The American forestry movement started in 1875 with the creation of the American Forestry Association. Seven years later, the first American Forest Congress was held, creating the momentum to preserve and restore the nation's forests. Ohio was at the forefront of this movement, creating a state forestry agency in 1885
Ohio's legislature transferred the state forestry bureau to the Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station in 1906, thus creating what would become the modern day Division of Forestry.
The charge of this agency was to “thoroughly inquire into the character and extent of the forests of the state; to investigate the causes of which are in operation to produce their waste and decay; to suggest what legislation is necessary for the development of a rational system of forestry …and to establish a forestry station on the grounds of The Ohio State University.”
The new State Forester found that Ohio's forests – virtually all of which were privately owned – were in poor condition. He discovered that Ohio was nowhere near as forested as it was 100 years before with only 10 percent of the state with forest cover. It was determined that a coordinated forest policy was needed.
The idea of a system of forest reserves was proposed. In a 1912 article on the proposal, the Division of Forestry advocated for the system, noting that forest reserves and parks are essential to a progressive forest policy. The Division proposed that the forests vary in size, keeping in mind that the principal objective was to pave the way for the practice of forestry among private owners. With the danger of fire minimized, the increase of state forests would then be considered, the division said. It also noted that there were certain areas in Ohio that should belong to the state and be devoted to forestry.
Reserves were seen as both as protectors to watersheds and as parks and pleasure grounds for the people. They were seen as potential good revenue producers for the state. (Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station, Forest Conditions in Ohio, Fifth Annual Report, Bulletin 254, December, 1912)
The legislature amended the Ohio Constitution in 1912 to allow for the creation of a forest reserve system and to pass laws encouraging the propagation and cultivation of forestry on all lands. Soon after, the legislature appropriated funds for the initial purchases of land.