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The future of our national forests

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By Don Mallicoat –

I attended the public hearing last week at the NC Arboretum for the future plan of the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests. This was not the first series of meetings. The initial public input was gathered during similar meetings in February and March. From those meetings the U.S. Forest Service narrowed down the areas of greatest interest into three areas: Wildlife Habitat, Scenery & Recreation, and Special Land Designations. Those three were the primary areas of discussion last week.

The good news in that was that wildlife habitat, particularly early successional, made the cut. That is thanks primarily to the efforts of several conservation groups and local Wildlife Commission staff to get hunters to turn out and provide their input. I guess the old saying is true: 80% of life is just showing up. I also hear through the grapevine that early successional habit being one of the main topics has local environmental groups uneasy. It should. To achieve wildlife habitat goals it’s going to require cutting timber and they don’t like that.

The meeting last week started with a brief overview of the previous public hearings and information pertaining to each of the three focus areas. We started with wildlife habitat and I must say that the data provided was appalling. The first thing that jumped out at me from one of the charts was the paucity of existing young forest growth in our mountains. Currently there is only .75%, that’s right, three quarters of one percent, in young forests less than 10 years old. When you add in young forest 11 – 20 years old it only increases by 1 percent. If you are wondering, the USFS goal is 5 – 15 percent.

When you break that data out by management areas designated for wildlife habitat none of the areas even achieved the minimum 5 percent goal. Not even close. So the data proves that hunters are right in their assumption that there is a lack of quality wildlife habitat. Of course declining wildlife populations have already shown us that.

After the initial briefings on the three focus areas the approximately 100 people there moved to discussion groups on each one. The session was set up as a round-robin. We were randomly assigned to groups and rotated to each of three stations. I was fortunate enough to draw wildlife habitat first. Yes, I provided my input. What is disconcerting is that there are people out there, representing the environmental movement, that do not want human management of our forests. They think we can “let nature take its course” through dead trees falling, wildfires, wind damage, etc. to produce the needed habitat.

I also provided written input to the other two areas. As far as designated areas my input was that we do not need any more. Do you realize that a full 30% of our two National Forests are under some sort of designation? And three-quarters of that 30% is in the two most restrictive categories: wilderness and roadless areas. These two prohibit any kind of management activity because of the restrictions on motorized traffic.

I hope my input will be instrumental in guiding the decisions for the future of our forests. Another disconcerting fact was the light turnout by hunters at the Asheville meeting. There were some deer hunters there, but as far as I could tell the grouse hunters were represented by me and one other person. Believe me it wasn’t from lack of notification. The Ruffed Grouse Society biologist had been sending emails out to local members for several weeks reminding them of the meetings and providing facts to support the need for wildlife habitat.

This begs the question: Just what will it take to get hunters interested in taking back their National Forests? For too long we have sat idly by and expected/depended on the Forest Service and WRC to support our best interests. We can no longer do that. Believe me, when it comes to USFS planning the squeaky wheel gets the grease. If we continue to “not show up” I promise you the recreationists and environmentalists will determine the future of the forests.

Don’t have time or other things to do? Let me humble you with this example. One of my very good friends has a passion for public land wildlife habitat. He is a deer hunter. He also has terminal cancer and is a mere shadow of his former self. Not only was he there last week but he has attended all the previous meetings. Eighty percent of life is showing up.

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