By 1911, vast swaths of the eastern United States had been decimated by poor farming techniques and industrialization. Clear-cutting for timbering and agriculture, followed by massive erosion, destroyed vast rural areas from Maine to Michigan, New Jersey to Georgia. There seemed no going back.
A follow-up to the conservation legacy of Teddy Roosevelt’s administration, a piece of legislation was signed by William Howard Taft in March 1911 that reverberates into our time. The Weeks Act authorized the Federal government – for the first time – to purchase private land to protect watersheds throughout the eastern United States. And the Fed’s new role meant going after cheap land – land that had been ravaged by poor timbering practices.
Like Aldo Leopold discovered, replanting and nourishing a ravaged landscape will lead to beauty. With help, nature heals faster. And so the legacy of the Weeks Act today are the splendid National Forests of the eastern United States – including our own in Florida. Land for the Apalachicola and Osceola National Forests was acquired through the Weeks Act, and the Ocala National Forest, already in existence, was expanded with the inclusion of the Lake George Watershed and the lands surrounding Alexander Run and Juniper Run.