In 1994, my husband and I had Jim Elze, the state service forester for our county, create a forest stewardship management plan for our small 10-acre woodlot. The plan outlined steps for us to take to improve the quality of individual trees and the health of the woods in general, as well as to create cover and food for wildlife.
Nearly seven years later, the woods’ pesky multiflora rose bushes that have more lives than a cat continue to aggravate our progress, but Keith has done a yeoman’s job of clearing openings, removing cull trees and making trails throughout the woods. And there’s still a lot more work to be done.
Our little stand is now home to wild turkeys, whitetail deer, small game and even a bobcat (honest, we’ve both seen it).
Ohio and Pennsylvania have a solid corps of private woodland owners who work hard at improving their timber stands. Some improve stands and cultivate species to harvest marketable timber; others work in their woods simply because they love the outdoors and want to improve a living, natural resources legacy.
A common thread that binds these woodland owners is a plan. Good woods – productive, healthy woods – don’t happen overnight and take an arsenal of management options. Each stand is different and needs to be managed differently.
Unfortunately, on the national level, individual options in that management arsenal are under fire by those who would us like to leave our national forests alone. Pristine, they say, even though few forests can really be considered truly pristine any more.
In his last, lame duck weeks, former President Clinton signed an executive order banning road building on 58 million acres of national forests. Likewise, his chief of the Forest Service said he’ll reduce the acreage of timber up for auction on federal lands by another 50 percent.
That action brought a quick response from Timothy LaFarge, Ph.D., now retired from the Forest Service. “President Clinton’s ban of road building and logging on 58 million acres of National Forest System land is a tragic abuse of our natural resources and should be reversed as soon as possible,” LaFarge wrote to the Wall Street Journal.
Clinton critics say that during his administration, restrictions on logging have created a tinderbox in many public forests: a forest fire just waiting to happen. One source cites a General Accounting Office estimate that 65 million acres of national forest are at high risk of catastrophic fires. Why? Because too many trees are either dead or dying, something a good management plan would address.
If logging continues to be limited, the GAO estimates the forest service will spend $12 billion over the next 14 years to get rid of deadwood in our national forests. (Or it could sell the logging rights and make more than $500 an acre.)
Best management. Certainly, we share public concerns with logging. When done right, it’s a thing of beauty; when done wrong, it’s pretty ugly. That’s why many states, including Ohio, have laws that protect natural resources during logging, laws that specify best management practices in road building, stream crossing and soil erosion control.
A healthy community of trees needs both young and old trees, succeeding generations of trees that will outlast us all. I’m not sure former president Clinton’s direction was the right one. We need a wise forester to look at the big picture, to see the forest and the trees.