Active Forest Management

Summary

Active management, as opposed to passive management, employs the use of silvicultural methods and forest management practices, including timber harvesting, timber stand improvement, thinning, tree planting, prescribed fire, fire suppression, weed control, and other practices that improve wildlife habitat and forest health to reach desired forest objectives and future conditions. Compared to passive management, this method is more effective for improving wildlife habitat, increasing forest resiliency to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire, controlling disease, pests and invasive species, and improving access and opportunity for sportsmen and women.

Introduction

The establishment of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) marked the beginning of responsible forest management within American conservation efforts. Forest management is the “practical application of biological, physical, quantitative, managerial, economic, social, and policy principles to the regeneration, management, utilization, and conservation of forests to meet specified goals and objectives while maintaining the productivity of the forest and encompasses management for range of a values including wood products, recreation, fish and wildlife, water, wilderness, aesthetics and other forest resources.” Active management, as opposed to passive management, employs the use of silvicultural methods and forest management practices, including timber harvesting, timber stand improvement, thinning, tree planting, prescribed fire, fire suppression, weed control, and other practices that improve wildlife habitat and forest health to reach desired forest objectives and future conditions. While passive or “hands off” management has value, active forest management is more effective for improving wildlife habitat, increasing forest resiliency to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire, controlling disease, pests and invasive species, and improving access for sportsmen and women.

Prescribed fire is an important, cost-efficient tool in the active management toolbox. Prescribed fires, or controlled burns, are employed by land managers to improve wildlife habitat for game and nongame species, reduce vegetation competition and influence species composition and stand structure, combat the spread of disease, pests and insects, and reduce fuel loads to minimize the severity of wildfires. Many ecosystems in the United States evolved with fire as a natural part of the landscape, but due to the poor forest management practices of the past and decreasing levels of active forest management today (particularly on federal public lands), many forests are overstocked, unproductive for wildlife, and highly susceptible to catastrophic wildfire. Maintaining management flexibility on public lands, as well as having conducive local policies, is key to ensuring that prescribed burns can be conducted at regular intervals.

While prescribed burning is an effective tool for improving wildlife habitat, prescribed fire is best used in conjunction with timber harvesting and other active management prescriptions. Prescribed fires are designed to be low-intensity, ground-level fires, and thus do not sufficiently open the forest canopy to allow sunlight to reach the forest floor to support vigorous regeneration. Even-aged timber management regenerates young forests that enhance the structure and composition of the forest for disturbance-dependent wildlife, and prescribed fires should be used with, not as a substitution for, timber management.

History

The USFS was created in 1905 with its original intentions being to provide quality water and a sustainable supply of timber for the nation, and these were later expanded to include other purposes, such as forage, wildlife, and recreation. Purposefully established for conservation purposes, not preservation or “hands off” management, the USFS is managed for multiple uses. Conservation, according to the first Chief of the USFS Gifford Pinchot, is the “wise use of the Earth and its resources for the lasting good of men,” and active management is a key component of multiple use management philosophy. Unlike National Parks or state parks, USFS, Bureau of Land Management lands, state forests, and state wildlife management areas are managed for multiple uses, including hunting and timber harvesting.

“Fire Borrowing” – A problem that contributes to the lack of active management on federal lands is the practice of “fire borrowing” in which the USFS pays for wildfire fighting costs with other non-fire accounts once its wildfire suppression budget is exhausted. In 2017, for example, more than half of the USFS budget was used to pay for wildfire suppression efforts. Funds that would otherwise be used for wildlife, timber, land management planning and other programs that improve wildlife habitat and reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires are diverted to fund wildfires fighting efforts and fewer resources are consequently available to carry out forest health and wildlife habitat improvement projects. Finding a legislative solution to the “fire borrowing” problem is a major priority for hunting conservation organizations.

Points of Interest

  • Forests and grasslands need periodic fire and disturbance to maintain their health.
  • Many wildlife species, game and nongame, benefit from disturbance and require young forests and other early successional habitats for cover and food.
  • Young forests are underrepresented on public lands, particularly USFS lands as timber harvesting levels have declined over the last few decades.
  • Game species that depend on early successional habitats (e.g. ruffed grouse, American woodcock, northern bobwhite quail) are in decline due to the lack of active forest management.
  • Active forest management also benefits deer, elk, turkey and many other game and nongame species.

Moving Forward

Multiple-use lands serve a crucial role for sportsmen and women providing access for hunting, fishing, trapping and recreational shooting. State and federal legislators are encouraged to support policies that are favorable to active forest management activities for the improvement of wildlife habitat, forest health, and wildfire risk mitigation.

Contact 

For more information regarding this issue, please contact John Culclasure at jculclasure@congressionalsportsmen.org.

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