the federal fire policy was that all fire was bad and this philosophy was not officially changed until the 1964 Wilderness Act, which allowed for very limited fires to burn in remote areas. But it was the Yellowstone National Park fire of 1988 which really caused the national fire policy to slowly begin changing and to include fire as necessary for healthy forests. 

The Department of Interior: manages 450 million acres of land, which is about 70% of all federal land. The department has numerous domestic responsibilities, four important ones involving land are: The Bureau of Indian Affairs, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). 

The Department of the Interior oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs:  The native Americans have had a very complicated relationship with the federal government, to say the least. 55 million acres of land are “held in trust” by the federal government for native tribes. The United States holds legal title to these lands, but the tribes own the right to use and benefit from the land.

The Department of the Interior oversees the National Park Service:  Established is 1916, the park service manages all national parks, monuments, and historic sites. Its mission is to protect and preserve for future generations and also to provide public access. The park service manages about 80 million acres of land, including buildings, bridges, statues, etc. Many national parks have designated “1964 Wilderness Act” areas, which offers the highest level of federal land protection, but which also greatly limits the types of recreational uses allowed. In contrast to the national forest, the “shape and face” of park service land and monuments, will largely be unchanged for future generations and hopefully those generations will see the same landscape and monuments as we do today.

The Department of the Interior oversees the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:  The USFWS manages all the national wildlife refuges, about 150 million acres, mostly for land preservation, but allows for “resource extraction” (logging, hunting, mining, grazing, etc.)

The Department of the Interior oversees the Bureau of Land Management:  The BLM manages 245 million acres, which is nearly 40% of total federal lands. The mission of the BLM is "to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations." Originally BLM holdings were often described as "land nobody wanted" because homesteaders had no interest and sometimes the land is referred to as “extraction and grazing land”. President Harry S. Truman created the BLM in 1946 by combining two existing agencies: The General Land Office and the Grazing Service.

The Department of Defense (formerly the War Department) , one of the original executive departments, controls over 10 million acres in the United States and another 15 million acres overseas. 

I hope this clears up any confusion about "who is who" when it comes to federal land management. And when it's time again to travel and visit the great lands of the United states, come visit the beautiful and bio-diverse state of Washington to see what you can find!
Glaciers, Volcanoes and the Alpine
Arid and Desert Habitats,
Pacific Coast and Marine Life
Temperate Rainforest
All of the photos are from beautiful Washington State
Olympic National Park Fun
Backpacking season starts early in Olympic National Park. There will be snow at higher elevations through early summer, but at sea-level the temperatures stay moderate and there are many great locations available for over-night trips year round.

Nature Tours
Spring and summer are great times of year for birding on the Olympic Peninsula with over 300 different species of birds identified on the peninsula and over 500 in Washington state.

Olympic National Park has over 600 miles of maintained trails and nearly 70 miles of stunning Pacific Coastline. Choose your hike and habitat; rainforest, mountains or coastal routes.

Whether you enjoy an afternoon of fishing along the river, a day on Lake Crescent or including fly-fishing with your over-night backpacking trip to an alpine lake, we will have a tour for you. Check our website for more info.

International Travel Tours
New Tours
  • Sarawak and Northern Borneo: Birding and wildlife viewing, including orangutans
  • Sri Lanka: The best and most relaxing bird tour you will ever experience
  • Nepal: Birding the fantastic Himalayas and a great cultural experience
  • Mongolia: Birding the high steppes and staying in traditional "Gers" for lodging
  • Korea: Winter birding to view cranes and migrants
  • India: Birding for vegetarians, great culture and great food
  • Tallinn, Estonia for Winter Birding and New Year's Eve
  • Panama, Birding the Darien for Harpy Eagles

Still on the Schedule
  • Iceland: Great tours in May, the best New Year's Eve trip ever, and a special winter tour
  • Sweden: Christmas tour, Southwest Sweden and the Åland Islands for mid-summers'
  • Nicaragua: Our all time favorite place for birding and traveling anytime of year
  • El Salvador: Birding the best National Parks and Pacific Coast
  • Taiwan: A very special place for birding and one of our favorites
  • Colombia: Birding the Andes and Amazon, and having a lot of fun
  • Argentina: Birds and butterflies, more than you can count
  • Brittany, France: Birding the coast, great food and culture

In the United States
  • Santa Fe Birding and Opera Festival
  • Chicago Fun and Urban Birding
Your Dedicated Guides
Kaiyote & Ed
Photo from Sarawak, Borneo October 2019: We look forward to meeting and showing you all the great birds and wildlife and adventures that can be found around the world, the United States and in Washington state. Call us anytime! See you soon!
Kaiyote Tours www.KaiyoteTours.com +1 970-556-6103