An Ecological Perspective
The overriding objective of the Forest Service forest management program is to ensure that national forests are managed in an ecologically sustainable manner. For centuries before Europeans settled America, people have used forest resources and influenced the ecological condition of forests through their actions. Along with growing populations and a more affluent society, human influences on forests have increased. This presents a significant challenge for the Forest Service to provide forest resources and experiences within the overriding objective of sustaining ecological integrity. Along with harvesting national forest timber on a sustainable basis, timber sales provide an economic means of managing vegetation.
There are critical environmental reasons to retain timber harvest as a component of national forest management. For example, timber harvest is essential to ongoing recovery efforts for the red-cockaded woodpecker, an endangered species that lives in mature pine forests of the South. When hardwood trees grow under the larger pines and reach the level where the birds have made their nest cavities, conditions for foraging and access to the cavities become unsuitable. These conditions, if left unchecked, will often stop the woodpeckers from using the cavities, and whole colonies of birds can be lost. Timber sales are being designed to remove the mid-story vegetation without disturbing the colonies, thereby maintaining suitable woodpecker habitat. Restoration efforts have been further aided by using timber sales in the same way to expand the amount of suitable habitat, which encourages the establishment of new woodpecker colonies.
In most cases, our forest ecosystems are in a healthy, functioning condition due to both past active management and environmental protection measures. These forests provide highly diverse and often unique resources, opportunities, and experiences for the American public. In some cases, ecosystems are not functioning in a way that can be sustained without unacceptable risk of losses to wildfire, insects, or diseases. In particular, the long-term exclusion of fire from ecosystems dependent on frequent low-intensity fires, such as Western ponderosa pine ecosystems, has left those sites vulnerable to high-intensity crown fires. The Forest Service is actively managing many of these forests to help restore more acceptable ecological conditions by thinning out the overcrowded fire intolerant tree species and working to restore the low-intensity fire patterns. Sometimes, the thinned trees can be sold to help offset the cost of the restoration project. The Forest Service is closely monitoring these programs to determine the extent of their contribution to the restoration of healthy forests.
It is important that the agency assess ecological situations at the local and landscape levels, establish management objectives based on ecological, social, and economic information, and utilize the best tools available to achieve the established vegetation objectives. In all cases, our overriding objective is to sustain the long-term health of the land. Timber sales, as well as other vegetation management tools such as management-ignited fire or prescribed natural fire, play an important role in this process. Restoration and maintenance of healthy forests is the best way to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the land.