Forest Management Isn’t Evil

from Forest History Society
Carl Schenck with Biltmore Boys

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.

Timber harvest at the Biltmore School of Forestry

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.

Schenck Instructing Students in Forestry

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 –

Outdoor New Year Resolutions

Have you made your New Year resolutions? So, how many have you broken just two weeks in? I’m afraid to look at those from last year, knowing most of them probably fell by the wayside. It’s amazing how life interferes with those things we really enjoy doing, isn’t it? As I enter my home stretch in life my hope is to spend more time doing enjoyable things. I’m semi-retired so time should not be an issue. Conflicting priorities, i.e. my wife’s gardening, will present a challenge. So here goes with some things I want to accomplish this year as an outdoorsman in no particular order.

First, shoot more registered targets at sporting clays. The National Sporting Clays Association (NSCA) hosts events at local clubs where you record your score and they are reported to national. NSCA has different skill levels starting at E Class and working up to Master shooter. Needless to say, since I’ve not been to many registered shoots I’m currently stuck in E Class. One of the challenges to accomplishing this goal is the lack of registered shoots in our local area. The closest I’m aware of is in Spartanburg. That means travel which also means additional expenses.

I’ve shot a couple of events over the past few years and they are always fun. Great group of folks and there’s a social element to the shoots. Why do this? To improve my shooting. The challenge of competition forces me to “up my game”. I tend to focus more on breaking targets, not so much competing with other folks as with myself. Going to competitive shoots also means more practice. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. My goal is to attend 5 – 6 registered shoots in 2018 to the point that I can consistently shoot 80 targets in a practice round.

This next one is a bucket list item. As you well know, I’m a lifelong bird hunter. One of the things I’ve never done is hunt wild pheasant in one of the western states. My only wild pheasant hunting experience was nearly thirty years ago at an Army Recreation Center in Korea. The hunting was fantastic but I’ve still not hunted them here in the states. The closest I came was three years ago when my son was at an Army school in Kansas. It never materialized as his school schedule and mine never worked out.

So Kansas or Iowa provide the closest opportunities but they’re still a full day’s drive away. But hey, I’ve driven that far for grouse so why not. I’m drawn further west for one reason. A twofer. Along with hunting pheasant another bucket list item is to hunt pronghorn antelope. Not sure what my attraction is to pronghorns. I’ve just always been fascinated by them and what it would take to shoot one. It’s typically long range shooting on the plains. So going out to South Dakota or western North Dakota looks like the best option. It’s time to start planning.

My third resolution is more local. Something forsaken to meet work obligations. I really want to spend more time trout fishing our mountain streams. I’ve already got the gear although my skills are lacking. My method is more akin to flailing the water than artful presentation. But it’s fun and can be done with a little travel and minimum financial investment. Or so I think. We are truly blessed with ample trout fishing opportunities here in the mountains. Nearly a thousand miles of streams and a very active stocking program by the WRC.

To be an angler in Western North Carolina and not take advantage of the resource is insane. And I’m not there yet. There are waters for every angler: Hatchery Supported, Delayed Harvest, Wild Trout, and even some of the local lakes and ponds are stocked by the WRC like Max Patch and Lake Powhatan. This also has me thinking that maybe it’s time to buy a canoe to do some drift fishing for smallmouth bass on the French Broad River, another overlooked opportunity in our area.

So there you have it, my short list of three resolutions for the next year. Maybe if I keep the list short there is a greater chance of getting them done. Hope you make plans to spend time in the outdoors this coming year. Happy New Year.