Don Mallicoat

Prescribed fire good for wildlife


By Don Mallicoat –

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is joining other agencies and organizations in supporting the use of prescribed fire in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area and adjacent National Forest System lands. The Wildlife Commission supports a proposal the U.S Forest Service is considering to use prescribed fire on nearly 16,000 acres in and near the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area on the Grandfather Ranger District.

The prescribed fire on U.S. Forest Service land would greatly reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires, such as those that occurred in 2007, and help restore the fire-adapted ecosystem of the area. Prescribed fire will particularly be beneficial to fire-adapted plant species such as the rare Mountain Golden Heather that are at risk of disappearing due to decades of fire suppression. Wildlife species also will benefit from the controlled ignitions and less intense heat of a prescribed fire, as opposed to wildfires, which burn at a much higher intensity and have potential for large-scale spreading to adjacent private lands.

“Linville Gorge is the most fire-adapted area in the Grandfather Ranger District, meaning that its plants and wildlife need fire to thrive,” said Gordon Warburton, mountain area supervisor for the Commission. “Fire once occurred naturally across North Carolina. Low-intensity fires burned every few years, fueled by grass, leaves, pine straw and other forest debris. Fire suppression over the past 100 years has left the gorge susceptible to wildfire, and the effects can be devastating for the region.”

Using prescribed fire outside of the growing season will also promote and maintain a thick understory of berry-producing plants and grasses that provide key habitat and forage for wildlife. Critical mountain pine and oak habitats that need periodic low-intensity fires to maintain and promote regeneration, will also be favored through the use of prescribed fire, helping to restore the fire-adapted ecosystem native to this landscape. Many residents in nearby Blowing Rock are opposing the prescribed burn and this opposition leaves the plan in doubt. How smug and self-centered for a bunch of whining human residents of a nearby town to think a few days of smokeless comfort is more important than providing quality habitat for wildlife. I commented on this plan and hope it goes through.

On the national level hunters and anglers are viewing with apprehension and concern President Obama’s nomination of Sally Jewell to be the new Secretary of the Interior. As the steward of hundreds of millions of acres of public lands, and overseeing the Fish & Wildlife Service, the Secretary plays a critical role in managing these lands including policies impacting access, hunting opportunities, and wildlife management. Jewell’s close association with interests hostile to hunters, hunting access, and traditional wildlife management has conservation organizations watching her confirmation closely.

Jewell has served on the Board of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and been a strong supporter of the group. Unfortunately NPCA has been a thorn in the side for hunters. NPCA has sued the National Park Service repeatedly to limit hunter access and bear hunting in large areas of the Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida. These antics have prompted some environmentalists, who remember the promises made to hunters about continued access to the unit, to accuse NPCA of bad faith.

Some 5000 miles to the northwest, NPCA is taking the same tact in Alaska. The group is pushing the Interior Department and Park Service to disregard hunting regulations, to facilitate hunting opportunities, set by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Federal preemption of the State’s primary authority over hunting is contrary to settled law and policy.

The problems don’t stop here. Wilderness advocates have been strongly supported with money by Ms. Jewell. These are the same people who have sued US FWS and Arizona Game and Fish to block beneficial wildlife management programs on Interior Department lands. These activists have sued to stop the maintenance of water catchment basins that benefit Desert bighorn sheep arguing that lands within the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge are “Wilderness” first (meaning no management allowed) and wildlife lands second. Hence the catchment basins must be barred – even though the sheep populations will decline as a result. There are a lot of concerns, based on her background, by true conservation groups about her appointment. We hope there will be some hard questions asked during her confirmation hearing to insure that her tenure as Secretary of the Interior will be supportive of the work the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and hunters in general.

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