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Sustainable Development e-News


Ensuring Ecological Sustainability in the National Forests in Mississippi

By Tony Dixon, Forest Supervisor

USDA Forest Service, Jackson, Mississippi

Tony Dixon

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:

  • Evaluate the sustainability of terrestrial and aquatic ecological systems and their associated biodiversity.
  • Develop Forest Plan language to maintain or, where necessary, restore the ecological sustainability of Conservation Targets.
  • Monitor, on a long-term, ongoing basis, the success of conservation actions and adapt or revise Plan language based on the results of monitoring.

In 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.

Mississippi 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 ecosystems.

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 endangered species.

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 Fraternity, Inc.

Dixon enjoys snowboarding and golfing.  He and his wife, Tammi, have one son, Christopher.

Return to SDe-News Spring 2006

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    Last Modified: Thursday, June 1, 2006