RGS, other groups weigh in on wildfire

Staff Writer

Washington, D.C. Concerned that intense fire suppression and
drastic cutbacks in commercial harvest on America’s national
forests will negatively affect forest wildlife, 31 wildlife
conservation groups sent a letter to President George W. Bush,
asking the Administration to manage national forests to provide the
young forest cover that is vital habitat for many wildlife
species.

The letter states: “We recognize the need to conserve old
forests in many of our national forests. However, the young forest
habitats created today almost solely through forest management
practices are important to many popular game species. The lush,
herbaceous vegetation that flourishes after a mature forest stand
is harvested provides high-quality forage for elk, mule deer, and
white-tailed deer. Insects, abundant in these temporary openings,
provide wild turkey poults with an important source of protein to
meet the energy demands of growth. Black bears feed on the fruits
and berries that thrive in these openings, a food source relatively
unavailable in the shade of a mature forest. The thick, almost
impenetrable cover of young forest habitats provides ruffed grouse
and American woodcock with protection from a host of potential
predators.”

Most of the groups signing the letter draw their support from
hunters. Dan Dessecker, of Rice Lake, Wis., senior biologist for
the Ruffed Grouse Society, said federal surveys show that hunters
are one of the largest recreational user groups of national forests
and that their use of the forest is increasing. However, forests
are not necessarily managed to provide habitat for game
species.

“We don’t want to see our interests ignored,” Dessecker
said.

In recent years, national forest management has moved away from
timber production in the face of a vigorous public campaign and
numerous lawsuits intended to halt logging on national forests. At
the same time, substantial development has occurred on adjacent
private lands, causing foresters to suppress wild fires an integral
part of the forest ecosystem to protect properties.

Conservationists are concerned that the dysfunctional ecosystem
such management practices are creating will reduce the abundance of
wildlife.

“Responsible timber cutting and the use of fire is necessary in
forest management,” said Rollie Sparrow, president of the Wildlife
Management Institute. “It doesn’t have to be a large acreage, but
it needs to be there.”

Conservationists say that past excesses in timber harvest,
particularly in the West, led to a shift in management emphasis
that was driven by a portion of the environmental community opposed
to all logging. Timber sales and management plans on national
forests across the country have been snared in a gridlock of
lawsuits and legal appeals. But the opposite extreme of
over-cutting no logging damages forests, too.

Sparrow said surveys show songbird populations are declining in
eastern national forests because of the lack of young forest
habitat.

Conservationists say the Forest Service must return to a
balanced approach to forest management. They say the agency is
aware that better management strategies are needed, but it is
embroiled in controversial struggles over its management decisions
in most national forests. The forests, they say, are suffering as a
result.

“The extreme minorities at both poles of forest issues are good
at stopping things from happening, but they are not good at making
progress,” said Jim Mosher of the Izaak Walton League.

Mosher said the League has always been among the nation’s most
strident supporters of wilderness designation and inviolate
protection of wilderness areas. But he points out that since their
inception, national forests have been intended not only to protect
wilderness areas, but to provide other opportunities on federal
forest land.

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