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NWTF Opposes More Wilderness On National Forest

A bill that would create an additional 39,000 acres of wilderness in Virginia is a bad bill according to the National Wild Turkey Federation, and a companion bill targeting nearly 22,000 acres of Georgia forest is equally bad.

Steve Burch | November 1, 2007

National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) Senior Wildlife Biologist Dowd Bruton of Traphill, N.C., testified before members of the U.S. House Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, Thursday, Sept. 27 about the need for active forest management on national forests.

Dowd, whose NWTF wildlife biologist duties cover Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky and West Virginia, testified about the Federation’s concern with HR 1011 in that it is overly aggressive in terms of adding additional Wilderness Areas in the Jefferson National Forest.

The problem with designating additional Wilder-ness Areas is that any type of active management, such as timber thinning or prescribed burning, is restricted on those parts of the forest. However, trained wildlife biologists know that active management is key to forest diversity.

During his testimony, Dowd also told the panel that wildlife has been managed by God and man since creation. Lightning strikes, forest wildfires and windstorms have existed for all time. They create openings in the forest for wildlife and that in the days before European settlers came to America, Native Americans cleared land for their livestock and crops to support their families. They used prescribed fire to clear the underbrush in the forest and promote the growth of grasses and forbs on the forest floor, which they used in their day-to-day life.

Wildlife also benefited from this clearing and burning. When the settlers arrived, many accounts from those settlers indicate the overwhelming species diversity and actual numbers of species. Those early settlers simply expanded what native Americans had been doing for thousands of years. As a result, they fed their families and understood the value of forest management and biodiversity.

Unfortunately, some factions think that no management is best and want to increase lands with a wilderness designation.

The relevance of these comments by NWTF are extraordinarily important to Georgians and to wildlife for two basic reasons.

The first is that a companion bill that will turn 21,000 acres of Georgia forest into unmanaged wilderness is waiting in the wings. Tree huggers here in Georgia are voicing support for the Virginia bill, thinking that once it is passed, then passage of a similar bill in Georgia will be easier.

Normally, they would be right.

But this time, a conservation organization has stood up and spoken the facts. The facts are that wilderness is bad for wildlife and bad for the forest.

The reason NWTF has been so late to the game of speaking up for professional wildlife management is because they have never been asked to testify before.

In an interview with GON, Dr. James Earl Kennemer of the NWTF said that his organization understood the problems that wilderness posed to wildlife and had voiced its concerns privately before, but that this was the first time NWTF had been invited to address a committee on such a bill.

So far as GON can determine, no other conservation group has ever had the opportunity before to speak against land being designated as wilderness before Congress. This is a first!

The idea of wilderness has captured the imagination of people for centuries. However, imagination does not match with reality.

The reality of wilderness in the southern Appalachian is proving to be a prescription for declining wildlife and biodiversity. Yet the push by some to continue with a wilderness program that is demonstrated to be a failure continues. NWTF is the first to stand up and say that increasing the amount of wilderness in the southern Appalachian is bad policy.

The companion bill affecting Georgia is HR 707, authored by Rep. Nathan Deal of Gainesville and Georgia’s Ninth District.

This House Resolution 707 would create an additional 21,830 acres of wilderness or “wilderness-lite” land that could not be managed. The centerpiece of this acreage is the Mountaintown National Scenic Area.

This area is just east of the Cohutta Wilderness, the largest wilderness area in Georgia.

If there were no other wilderness in the vicinity, the argument for increasing wilderness might be stronger. But the evidence of declining wildlife and habitat in the mountains due to wilderness designation has caused NWTF to speak out publicly.

There has essentially been no logging, no thinning and no prescribed fire on the Chattahoochee National Forest for the past 20 years.

The forest is getting older.

The primary winter food source for many forms of wildlife in the mountains is acorns. As oak trees age, they produce fewer acorns and go into something called Oak Decline.

This condition is hastened by drought and other stress factors.

Most of the Chattahoochee National Forest is at an age where Oak Decline can and is having a measurable impact on wildlife populations. Today, due to the effective blocking of forest management by tree-hugger groups, less than three acres in 100 are younger than 10 years old and less than 10 percent of the forest is under 20 years old.

Deer harvest in the mountains has steadily declined over the past 20 years as the forest has steadily aged.

Today, the deer harvest is approximately half of what is was when tree huggers started suing the Forest Service.

The best treatment for Oak Decline is tree stand thinning.

HR 707 would ban thinning of oaks from the land it “protects.”

One of the “benefits” cited in a fact sheet that describes the push for wilderness legislation is that it would protect wildlife habitat. According to NWTF, it would have exactly the opposite outcome.

This opinion is supported by many studies including a study comparing fruit production in mature stands compared to recently regenerated forest stands in the mountains.

According to the study published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, the average amount of fruit in the young forest was as much as 10 times greater than the mature forest, and in some instances more than 20 times as much wildlife food was produced in young forest, compared to the old, wilderness forest.

Yet tree huggers would lead our elected officials to believe that no management was actually protecting wildlife and that sportsmen support such “no management.”

The National Wild Turkey Federation went to Washington armed with the truth and spoke it.

The alert from the tree huggers on page 108 confirms that they are sending calls for action to their supporters to help pass bad wildlife legislation.

Additionally, they claim support from sportsmen’s organizations, but don’t name the sportsmen’s organizations who support more wilderness.

The Georgia Wildlife Federation/Camo Coalition is on record favoring expanding Wilderness in Georgia. The Georgia Wildlife Federation and Georgia Forest Watch share a common board member.

Other organizations supporting expansion of wilderness include the Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club.

Groups other than the National Wild Turkey Federation are concerned about our aging national forest. These groups objecting to more wilderness include the Ruffed Grouse Society and Quail Unlimited.

There are more than 500,000 members of the National Wild Turkey Federation.

There are fewer than 600 members of Georgia Forest Watch. Yet those 600 members show up at Forest Service Meetings and sue the Forest Service when they don’t like the Forest Service’s actions.

Experts and NWTF agree — wilderness means less wildlife.

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