The objectives are given under three themes: enhancing and restoring resiliency, clean and abundant water, and connecting people to the land. My comments will be about the first and last of these because they pertain primarily to hunters. The first one, enhancing and restoring resiliency, has to do with how the land will be managed to maintain a healthy forest. In particular, what the USFS will do for wildlife habitat.
During the public review process the USFS presented data that showed while their goal for young forest growth for wildlife was 10 – 15 percent forest wide, they had only achieved 1.5%. Under this first category, they plan to provide at least 5,200 acres (0.5%) of the forest in permanent open grassy brushy habitat which includes wildlife fields and linear openings. Additionally, over a 10 year period they plan to contribute at least 6,500 to 12,000 acres of early-successional or young forest growth. With nearly 1 million acres in the Pisgah/Nantahala that still leaves us at about 1% young forest growth. Since each year some forest will move from young to mature during this cycle that means there will be no net gain in wildlife habitat over the life of the plan.
However, this objective also includes plans over the same period to provide at least 44,000 to 56,000 acres of old growth forest conditions. Yes, wildlife do need mature forest for nesting and food at certain times of the year but at first glance this is out of balance, particularly since we already have a large amount of old growth and are underachieving goals for young growth.
Let’s move to connecting people to the land. There are objectives for improving trail systems, and strengthening relationships with Federally Recognized Tribes to help with forest restorations. There is even an objective to augment or establish five ginseng populations. Guess what is missing? There is nothing in their about the contribution hunters provide to wildlife habitat or improving conditions for game species to attract hunters. This was a key issue brought up in previous public meetings about recreation on federal lands. This also should come as no surprise because the USFS nationwide does not recognize hunting as a recreational activity. How do I know?
The Forest Service recently activated on their national website an interactive visitor map (www.fs.fed.us/ivm). If you go to the map and click on the Explore Activities symbol at the top of the page (tent/tree/bicycle) you get a drop down menu of recreational activities. There are icons for 15 different activities listed, including fishing. Apparently hunting is not recognized as a legitimate recreational activity by the Forest Service. Did I mention that Forest Service land across the country, with a few exceptions, is open to hunting?
Conservation groups, led by the Fish & Wildlife Conservation Council, are pouring over the objectives to determine the next approach. It looks like after the environmentalists temper tantrum from the initial draft plan the Forest Service has caved to their demands to reduce any timber management, including that associated with wildlife habitat. That’s where the disappointment comes in.
There is another bill in Congress to enhance funding for fish and wildlife. This is a result of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources. We reported on this early in the year. The panel was made up of leaders in the hunting and fishing industry to include conservation groups. It recommended a $1.3 billion dollar trust fund from energy and mineral development on federal lands to help states implement their Wildlife Action Plans. Just introduced in Congress so we will track its progress (or lack thereof).
Don Mallicoat owns Wings & Clays Guns and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 828.633.1806