Some comments on my charts showing the results of national forest non-management have contended that I’ve placed too much emphasis on reduced tangible and material outputs (renewable energy, wood and paper products) and on adverse economic and social impacts (jobs lost, stressed families,
communities and local governments) . Critics claimed that the non-material results of “hands off” management were being ignored.
In an attempt to remedy this imbalance I offer the following .The ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) is widely used by wildlife biologists, both in the eastern and western U.S., as an indicator species for assessing the status of wildlife habitat and the ecological diversity of upland forests. The chart demonstrates the effect of virtual non-management of the timber resource on this key species in the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest,(N-P), the mountain national forest in North Carolina. According to the N.C.Wildlife Resources Commission 2015 annual report, “By all measures, grouse hunting during the 2014-15 season was the poorest on record”.
The U.S. Forest Service is currently creating about 500 acres per year of early successional habitat through regeneration cuts (clearcut, shelterwood, and group selection). This comprises about .06% of the 908,700 acres of unreserved timberland found on the forest. An additional + 100 acres is thinned annually with varying beneficial impacts on ground cover. The acreage of prescribed burn has increased steadily since 1995 and now averages about 10,000 acres annually. While this treatment promotes the development of early successional habitat, its aggregate impact is difficult to assess as effects vary widely with fire intensity, ambient temperature, stand density, season of year, timber type, and ground cover.
Good quality early successional habitat can best be produced by well-designed regeneration harvests. Current management of the N-P produces about 500 acres annually of this habitat. Maintenance of suitable grouse habitat and the age class diversity essential to forest health requires, at a minimum, treatment of ~.5 % (about 4500 acres for the N-P) of the forested area annually. While the report focuses on grouse, be aware that the decline of early succession habitat is adversely affecting not only grouse, but of other game and non-game species such as woodcock, white-tailed deer, wild turkey, golden-winged, prairie, and cerulean warblers, Bewick’s wren, yellow-breasted chat and a host of others (See Hunter et al, Wildlife Society Bulletin 29(2) 440-445)
The summer 2001 edition of the Wildlife Society Bulletin, a peer-reviewed journal of the professional organization of American wildlife biologists, contained a series of 8 articles. These examined in depth the changes in habitat and wildlife populations that are resulting from current non-management of wildlands in the eastern United States. The authors reached the unanimous conclusion that, considering both game and non-game species, more intensive management is urgently needed and that the continuation of the current “hands-off” policies would result in “the loss of some of the most interesting and diverse natural communities in eastern North America”. The habitat-population chart suggests that this prognosis is becoming a reality.
It should be noted that the Nantahala-Pisgah N.F. has 105,000 acres of Wilderness and Wilderness Study areas and the neighboring Great Smoky Mountain National Park has 522,000 acres of forest land on which timber harvesting is prohibited.