The Importance of Active Forest Management: A Hunter’s View

  • Andrew Black, National Wildlife Federation Public Lands Field Director
  • Aug 23, 2023

Rising before the sun, we quietly ventured into the Manti-La Sal National Forest within Bears Ears National Monument. As my hunting partner and I approached a forest clearing, I quickly found myself sitting with my back propped up against a large ponderosa pine. With my shotgun ready, I listened as my partner’s calls broke through the forest silence. Way off in the distance a Turkey gobbled back. We both waited, quietly wondering if a Tom would suddenly come through that forest clearing. Sitting there in quiet suspense as the blueish green shadows of the forest began to give way to the morning light, I suddenly heard a sound directly off to my right. Completely unaware of my presence, a mule deer slowly began to walk in my direction. As the deer peacefully moved past me as though I wasn’t there, I felt a deep sense of oneness with the forest. As I sat against that old ponderosa watching and listening, it occurred to me that that morning I had not just stepped out of my tent onto a hunting trip, but had ventured out into a much larger and sacred story about the interconnectedness of land, water, wildlife and people. A story thousands of years in the making. 

Timbered public lands provide security for mule deer, forage for turkeys, cold clear water for trout, and habitat for numerous other species. Game or not, wildlife rely on a mix of forest types and age classes. But older forests - like that open stand of old ponderosas - are irreplaceable pieces of the wildlife management mosaic. And older forests are in trouble. Take giant sequoias... The most fire-resistant trees on Earth succumb to these conditions. About one third of giant sequoias have been lost just over the past few years. Some of these trees had withstood the tests of time for 2,000-3,000 years.  

Sportsman overlooking scenic vista

A rapidly changing climate has turned up the volume on threats to forests.Drought has been a reality for forests since there were trees, but the duration and intensity has increased, as has forests’ exposure to hotter temperatures. These factors contribute significantly to larger and more intense fires. They also make forests more vulnerable to damage from pests – both native pests that are getting a boost from shorter, warmer winters and new invasive species. Changing conditions can also mean some species must move, often northward or to higher elevations.  

We used to talk simply about “protecting” old forests, and in many cases a hands-off approach is still the best we can do. But in many others, we need proactive management if we expect them to persist in the face of climate change. The same is true of mature forests. Defined simply, mature means not young, but lacking the necessary characteristics to be considered old. They provide important wildlife habitat now, and are essential to developing the next generation of old forests.

Climate change has changed what protection means and how we must approach forest management. We can no longer attempt to restore forests to what they once—or what we assume—they were. The changing climate demands that we look toward the future, and take a proactive approach to ensure that older forests continue to provide essential habitat for all the game we pursue and non-game animals alike. Otherwise,  the deer, that old ponderosa and the watering hole just above the forest clearing could very well only be held in our memories. 

Andrew Black is the Public Lands Field Director for the National Wildlife Federation. Be sure to scroll down for a beautiful YouTube clip of this hunt. 

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