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Not so long ago, forests were considered a hindrance to farming, a barrier to settlement, and a surplus commodity of minimal value to a small population of settlers. No profession existed to protect and manage the forests. As the U.S. population grew and land clearing increased by the mid-19th century, however, people with foresight realized that forests were becoming more valuable and, unless protected, might disappear entirely. Laws enacted by the federal and state governments around that time helped to slow down forest destruction. At the same time, opening the western territories to farming allowed forests to reclaim marginal farms abandoned in the East. 

In 1900, seven individuals founded the Society of American Foresters. At that time, they embodied practically the whole profession of forestry. In 1905, the U.S. Forest Service was established within the Department of Agriculture. Two years later, the Forest Service assumed responsibility for managing the newly established national forests.

Today, there are 154 national forests and 20 grasslands in 44 states and Puerto Rico; the land comprises 8.5 percent of the total land area in the United States. Each forest is divided into ranger districts, of which there are more than 600. Each district is run by a staff of 10 to 100 people, depending on the district's size. Not all of the country's forested land, however, is owned by the federal government. Many forestlands are owned by states and municipalities, and more than 50 percent of the country's forested land is privately owned.

These non-federally owned forest areas amount to approximately 500 million acres and account for about 20 percent of the country's land mass. Because of the growing awareness that forest resources need to be managed wisely, the forestry profession has developed rapidly. Foresters and forestry technicians are charged with protecting the nation's forests from fire, insects, and diseases; managing them for wood crops, water, wildlife, and forage; preserving their beauty and making them accessible to hikers, campers, and other outdoor enthusiasts; and training others to carry on their work.

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