Here’s an in-depth article on the ongoing revision of the plan for the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina, featuring the extent to which the Forest should provide early seral habitat (ESH).
Many conservation advocates disagree over whether promoting this specific sort of habitat over others is desirable on a large scale. They also question whether aggressive advocacy for ESH stems more from a desire to conserve species or to boost game numbers and accessibility for the benefit of sportsmen.
Fish and Wildlife Conservation Council:
The FWCC is a proponent of expanding active wildlife habitat management and restoration through, among other things, more timber harvesting and controlled fires. Central to their advocacy is forest restoration and increasing the amount of early successional habitat across the landscape, including grasses, shrubs and trees that provide food, cover and habitat for wildlife. The FWCC believes that the future management of the National Forest should target a minimum of 12 percent of forest in an age class of 0-12 years. The need to improve game populations is a central argument of the FWCC and has been cited as a reason to oppose new additions to the wilderness base in several county resolutions.
The Nature Conservancy:
Warwick of TNC said that historically speaking there’s strong evidence that there was a much greater distribution of young forest and more grassy areas across the landscape prior to the 20th century. However, fire suppression has been a primary factor in abetting forest growth that is now lacking in young forest age classes and creating a canopy that is too dense. “Most of the species that are declining in the Southern Appalachian require ESH somewhere in their life cycle,” he said. “If we decide it is important to stem their decline, then there’s no (other) choice than to take an active management role. That means more fire and timber harvesting.”
Southern Environmental Law Center:
Sam Evans, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center and member of the stakeholders forum agrees that ESH is underrepresented in the forest, especially if you look at those tracts in isolation. Nobody who is actively participating in stakeholder discussions is objecting to increasing habitat diversity, including an increase in harvest for ESH,” said Evans in an email written to CPP. He said that the organizations he works with are “wildlife advocates.” “The truth is, I and other conservation voices are supporting precisely the same goal—restoration of ecological integrity in order to provide needed habitat for all the forest’s native species,” Evans said.
To borrow from the forestry professionals, “ecological integrity is the answer.” According to the interpretation of NFMA in the 2012 Planning Regulations any way. What’s muddied the waters in NC is the idea that wilderness designation is somehow contrary to ecological integrity (it limits tools, but the desired outcome is the same). Not mentioned in the article are which species are or will be vulnerable because of a lack of ESH (this isn’t what the TNC quote said), and it doesn’t really address how the current and expected conditions of private lands should be accounted for. It does point out that old-growth stands are also underrepresented on the Forest.