The national forest imperative : a historical geography of national forest landscapes, northern Rockies, Montana
Fockler, Matthew Neil
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The United States Forest Service manages over 193 million acres of American public land. Management of these landscapes is often contentious. National forests have emerged as landscapes where conflicting ideas about nature and complex value systems are displayed in tangible ways. Current research concerning public lands of the American West has recognized the necessity of attaching material, social, and landscape changes to larger theoretical and cultural structures. This dissertation informs these dialogues by exploring national forest landscape change along the Rocky Mountain Front region of the Crown of the Continent ecosystem in north-central Montana. Using the current Rocky Mountain Division of the Lewis and Clark National Forest as a case study, this research reconstructs landscape change associated with Forest Service management and connects these tangible landscape changes to larger national political, economic, and cultural drivers that shaped agency policies, the national economy, and American society. Furthermore, it explores how local forest users have influenced and shaped forest management and landscape change. In doing so, it draws parallels between these changes and larger American attitudes towards nature, suggesting in this process the role played by the national forests in that larger national narrative. Finally, this dissertation provides a methodology in which these place-based changes on the land can be stored and assessed within a historical geographic information systems (HGIS) database schema. By incorporating significant archival, landscape, and HGIS methodologies, this research finds that national forest landscapes are shaped by national and local cultural trends. The Forest Service has modified its management imperative to address these changes. National forest landscapes are therefore the result of a largely informal negotiation process between the Forest Service, other federal and state agencies and authorities, the public, and the natural world. National forest landscapes are shown to be meeting points where diverse and complex social relations and value systems are transferred to the landscape. This dissertation therefore provides a meaningful set of interpretive tools and a methodology for examining how America public land resources and the ecological world are valued and understood.