The United States Forest Service is a Department of Agriculture agency charged with managing the public lands in forests and grasslands throughout the country, totaling over 193 million acres of land. Their motto, "Caring for the land and serving people," expresses their mission. The lands managed by the Forest Service include The National Forest System, which covers more than eight percent of the lands in the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Forest Service conducts research on forests and grasslands to benefit all 50 states, the territories and commonwealths of the United States. Five hundred of the 30,000 employees are dedicated to the research and development branch of the agency. The work performed includes studies on invasive plants, watersheds and river systems, sustainable harvesting of forests and inventorying the nations forests and grasslands, including privately owned land, for species, health and size of trees among other important statistics.
Silvics of North America, a publication of the Forest Service, was first issued in 1965 after taking 10 years to complete. It contains the description of 127 trees found throughout the United States. Since the first publication, the handbook has been updated to include some 200 hardwoods and conifers found throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico along with tropical trees that include those in Puerto Rico. In addition to Silvics of North America, the Forest Service provides numerous other publications and brochures.
Conifers are classified as Gymnosperms, which means "Naked Seed." The seeds of gymnosperms are produced without flowers. Instead, the plant produces pollen in a male cone, which is transfered by wind or other means to a female cone. After fertilization, the seed develops on the female cone until it is mature. We commonly think of gymnosperms or conifers as spruces, firs and pines. They typically have narrow leaves referred to as needles and are mostly evergreen, meaning they don't shed their leaves in the fall.
Contrary to the name, hardwoods are mainly deciduous trees that may have both hard and soft wood. All belong to the classification of Angiosperm, which means they produce seeds by means of flowers. The Forest Service classifies hardwoods by the type of flower they produce. Perfect flowers have both sexes within a single flower. Monoecious trees have male and female flowers on the same tree while Dioecious plants have male flowers on one tree and female flowers on a different tree. Hardwoods have broad leaves typical of the oaks, maples, elms and fruit trees most of us are familiar with and shed their leaves every fall.
To help preserve environmentally important areas from being converted to non-forested or non-grassland uses, the Forest Services implements the Legacy Program. Most of the lands acquired through this program are by conservation easements. The cost of acquiring the lands is split between the Forest Service and either state or private funding, with the government funding up to 75 percent of the cost. The Ossippi Pine Barrens, an area of global ecological significance in New Hampshire, is one example of how the Legacy Programs works with the states to preserve important areas for future generations.