In 1906 the Forest Homestead Act was passed. This authorized, but did not require, opening the reserves to free settlement. Because the Secretary of Agriculture had discretionary authority to open agricultural (tillable) lands within the boundaries of the reserves not needed for public purposes, the Forest Service recommended the opening of lands to entry only in response to specific applications.
By the middle of 1910, only a little over 600 acres were listed as suitable for entry. Pro-disposal forces within Congress tried unsuccessfully to enact legislation that would force the Secretary of Agriculture to open for entry all tillable lands within the National Forests regardless of their value for agriculture or value for public purposes. A system that has worked well for Congress was used in 1912 when a rider was attached to the Appropriations Bill that required and directed the Secretary ¨to select, classify, and segregate, as soon as practicable, all lands within the boundaries of National Forests that may be opened to settlement and entry under the Homestead laws.¨ This amendment was approved.
Interestingly, those same Congressional forces also proposed a rider to this 1912 Appropriation Bill that would grant all National Forests to the states. This particular rider was ruled out of order.
By 1919, with the exception of Alaska, the Homestead entry classifica- tions were completed and 2.5 million acres of National Forest System land were listed as open for settlement. The total area that eventually was patented under the Forest Homestead Act of 1906 was approximately 1.8 million acres. The Forest Homestead Act was finally repealed in 1962, even though Alaska had been the only state permitted to use it since 1934.
As a part of the 1912 Appropriations Act's land classification mandate, 12 million acres of National Forest System land was returned to the public domain as having minimal forest resources and public use benefits, and as being chiefly valuable for disposal and settlement. As a result of the 1906 and 1912 Acts, the 195-million-acre National Forest System at that time was reduced by 13.8 million acres.
Western National Forest expansion now almost stopped with the withdrawal of the authority of the executive branch to make reservations from the public domain. A growing body of conservationists, led by the American Forestry Association, turned to the East.