By Joyce El Kouarti
When most people think of forested lands in our country what comes to mind are public wild lands like the Mount Hood National Forest in Oregon or the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. But the reality is most forests in America, nearly sixty percent, are owned by private landowners who very much rely on these lands for income that helps to fuel the economic health of rural communities.
So because forests continue to be threatened by wildfire, attacks by insects and diseases, and conversion to non-forest uses, forty years ago, on July 1, Congress passed the Cooperative Forestry Assistance Act of 1978. The Act was designed to mitigate these threats by empowering the USDA Forest Service to partner with state forestry agencies, which typically match federal investments 2 to 1, to provide technical forest management assistance to landowners.
Today the Forest Service Cooperative Forestry programs, created through the Act, help individual and family forest owners balance timber management with the conservation of water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, wildfire management, and opportunities for outdoor recreation.
One of these programs is the Forest Stewardship Program, which each year helps connect more than 400,000 landowners with the information and tools they need to manage their woodlands for timber, fuel wood, wildlife habitat, water protection, and recreation.
Another example is the Forest Legacy Program, which offers economic incentives to permanently conserve private working forests that support strong markets for forest products. The program recently helped private forest landowners in Georgia conserve 26,000 acres of well-stocked long-leaf pine forests that are now actively managed for timber, wildlife habitat, and watershed protection with new areas opened up for hunting, hiking, and mountain biking.
“When we shift to forestry practices that less frequently harvest smaller amounts of wood from each acre, this leads to 14 to 33 percent more carbon be stored over the next 100 years. This happens because trees would be allowed to grow older and larger and store more carbon than typically happens under current practices,”
Healthy forests, just like healthy human populations, are sustained by a diversity of ages and types. In many parts of the United States, forests are becoming largely homogeneous, and in places like the Appalachian Mountains, young forest and mature, old growth forests are in short supply.
A lack of diverse forests has negative impacts on wildlife and the economy, as different age classes support higher biodiversity and provide a more sustainable source of income for forest landowners. Through the use of sustainable forestry practices, forest landowners are able to compensate for lack of natural disturbance.
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recommends a number of sustainable forestry practices to forest landowners. These practices provide landowners with a number of choices, depending on the land and a landowner’s goals.
For those who had not witnessed the blast-furnace heat and the eye-stinging smoke of a wildfire along with the mass destruction of timber, homes, businesses and wildlife, last week was a learning experience.
Nearly every corner of the West was on fire. From Arizona to Washington state and from California to Montana, 65 active fires were burning 2.83 million acres as of late last week. Those numbers include only the fires that were 10,000 acres or larger. The average size of those fires was 43,556 acres
By Dr. Joseph Roise, professor, Department of Forestry and Environmental Services, North Carolina State University
Wildfires have devastated Western North Carolina in the past few months, only recently having been quelled by the work of hundreds of firefighters and well-timed rainfall. These disasters, which are often caused by humans but sometimes occur naturally, for instance those caused by a lightning strike, can have lasting implications ranging from the endangerment of flora, fauna, and human lives to the crippling of local economies that rely on tourism, to the devastating effects of erosion on newly exposed soils often resulting in floods and through loss of timber for industry and consumers. Despite the often-unpredictable path of these fires, much can be done to help prevent them. Through proactive sustainable management and maintenance of forests, foresters and partnerships between private landowners and the forestry industry play a crucial role to help reduce the risk of wildfires.Partnerships between private landowners and the forestry industry play a crucial role to help reduce the risk of wildfires
By Melissa Sevigny
The U.S. Forest Service allowed fire to burn more than 73,500 acres in northern Arizona last year. New research examines how well these “managed wildfires” restore healthy, historical conditions to ponderosa pine forests.
Scientists with Northern Arizona University’s Ecological Restoration Institute examined 10 large burned areas on the Coconino and Kaibab national forests. Ecologist David Huffman said managers allowed these areas to burn during the last decade to meet multiple restoration goals.
“Wildfire is difficult to control and manage for precise effects — sort of a blunt tool,” he said. “So we need to understand what it’s doing out there in terms of changing forest structure.”
The study found moderate-severity fires met two-thirds of the restoration goals. This was the only type of fire that restored tree density and canopy cover to historical conditions.
Fires aren’t all bad. Some fires help forests become healthier, but scientists say they’re sorely lacking in California.
Sierra Nevada forests are adapted to low-intensity fires that clear the underbrush and prevent trees from getting too dense. After a century of fire suppression, many forests are overgrown, which can make catastrophic fires worse.
So forest managers are piloting a new policy designed to shift a century-old mentality about fire in the West.
The idea is to let naturally-caused fires burn when they aren’t a threat to homes or people. But actually making those decisions on the ground isn’t easy in a crowded state like California.
Changes in climate and extreme weather are already increasing challenges for forest ecosystems across the world. Many impacts are expected to remain into the future. This means forest managers, conservationists and woodland owners continually need to address climate change to ensure forests can provide a broad array of benefits and services. The USDA Northern Forests Climate Hub and the U.S. Forest Service provide tools to help address this need.
Collaboration between scientists and managers resulted in the publication Forest Adaptation Resources: Climate Change Tools and Approaches for Land Managers. This publication provides a suite of materials enabling land managers to consider the likely effects of climate change and increase the ability of forests to cope with climate change impacts.