Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has signed a proclamation recognizing the beginning of the centennial celebration of a landmark piece of environmental legislation that led to the creation of nearly 20 million acres of new national forests in the eastern United States. The Weeks Act provided the foundation for the creation of national forests in the East as well as the cooperative relationship with states, tribes and individuals to protect and enhance forests, grasslands and watersheds from fire and other threats.
The act, named after former Representative John Weeks of Massachusetts, was spurred by a changing national attitude that evolved in the early 1900s toward conserving public lands. Until then, lands set aside for conservation were all located in the West and were created from large blocks of land in the public domain. The act allowed land acquisition processes through purchase of private lands to establish publicly-owned forests, particularly in the East.
In signing the proclamation, the Secretary said, - the Weeks Act is one of the most significant natural resource conservation achievements of the 20th century. During the last 100 years, the Weeks Act has led to the creation of 52 national forests in 26 Eastern states, and the addition of 19.7 million acres on national forests and grasslands across 41 states and Puerto Rico. Today, about one-fifth of the nation's clean drinking water has its origins in forests preserved under the Weeks Act.