A columnist, and historian, for the local paper recently wrote an article with glowing remarks for a local environmental group and their impact on U.S. Forest Service management of the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests. In that piece he put the words Forest Management in quotes. I don’t know about you, but normally when you see something written in quotes it is meant as a bad thing. That got me thinking: since when was forest management considered evil?
So I had to respond. Here’s the text of my email to him: “In your January 8th column “Of bogs, beavers, red wolves” you put forest management in quotes as if it is a bad thing. OK, I know the paper is in the tank for the environmental movement. But as a historian you should remember that American forestry started here in western North Carolina through the efforts of Gifford Pinchot and Carl Schenck. That heritage is recognized at the Cradle of Forestry near Brevard.
The scientific research Schenck, a self-described lumberman, did over a century ago in the Biltmore School of Forestry became the foundational principles for the newly formed U.S. Forest Service. Those principles encompass what is multiple use forest management: timber harvest for the local economy; recreational use for people; a variety of habitat for wildlife.
Until the environmental movement involvement in the 1990s you mentioned in that column those principles held true. Instead of conservation of resources, wise use, it became a model of preservation for human use. Forest management is a science, not an emotion which is what environmentalists bring to the table. Thanks to their efforts the forest no longer provides the economic benefit of timber harvest or habitat for survival of wildlife.
If you haven’t already, as a historian you should spend an hour viewing the documentary “America’s First Forest: Carl Schenck and the Asheville Experiment” to truly understand that forest management is not evil. It is about conservation, not preservation.”
Western North Carolina is proud of its heritage but seems to have forgotten this part of it. Scientific forest management in the United States started here. Carl Schenck came from Germany as a trained forester but had to re-learn his science because of the variety of trees and terrain differences he was trained for in Germany. George Vanderbilt brought him here to manage his Biltmore Estate forest, a working/self-sustaining estate, with three purposes in mind: produce timber for income, recreational opportunities for Vanderbilt and his guests, and wildlife habitat associated with that recreation.
In doing so Schenck took local young men under his wing and trained them in his new forestry techniques. That became the Biltmore School of Forestry, first in the nation, and many of his students went to work for the newly formed U.S. Forest Service. The same principles he taught at that school also became the guiding principles for the Forest Service for following decades, that of multiple use.
Then arrived the environmental movement and everything changed. Management of the forest wasn’t about science but emotion. Thus the name “tree hugger” (and yes that’s meant in bad terms). In the 1990’s the model started turning from conservation with multiple uses to preservation only considering the recreational and emotional benefit of an undisturbed forest. Using regulations and litigation, along with an emotionally sympathetic and uninformed populous, environmentalists all but shut down timber harvests and thus wildlife habitat on the National Forests in our southern mountains.
Evidence? Year after year the Forest Service has failed to meet timber harvest goals for both economic benefit and wildlife habitat. This has resulted in the Pisgah/Nantahala National Forests being only 1% young forest growth when the goal is 10 percent. And wildlife has suffered.
During the most recent North Carolina deer harvest recorded year, 2016-2017, there were more deer harvested in one county in Western NC than on ALL of the Pisgah/Nantahala; nearly 1 million acres. As reported by the NC Wildlife Commission avid grouse hunter survey data, grouse numbers continue to decline to the point that a hunter will have no flushes on one of three trips taken on Forest Service land. Non-game species like Golden-Winged Warblers are also in decline.
It is time to put the science back into forest management, not associate it with something evil. The research and teaching Carl Schenck did a century ago is still true today. Forestry management truly is a science, not an emotion. Wildlife habitat is also a science. No matter how many times environmentalists say they support wildlife habitat, their words ring hollow. They ignore the science in favor of an emotional response. A cautionary note to hunters: If you want to continuing pursuing game on federal forests you’d better stand tall, learn the science, and speak up. We need to spread the message: Forestry is a science, not an emotion. Forestry and Wildlife Management is not evil.
Photos courtesy Forest History Society – www.foresthistory.org