Hashing out habitat: Crowd debates wildlife habitat in forest management plan meeting

Pretty good article about planning on the the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests:

Hashing out habitat: Crowd debates wildlife habitat in forest management plan meeting

Couple of excerpts:

“The overall theme that I feel like from the wildlife habitat perspective is to manage this forest for diversity,” Sheryl Bryan, a U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist, told the crowd.

Depending on your definition of “young,” the acreage of young forest in the Pisgah-Nantahala now hovers around 1 percent, and most stakeholders agree that’s too low. The Forest Service’s preliminary research is exploring what it would take to get early successional habitat to command somewhere between 5 and 20 percent of the forest. But that’s a big range.

“The reality is that the Forest Service cannot afford to cut all the trees across the forest that some folks want cut,” said D.J. Gerken, managing attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “We’re going to have to make choices about focusing that action on places where it is most appropriate.”

10 thoughts on “Hashing out habitat: Crowd debates wildlife habitat in forest management plan meeting”

  1. “The reality is that the Forest Service cannot afford to cut all the trees across the forest that some folks want cut,” said D.J. Gerken, managing attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “We’re going to have to make choices about focusing that action on places where it is most appropriate” Th “some folks” who want to cut trees are wildlife biologists together with an interdisciplinary team of professionals who have spent a huge amount of time putting together a balanced plan for managing the area. And who are the “we” that want to “make choices”?

    • well, if you read the article, it pretty clearly states why the FS literally can’t afford to implement their plan: “We’ve had some reduction in our staffing for one thing. The administrative side of it’s a big one.”…”With the federal budget sequester still in place, the Forest Service’s budget crunch isn’t likely to turn into a surplus any time soon.”

      There may be other reasons, but there’s no reference to them here, but I guess we can always guess…

      As to the “who are the ‘we'” question, if it’s referring to the SELC, and if they’re anything like similar organizations in the PNW (which I think they are), they’ll happen to include professionals with forestry degrees, PhDs in wildlife biology, forest pathology, economists, policy professionals, etc. Including former USFS biologists who became disgusted with the get-out-the-cut emphasis pushed by USFS administrators (who commonly lack advanced degrees in the aforementioned fields, e.g. USFS Chief Tidwell, Region 1 Supervisor Krueger…)

      • I don’t know about SELC, so I looked it up..

        It looks like they are mighty proud of their attorneys and I couldn’t find the page with the other folks.

        And while the leaders you mentioned may not have advanced degrees, they have an army of folks behind them that do. Who also disagree with each other (as I can attest) on many things, and I could go so far as to say almost everything , in my experience. because they are all with their own backgrounds and biases.

        And in my experience, the “mentality” is a function of the political views of the current administration. Nothing important goes on without the watchful eyes of the Dept.. So if you think that Faye and Tom have a “get out the cut” mentality, it could be that that is the view of the duly elected President and his political appointees. Which would be interesting because the previous President was accused of having the same worldview. Which would mean we have a political consensus in this country on one topic. Hurray! I think I’ll go celebrate…

      • If you would like to get a better understanding of SELC’s positions and role in this process, see the link for the Scoping Period comments they submitted on behalf of The Wilderness Society, Wild South, and WNC Alliance. I think those comments, along with the fact that SELC represents the 3 aforementioned groups, should give you a good idea of where they stand.

        SELC Scoping Period Comments

        To my knowledge, SELC does not have subject matter experts on staff, but largely relies on The Wilderness Society, Wild South, and WNCA for information.

  2. Of course, in the end, it is all about that all-important 3rd “C-word” that some so despise. Once we get to where compromises are made but, not before the other two “C-words” have been fully explored, people will know that forest planning is all about making good compromises. There will always be those who will always fight against compromises, to support their precious “whatever happens” policy. The three “C-words” will take time, especially if the stakeholders resist. Trust will come from this process, and you really can’t rush that.

    Regarding the South, there are tons of species diversity, due to the less-impacted bottomlands and stream buffers. Other places are nice shortleaf pine plantations where cottonfields once were. We really, literally, cannot “go back” to a pre-man landscape, or even a pre-European landscape, due to the loss of the chestnuts. Similar to the West, we must rely on site-specific science to manage what we’d like the future forests to be.

    Also, is this what happens when you take the “beneficial wildfire” fantasy out of the equations? Interesting! *smirk*

  3. I wonder how many regular citizens were at the meeting — folks who don’t belong to an interest group. And I wonder what they had to say.

    “The overall theme that I feel like from the wildlife habitat perspective is to manage this forest for diversity,” Sheryl Bryan, a U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist, told the crowd.

    Shouldn’t wildlife managers put resource diversity, not just wildlife diversity, at the top of the list? Same as timber shop folks, soils, recreation, and so on?

    • Probably not many. 16 meetings? Sounds like the collaborative thing the FNF put together, just a major burden for all but the most interested, or the most paid. No normal person can sit through meeting after meeting for free, bickering with hired guns.

  4. If they only look at the amount of young growth on the N-P NF, they are missing the bigger picture that the 2012 Planning Rule tells them to look at: “The responsible official shall consider and evaluate existing and possible future conditions and trends of the plan area, and assess the sustainability of social, economic, and ecological systems within the plan area, in the context of the broader landscape” (36 CFR 219.5(a)(1)). The plan revision process should also be looking at how much “young” forest exists on other land ownerships for deer and grouse before deciding how much there should be on the national forest.

    • Please keep in mind that the comment posted above about the 1% of young forest on N-P NF is only a small part of the Forest Service’s overall assessment. Based on what I have seen, I think the Forest Service is certainly considering an “all lands” approach during this plan revision. That being said, I hope in considering the “all lands” approach the Forest Service also recognizes that young forests on private lands are not necessarily a substitute for young forests on NF when it comes to serving the needs of wildlife and recreationists. For instance, young forests on private lands are often near houses and high traffic roads, which leads to high wildlife mortality (cats, dogs, cars, people, agricultural operations). Also, the Forest Service should not rely on the young forests of private lands because those could well be developed, as is happening rapidly across WNC right now. Furthermore, the public does not generally have access to the young forests on private lands.

      See the link for the executive summary of the Forest Service’s assessment report. You will note that they have information concerning our particular discussion on 6-10 under “Terrestrial ecosystems, aquatic ecosystems, and watersheds.”

      Executive Summary of the Assessment

      Please also consider that young forests benefit a wide array of wildlife, not just deer and grouse.

      • Thanks for providing the link to the assessment summary, Kyle. I agree that it includes an effort to provide an all-lands context. I commend it as an example of how to document findings from the assessment in a way that can be used to then communicate about what the revised forest plan could do about them, and what the Forest Service wants to do about them.

        That next step is here and should have been the focus of the wildlife meeting: http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprd3804619.pdf

        There needs to be a logical connection between the assessment and the plan. Here is what the assessment says about wildlife dependent on forest openings.

        “Some wildlife species that depend on young forest and other open areas for all or part of their life history have experienced population declines over the last 20 years.”

        Here is the conclusion about what the plan should do:

        “Young forest, also known as early successional habitat, is an essential habitat component for many wildlife species. The best available scientific information indicates it is in short supply across the forests of western North Carolina, especially on national forest system lands. While the 1987 Plan directs creation of a certain amount of young forest, various limiting factors have constrained that creation. There is a need to provide direction that will increase the amount of young forest across the landscape.”

        The assessment summary doesn’t say what those limiting factors are for wildlife habitat, but here are the limitations it gave for vegetation management:

        “Important influences on the variation in offered timber volume have included:
        • Implementation of Amendment 5 in 1994 which reduced the Allowable Sale Quantity and moved away from clearcutting as a regeneration method.
        • United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit – Sierra Club v. Martin decision (1997), which resulted in extensive analysis of Management Indicator Species population trends.
        • Discovery of the endangered Indiana bat on the Nantahala NF in 2000
        • Court decision in mid-2000’s which resulted in new analysis protocols for sensitive species determinations
        • Timber program budget and workforce declines.

        “Within the past five to seven years, prescribed burning has increased across many of the fire adapted ecozones however is not occurring on a large enough scale across the two forests to achieve overall desired composition and structure goals.”

        This leads to the question of what exactly the Forest has in mind to change any of these things with their revised plan.

        The NFMA requirement for “diversity of plant and animal communities” is specifically defined by the Planning Rule to require both ecological integrity and species persistence (@Steve Wilent). The potential species of conservation concern include two that are associated with open areas. While evidence is provided that golden-winged warblers may be at risk, the assessment concludes that, “Since golden-winged warblers are associated with high elevation open habitats, they are conserved through the implementation of current standards in the revised Forest Plan.” Ruffed grouse is also included as a potential species of conservation concern, and its populations are said to have been declining over the last several years, but the assessment does not discuss ruffed grouse at all.

        “Ecological integrity” is defined by the Planning Rule in terms of the “natural range of variation.” However, that does not necessarily require the national forest to maintain historic levels of early seral forest. NRV for the national forest needs to be determined in the context of the larger landscape, and there is more young forest on the larger landscape.

        This all leads to my main point. The “young forest” issue was presented here as an issue of “diversity.” The Forest needs to be careful not to overstate that case. Another article on the meeting lauded the fact that the room was packed with hunters. The Rule requires that plans provide for “habitat conditions, SUBJECT TO the (diversity requirements described above), for wildlife, fish and plants commonly enjoyed and used by the public … (36 CFR 219.10(a)(5)). Populations of game species are not automatically part of the diversity requirement and may be limited by it.

        You make some good points regarding the difference between public and private lands and these need to be part of the planning discussion. Thanks for participating in that and sharing your experience here.


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