Ensuring Ecological Sustainability in the National
Forests in Mississippi
By Tony Dixon, Forest
Forest Service, Jackson,
Sustaining ecological systems by providing conditions that
support diversity of native plant and animal species is imperative to
maintaining the ecological integrity of the National Forests in Mississippi. The National Forests in Mississippi
is using an ecological integrity evaluation model (EIE), an environmental
management system (EMS), and other tools as the
framework to ensure forest sustainability.
The EIE and EMS are being
implemented through the Forest Plan revision process, which we expect to
complete in 2007.
The EIE is being used as a planning tool and an ongoing,
revisable data management system adapted from The Nature Conservancy’s
conservation planning protocols. The protocols
use collaboration with local experts in ecology,
along with a transparent approach to evaluating and planning the
sustainability of ecological systems and their associated biological
components. They enable us to:
the sustainability of terrestrial and aquatic ecological systems and their
Forest Plan language to maintain or, where necessary, restore the
ecological sustainability of Conservation Targets.
on a long-term, ongoing basis, the success of conservation actions and
adapt or revise Plan language based on the results of monitoring.
essence, Mississippi is using EIE in a mix of tools to sustain its ecosystems,
thereby ensuring healthy forests; providing a viable economy; restoring wetlands
and riparian areas, wildlife and fish habitats; and improving agriculture, water
quality, and ecological communities.
The EMS is another tool that will be
used to identify, monitor and control our environmental impacts. The system will be
used as a part of our overall management system that includes organizational
structure; planning activities, practices, and procedures; and resources for
developing, implementing, reviewing and adapting environmental policy. Our use of this
process will further improve the Forest’s environmental
performance and accountability.
Other tools being used include Healthy Forest Initiative
authorities, which have proved extremely effective during our typical plan of
work, as well as during our recovery process in the aftermath of Hurricane
Katrina. To expeditiously implement our
Katrina Recovery effort and restore environmental conditions, we completed an
environmental assessment under the Healthy Forest Restoration Act to treat more than 115,000 acres of damaged timber. A large portion of the restoration has been
accomplished by commercial timber harvest.
To date, the Forest has offered and sold more than
305 million board feet of damaged timber, which will reduce our post-Katrina
hazardous fuel load by 75 percent when it is removed. Where appropriate, we issued decisions using
categorical exclusions (CEs) under the National Environmental Policy Act, which
has also been invaluable in furthering environmental improvement on Mississippi’s
forests. We have used CEs to clear roads promptly, to clean up administrative
sites, to salvage dead and dying trees, to treat infestations of southern pine
beetle, and to treat hazardous fuels.
leads the nation in prescribed burning, with an annual burning program of approximately
240,000 acres. That program helps sustain soils, water, wildlife, timber, and reduces
the threat of catastrophic wildfire to forests and private lands surrounding
national forests. Prescribed burning has
also proven to be a more efficient and economical way of maintaining critical
T&E habitat for the Gopher Tortoise and Red Cockaded Woodpecker. It is also beneficial in restoring and
sustaining fire-dependent communities such as our longleaf pine/wiregrass
Similarly, we are committed to protecting threatened and endangered
species. During Katrina recovery alone,
we discovered and mapped 3,200 Gopher Tortoise
burrows, and took steps to maintain healthy habitats for all threatened and
Noxious weeds are one of the most difficult challenges to
sustainability in Mississippi. For example, kudzu is prevalent in 72 of the
82 Mississippi counties. Similar to kudzu, congongrass is spreading vigorously
across our landscape and is growing at a rate of 70 feet per year. Multi-Forest Environmental assessments and
Decision Notices have been completed for both of these invasive species to
implement control efforts. In
conjunction with partner agencies and private landowners, we have leveraged
resources and implemented a Noxious Weed Strategy that encompasses five areas:
cooperation, education, inventory, control, and monitoring. Our efforts have helped to treat and protect
more infested acres and maintain natural diversity.
The National Forests in Mississippi remains committed to
managing a sustainable ecosystem and, with the dedicated support of its
employees, will continue to seek opportunities to proactively work
with state and federal agencies, local governments, tribal governments,
conservation organizations, industries, and private landowners in the pursuit
of sustainability across all land ownerships.
Antoine “Tony” Dixon, a 14-year employee of
the USDA Forest Service, oversees 1.2 million acres of national forest land on the
National Forests in Mississippi, headquartered in Jackson. The vast expanse of land encompasses six
national forests, including seven Ranger Districts, beginning in north Mississippi and extending as far south as the Gulf Coast.
Dixon launched his agency career as a Public
Affairs Specialist on the Routt National Forest in Colorado.
During much of his career, however, he has been in the southeast, where
he served as the Deputy Regional Director of Public Affairs and as Freedom of
Information Act Coordinator in the Atlanta-based Southern Region
headquarters. He served as a Legislative
Affairs Specialist and Budget Coordinator for the Chief Financial Officer in
the agency’s Washington Office.
He was also a Special Assistant to the Deputy Chief of the National
Forest System in the Washington Office.
Dixon has a bachelor’s degree in marketing and
forestry from Alabama A&M University and a master’s degree in administration from
Central Michigan University. In
2004, he was also a Senior Executive Fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.
Dixon is a member of the Society of American
Foresters, the American Society of Public Administration, and Omega Psi Phi
Dixon enjoys snowboarding and golfing. He and his wife, Tammi, have one son,
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