Passed on March 1, 1911, the Weeks Act allowed the federal government to purchase land for the purpose of creating national forests, with a particular emphasis on protecting watersheds. To do this, the act required setting up a commission to identify these areas and providing funds to acquire land surrounding the watersheds. Many of the men interviewed for this project cite the Weeks Act as the most important piece of legislation for establishing national forests in the Southern Region. Prior to the Weeks Act’s passage, most federally owned forest existed in the west. Since passage of the Weeks Act, almost 20 million acres of land have been designated as national forests and grasslands, much of it in the eastern United States.
While the Weeks Act had national impact, the men interviewed for this project reflected on the Act’s legacy in the Southern Region. Jack Alcock stated, “Down here in the thirteen states of the south [the forests] were put together piece by piece by piece.” Mac McConnell noted, “Every place I worked, I was there because of the Weeks Act. There wouldn’t have been any national forests in the South without the Weeks Act.” Dave Jolly echoed this sentiment, reflecting that “We wouldn’t have had the national forest in the east had it not been for the Weeks Act…there was a little tiny bit of public domain land in the east, but not very much.” Ray Mason acknowledged that while there were some national forests in the south as early as 1906, such as Florida’s Ocala and Choctawhatchee National Forests, these were few and far between. Mason emphasized that these forests “were made out of federal lands that had never been claimed or prospected on through the various Homestead Acts. But…in the east, there was a minimal of that kind of land…most of the national forest land…in Region 8 for instance, were what they called Weeks Act forests. So for me and many other U.S. foresters, there wouldn’t have been a job there, you might say, and so it did have a big impact.”
Other interviewees reflected on the important work early foresters and conservation organizations undertook to rebuild land purchased under the Weeks Act. Gordon Small noted that organizations helped build support for the Weeks Act, which allowed the Forest Service to “[take] over these cut over, burned out, eroding lands” and redevelop them into the forests people enjoy today. Jim Kidd stated that many of these lands were damaged by early logging practices such as “just getting the value out and cutting it, running railroads up these creeks, logging down the creeks, skidding, you know, putting the roads…and what was happening is they were creating these massive floods and there were some terrible floods around the turn of the century.” For Kidd and many of the Forest Service employees across the South who preceded him, the Weeks Act provided an opportunity to rehabilitate and reforest the landscape. Their work continues over a century later in the Southern Region.
Read more about the history of the Weeks Act in Region 8, including information on individuals states and national forests. You can also view the Weeks Bill, The Weeks Act of March 1, 1911, and maps of Weeks Act forests.