Opinion: Good stewards of our forests take cues from Mother Nature

Opinion: Good stewards of our forests take cues from Mother Nature

23 January 2012

published by www.nj.com 

USA — Not too long ago, the prevailing wisdom of American surgeons was to prescribe bed confinement for most surgery patients. It was ultimately discovered that the prescription of bed confinement not only caused life-threatening complications, it also delayed the physical recovery of patients. The medical community soon replaced a “passive management” approach with treatments of early ambulation. As a result, patient outcomes improved markedly.

Similarly, some have prescribed “passive management” for our forests over many decades; the effect has been equally injurious to forest health. The prevailing thought has kept woodlands from being managed by both humans and Mother Nature. We have learned that “passive management” is conspiring against forest health.

Mother Nature manages forest health by making use of fire, wind, disease, insects and other forces. Judicious doses of forest destruction are her way of regenerating forests and guaranteeing sustainability.

Destruction and regeneration are performed in different areas and at varying levels and intervals, which provides well-distributed age classes of forest. This, in turn, creates biodiversity — a foundation for forest vigor and the health of dependent flora and fauna. It also reduces the susceptibility of the landscape, as a whole, to catastrophic damage. Disturbance is as crucial to forest health as early ambulation is to surgery patient health.

Although it appears counter-intuitive, when humans prevent Mother Nature from managing forests by suppressing her natural forces, we act to compromise her immune system.

Passive management creates severe imbalances in the ecosystem, which allows insects, disease and deer to intensify beyond the ability of nature to manage these forces efficiently. It causes overstocking of biofuels. The result is forest susceptibility to massive insect and disease outbreaks, devastating crown fires and increased vulnerability to wind.

The evidence of a compromised immune system in New Jersey forests is found in overpopulation of deer, which prevent forest development by browsing seedlings and saplings, as well as ruinous infestation to the Pinelands by the southern pine beetle.
In the Highlands, the hemlock woolly adelgid has infested Eastern hemlocks. Gypsy moths have caused defoliation, mostly in oak forest. Over the years, continued defoliation has made trees susceptible to insects and diseases that can eventually cause their death from other agents.

The remedy for woodland restoration is in pending legislation. Bill S1085 provides for a forest harvest program on state-owned land. For nearly three years, the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance, New Jersey Forestry Association, New Jersey Audubon Society, New Jersey Farm Bureau and Department of Environmental Protection have worked with Sen. Robert Smith (D-Middlesex) to create a template for a forest harvest program. The result of this effort is also supported by the New Jersey Division Society of American Foresters and the New Jersey Tree Farm Program. Scores of forestry professionals in the fields of wildlife ecology, forest biology, natural resource management and agriculture have endorsed the legislation.

The bill provides a means to facilitate natural processes through forestry practices. These intentional activities can initiate the recovery of ecosystem health, integrity and sustainability. If we are going to continue to prevent Mother Nature from freely using her methods to manage forests, it is our obligation to safely and responsibly replicate her formulas.

Bill S1085 proposes a Forest Stewardship Plan, using environmental health standards, not economic standards, as the basis for forest regeneration. The DEP and forestry professionals would determine the types of methods needed to replicate those used by Mother Nature for purposes of environmental health.

Approval for forestry projects requires that water quality, soil erosion and threatened and endangered species be considered before authorization is granted, and a Forest Stewardship Plan must be in place before any cutting is initiated. By-products can be sold and the revenue put into an account used to finance continued forest stewardship practices. This approach treats each forest individually but takes into consideration its place as part of the overall environment.

Lack of forest management and fragmentation in New Jersey are partially to blame for the extirpation of several animals. At the same time we prioritized the recovery of the bald eagle, we ignored the needs of animals such as the bobwhite quail, red-headed woodpecker, ruffed grouse, pheasant and more. We have prevented forest disturbance and, as a result, the integrity of the habitat needed for these species to survive has been severely compromised.

Some special-interest groups have misrepresented Bill S1085 as logging and distribution legislation. Their portrayal is not only untrue but unwittingly takes advantage of people’s lack of knowledge of forest biology and the specifics of the legislation, and plays on prejudices that enlist them as advocates of the status quo — a campaign that facilitates environmental damage.

S1085 provides a means to restore forest health and a funding source to assist in the undertaking. The citizens of New Jersey are stakeholders in this matter, and they deserve intellectual honesty and rational arguments as the basis for making informed decisions. Forests are critical to sustaining life on Earth, and we are therefore obligated to good woodland stewardship.

Anthony P. Mauro, Sr. is chairman of the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance.


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