The U.S. Forest Service: A National Treasure in Partnership with Nature Explore

By Dexter Lane, Nature Explore Program Writer and Consultant

Two Trivia Questions:

Q. It’s 1971. In the classic family TV show “Lassie,” Timmy Martin and his family move to Australia. Who gets Timmy’s collie dog, Lassie?

A. Lassie’s new owner is Garth Holden. Garth soon becomes a U.S. Forest Service Ranger. Subsequent Lassie episodes are filmed in a variety of National Forests.


Q. What was the Zip Code assigned to Smokey Bear by the U.S. Postal Service?

A. The real Smokey Bear, rescued from a treetop by U.S. Forest Service Ranger/Firefighters after a 1950 forest fire, received so much mail to his eventual home in the National Zoo that he received his own zip code: 20252.


If you answered both questions correctly, move to the head of the Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom.

RMNPThe U.S. Forest Service has provided invaluable support to Nature Explore Classroom projects in Colorado and Texas. Through these projects, the Forest Service is instrumental in ensuring that thousands of children in years to come will receive significant daily contacts with nature.

We in the Nature Explore family know the increasingly vital importance of the outdoors to children. Yet the U.S. Forest Service has been providing information and services to everyone—families, children, and even businesses—for well over 100 years.

The Forest Service’s roots stretch back to 1876, when Congress funded research into the condition of our country’s forests. By the early 1900s, the newly designated United Stated Forest Service was acquiring increasing responsibilities for our public lands. Today, its wide-ranging responsibilities, research, and services are invaluable to the health and preservation of our forests, grasslands, and aquatic ecosystems. Yet very few of us realize the full depth of our indebtedness to this amazing national resource.

Did you know that the Forest Service actively manages over 193 million acres of public land, and is in stewardship partnerships for much more?

Also, the Forest Service:

…performs extensive conservation research, available through the “Treesearch” web database, in over 43,000 publications;

…houses the nation’s most experienced wildland firefighting teams in its Fire and Aviation Management division;

…has delivered its fire prevention public service ad campaign for over 70 years (Smokey Bear joined the campaign in 1944);

…and provides law enforcement services in our National Parks.

And this is just a very small sampling of its many activities.

The U.S. Forest Service ensures that our public lands are managed to balance ecosystems, along with recreational, and industrial needs. Its trails and forest maintenance allow recreational users to enjoy truly wild places. Backpackers, hikers, skiers, and many others benefit directly from Forest Service activities whenever they visit public lands. Yet it also provides businesses large and small with expert, research-based information on best-practice policies for forest, farmland, and wetland usage.

For years, the Forest Service has partnered with Arbor Day Foundation, one of the founders of the Nature Explore program. In 1976, collaborating with the Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters, Arbor Day Foundation launched “Tree City USA.” This program guides and supports small towns and large cities alike in comprehensive urban forestry programs, nurturing trees as valuable community resources. What started as 42 Tree City USAs has grown into 3,400 nationwide.

The Forest Service has also partnered with Arbor Day Foundation to replace trees damaged by fire, insects, and disease: In the past 20 years, 30 million trees have been planted on national forest lands. These collaborations merge expertise and resources into projects that benefit us all.

Those of us who have been around for a few generations take the long view of children’s relationship with nature. Yet the institutional memory of the U.S. Forest Service has the long+ view. Decades before the modern conservation movement started, the Forest Service was the conservation movement. Decades before we began worrying about children’s lack of outdoor time, the Forest Service provided many services to children and families, designed to give them enjoyable, informed, and safe outdoor experiences.

Mary Wagner, Associate Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, in her impassioned remarks during Warren Village’s outdoor classroom opening ceremony, said, “The gift of hope and possibility is what you set course to do with this great Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom. And so for the teachers and the parents who are going to back and support students in this experience, thank you; because you are changing lives and you may possibly be changing the world.”

We’d like to say to Ms. Wagner, and to all our friends at the U.S. Forest Service: “The gift to us all of our treasured National Forests is just one of the many that you give us, every day. To your Forest Rangers, Firefighters, Researchers, Law Enforcement Officers, Public Educators—thank you, because you are enhancing the quality of our lives by preserving our nation’s wild places. Through our partnership in service to the nation’s future environmental stewards, yes, we are changing lives. And we passionately believe that, together, we are changing the world.”