Basically they are trying to paint a picture that the current plan will lead to massive clearcuts on National Forest land. Nothing could be further from the truth. I will try to explain the truth and maybe the word will get out. The truth is that the proposal reduces the number of Management Areas (MA) from 21 to 16. MAs 1 and 2 comprise nearly 700,000 acres, or 2/3, of the total forests. The reason the USFS put that much land into those two MAs is because those are the ones that allow the most management options. So why is that important? Because they looked at their own data and listened to the public.
There is a certain balance needed for a healthy forest, much as there is balance required in our individual lives. And just like when our lives and health get out of balance we get ill or have problems, the same is true for a forest. At one of the earlier public hearings the USFS presented data on the age class distribution of the entire forest. Over 900,000 acres, 90%, of the forest is over 70 years old. Only 35,000 acres is less than 20 years old. This is what wildlife needs the most. Do those figures point to a healthy forest? I think not.
By designating most of the acreage in MAs 1 and 2 they are simply recognizing a forest that is out of balance and those MAs offer the most management tools to include timber harvest and production, prescribed fire, and chemical treatment of invasive species. The environmentalists want the public to believe there will be full mountainsides of hundreds of acres clearcut. That will never happen. Yes, there may be some 5 – 10 acre clearcuts where needed for wildlife, there will also be some thinning, select cuts, and two stage regeneration. Those will be barely perceptible to the public. There will also be more prescribed burns to release tree seeds that need heat to begin to grow.
Now let’s get to the second part where they listened to the public. A funny thing happened during the public meeting process and the irony escaped the environmentalist since their heads were about to explode. Basically, they got the process they wanted. They just didn’t get the result they wanted because conservationists, a.k.a. hunters, showed up and let the USFS know they wanted more wildlife habitat.
There was a time when the District Ranger, a school trainer and well experienced professional Forester, made the decisions on how to manage his/her piece of property. That is the European model on which President Roosevelt and the first USFS Chief Gifford Pinchot based the USFS. That wasn’t good enough for the environmentalists so through legal proceeding and procedural appeals they have changed the management of our forests to this cumbersome public input process. That is what they wanted. What they did not anticipate is that those who really care about a healthy forest, hunters along with conservation groups like The Ruffed Grouse Society and others, would encourage their members to get involved in record numbers. So the public has spoken and the data supports it: we want a healthy forest that is managed for wildlife habitat.
So when your friends run up with their hair on fire about how the USFS is going to massively cut down our forests, tell them to take a deep breath and then give them the truth. Let’s all remember something: We are visitors to the forests, wildlife spend their lives there. Who should have priority in the management?