By Anthony P. Mauro, Sr copyright (c) 2011
Not too long ago the prevailing wisdom of American surgeons was to prescribe bed confinement for most surgery patients.
It was ultimately discovered that the prescription of bed confinement not only caused life threatening complications it also delayed the physical recovery of patients.
The medical community soon replaced a “passive management” approach with treatments of early ambulation. As a result patient outcomes improved markedly.
Similar to the experience of American surgeons, there are some who have prescribed “passive management” for our forests over many decades and the effect has been equally injurious to forest health. The prevailing thought has kept woodlands from being managed by both humans and Mother Nature. We have learned that “passive management” is conspiring against forest health through degradation by aiding invasive plants and insects, and other wildlife to overtake forests.
Mother Nature manages forest health by making use of fire, wind, disease, insects, and other forces. Judicious doses of forest destruction are her way of regenerating forests and guaranteeing sustainability. Destruction and regeneration are performed in varying areas and at differing levels and intervals, which provides forest age classes that are well distributed. This in turn creates biodiversity – a foundation for forest vigor and the health of dependent flora and fauna.
Efficient disturbance created by fire, wind, disease, and insects not only provides for the long-term well-being of the forest and its dependent plant and wildlife communities but also reduces the susceptibility of the landscape, as a whole, to catastrophic damage. Disturbance is as crucial to forest health as early ambulation is to surgery patient health.
Although it appears counterintuitive, when humans prevent Mother Nature from managing forests by suppressing her natural forces we act to compromise her immune system. Passive management creates severe imbalances in the ecosystem, which allows insects, disease and deer, to intensify beyond the ability of nature to manage these forces efficiently. It causes overstocking of bio-fuels. The result is forest susceptibility to massive insect and disease outbreaks, devastating crown fires, and increased vulnerability to wind.
The evidence of a compromised immune system in New Jersey forests is found in overpopulations of deer preventing forest development by browsing seedlings and saplings, and ruinous infestation to the Pinelands by the southern pine beetle.
In the Highlands the hemlock woolly adelgid has infested eastern hemlock forest trees. Also, gypsy moths have caused defoliation, with oak forest types being the most affected. Over the years continued defoliation has made trees susceptible to insects and diseases that can eventually cause their death from other agents. As a consequence there might be a reduction of the larger mature oak species in certain areas.
The remedy for woodland restoration is in pending legislation. Bills A1954/A4358 provide for a forest harvest program on State-owned land. For nearly three years the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance, New Jersey Forestry Association, New Jersey Audubon Society, New Jersey Farm Bureau, and Department of Environmental Protection have worked with legislative leadership provided by Senator Robert Smith and Assemblyman John McKeon to create a template for a forest harvest program. The result of this effort is also supported by the New Jersey Division Society of American Foresters and the New Jersey Tree Farm Program. Additionally, scores of forestry professionals and Ph.Ds. in the fields of wildlife ecology, forest biology, natural resource management, and agriculture have endorsed the legislation.
The bills provide a means to facilitate natural processes through forestry practices. These intentional, human-induced activities can initiate the recovery of ecosystem health, integrity, and sustainability. If we are going to continue to prevent Mother Nature from freely using her methods to manage forests it is our obligation to safely and responsibly replicate her formulas.
Bills S1954/A4358 legislate a Forest Stewardship Plan using environmental health standards as the basis for forest regeneration – it does not rely on economic standards. The Department of Environmental Protection and forestry professionals determine the types of methods needed to replicate those used by Mother Nature for purposes of environmental health.
Approval for forestry projects requires that water quality, soil erosion, and threatened and endangered species be considered before authorization is granted, and a Forest Stewardship Plan must be in place before any cutting is initiated. By-products can be sold and the revenue put into an account created by legislation that is used to finance continued forest stewardship practices. This approach treats each forest individually but takes into consideration its place as part of the overall environment.
The lack of forest management and fragmentation in New Jersey are partially to blame for the extirpation of several animals. At the same time we prioritized the recovery of the bald eagle we ignored the needs of animals such as bobwhite quail, red-headed woodpecker, ruffed grouse, pheasant, and more. We have prevented forest disturbance and as a result the integrity of the habitat needed for these species to survive has been severely compromised.
Some special interest groups have misrepresented bills S1954/A4358 as logging and distribution legislation. Their portrayal is not only untrue but unwittingly takes advantage of people’s lack of knowledge of forest biology and the specifics of the legislation, and plays on prejudices that enlist them as advocates of the status quo – a campaign that facilitates environmental damage.
S1954/A4358 provides a means to restore forest health and provides a source to fund the undertaking. The citizens of New Jersey are stakeholders in this matter and they deserve intellectual honesty and rational arguments as the basis for making informed decisions. Forests are critical to sustaining life on earth and we are therefore obligated to woodland stewardship.
About: Anthony P. Mauro, Sr, (also known as “Ant” to friends and associates) is Chairman and co-founder of the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance, New Jersey Outdoor Alliance Conservation Foundation, and New Jersey Outdoor Alliance Environmental Projects. Ant's commitment to the principles of sustainable use of natural resources and environmental stewardship helped to create the New Jersey Angling & Hunting Conservation Caucus (NJA&HC). The NJA&HC is the first outdoor caucus of its kind in New Jersey and is designed to educate opinion leaders and policy makers about the principles of conservation; the foundation for healthy ecosystems, fish and wildlife.