CSU faculty writing history of the modern U.S. Forest Service

Michael and Leisl in Uintah National Forest

Michael and Leisl with their dog Bear in the Uintah National Forest

Two Colorado State University faculty members have received a four-year, $200,000 grant to write an updated history of the U.S. Forest Service.

Leisl Carr Childers
Leisl Carr Childers

Michael Childers and Leisl Carr Childers are assistant professors in the Department of History who left the University of Northern Iowa in 2018 to join CSU’s Public Lands History Center. Their new book, which is being funded by the Forest Service, will stretch back to 1960, when the agency adopted a multi-use policy that transformed the organization’s mission from a limited, extraction-focused approach to being more broad, covering issues like conservation and recreation.

“It was kind of a shift toward managing people, not trees,” Carr Childers said, explaining that the book will document how that philosophical shift toward more environmental protection and preservation unfolded in the ensuing decades. They said the move flipped the agency’s focus from making money off the land and its natural resources to prioritizing the health of the land itself. Childers added that the Forest Service plans to use the book to inform and shape policy decisions moving forward.

The couple are no strangers to writing about the history of public lands. They attended the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where they met Lincoln Bramwell, the chief historian for the U.S. Forest Service. Carr Childers is the author of The Size of the Risk: Histories of Multiple Use in the Great Basin (University of Oklahoma Press, 2015), and Childers’ first book, Colorado Powder Keg: Ski Resorts and the Environmental Movement (University of Kansas, 2012), covers the history of the ski industry in Colorado.

Michael and Leisl in Gunnison National Forest

Exploring the Gunnison National Forest with Bear

Comprehensive modern history

Several histories have been written about the early years of the Forest Service, which was founded in 1906. But no comprehensive history has looked at the nearly 60 years since passage of the 1960 Multiple-Use Sustained Yield Act, which addressed wilderness designations, environmental impacts, water and air quality, range management, endangered species, forest planning and outdoor recreation.

Michael Childers
Michael Childers

Their book will also address the agency’s transformation in administrative culture during this period, when it moved from an agency largely staffed by white men to one that has worked to embrace the role of women and people of color within its ranks, reflecting the larger changes in the federal workforce in the decades since integration and women’s liberation.

While the couple has been collaborating since graduate school at UNLV, this will be their first co-authored book. The project, which will include interviews with a variety of users of Forest Service land, will result in the publication of an administrative history as well as a scholarly monograph.

Childers and his mother are both CSU alumni. He earned his master’s degree in history in 1997, and remembers working as a member of the University’s grounds crew during the 1997 flood, assigned to the zone that included the Oval.

The Department of History and the Public Lands History Center are based in CSU’s College of Liberal Arts.