Good Forestry and Good Public Policy

March 20, 2008

Good Forestry and Good Public Policy
Supporting the White Mountain National Forest Plan

by Jane Difley

For nearly a century, the 800,000-acre White Mountain National Forest has existed for the purpose of providing recreation, wildlife management, timber harvesting and designated wilderness. As wildlife biologists and foresters both understand, these multiple uses are not only compatible, but often enhance one another.

To balance these uses, the U. S. Forest Service is tasked with updating its master plan for WMNF every 15 years, and the most recent update was approved following a comprehensive eight-year process involving dozens of stakeholders providing thousands of comments.

This plan, adopted in late 2005, follows guidelines established in the National Forest Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. It provides the main framework for protecting the resources of the forest and for making these resources available to the public.

It is one of only three national forest plans adopted in the past 15 years without an appeal from any stakeholder involved in the planning process, in part because it added 35,000 acres to the existing 118,500 acres of designated Wilderness area.

The new forest plan allows timber harvesting on approximately 3,400 acres annually, less than one percent of the overall forest base. Within that area, approximately 1,000 acres are to be used for regeneration harvests designed to create brushy and young forest conditions favoring specific wildlife species. In some cases, small clearcuts are the best silvicultural tool for achieving these objectives.

Overall, the plan permits the removal of up to 24 million board feet of wood annually, which itself is roughly a 30 percent reduction from the prior plan’s standard.

Since the plan’s adoption, however, the implementation of the timber management component has run into a major barrier. Specifically, two national groups, the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society, have appealed each of two timber sales advertised by the WMNF that involve harvesting timber located within Inventoried Roadless Areas (IRA).

The plan clearly anticipated such harvesting, but it has run headlong into the national agenda of these two groups, which is to preclude any harvesting of timber on any IRA in any national forest.

Nearly one-third of the national forest system (59 million acres) is within such IRAs, as is half of the total land base of the WMNF (400,000 of 798,000 acres).

Contrary to common perception, roadless areas are inventoried by the Forest Service as a management tool to guide the planning process generally and specifically to identify lands that may in future planning processes qualify for potential designation as Wilderness Areas. IRAs are not meant to be a de facto designation of wilderness, but this is how some misuse the IRA planning tool.

The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests strongly supports the forest plan as adopted — including the harvesting of timber within a portion of the WMNF. The plan represents wise multiple uses of a public resource. It is good forestry and good public policy.

Jane Difley
is the president and forester of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.