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 suppressions, weed control, and other practices that improve wildlife habitat and forest health to reach desired forest objectives and future conditions. Compared to passive management, active 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 and opportunity for sportsmen and women.
The establishment of the U.S. Forest Service marked the beginning of responsible forest management in America’s 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 a range of 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 in certain limited circumstances, active forest management is often more effective for improving wildlife habitat, increasing forest resiliency, reducing 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 treatments. 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.
The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) was created in 1905 to improve and protect forests, conserve watersheds, and provide a sustainable supply of timber for the nation. These objectives were later expanded to include other purposes, such as forage, wildlife, and recreation. Purposefully established to promote conservation, 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.
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, and Northern Bobwhite) 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.
- Executive Order 13855 – Promoting Active Management of America’s Forests, Rangelands, and Other Federal Lands to Improve Conditions and Reduce Wildfire Risk – directs the USDA and DOI to implement policies that reduce hazardous fuels and mitigate wildlife risk.
Multiple-use lands serve a crucial role providing for hunting, fishing, trapping, and recreational shooting access for sportsmen and women. 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.