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Federal Forest Management into the Next Decade… Can We Move Beyond the Rhetoric?

Decades of reduced harvest, aggressive fire suppression, lack of prescribed fire and poor livestock grazing practices, coupled with drought and invasive species eruptions, have left millions of acres of federal forestlands in unhealthy conditions.

Many of our public forests provide little native grassland and young forest habitat for bobwhites and other species that depend on these habitats. These conditions increase risk of severe wildfires and threaten watersheds that provide drinking water to millions of Americans. I, along with Dan Dessecker, policy director of the Ruffed Grouse Society, led a special session at the 81st North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference recently to explore the past and current situation regarding forest management on public lands and address needed administrative and legislative reforms to improve active forest management policy and better address multiple objectives on public forest lands.

The current level of active management on federal forest lands is insufficient to address the scope and scale of forest health issues and fuel reduction. In addition, the majority of the U.S. populace resides east of the Great Plains, as does the majority of our federal elected officials, often creating a disconnect and different values for our federal forestlands. The future for forest ecosystem management is now uncertain based in part on the lack of current and improbable future social consensus concerning desired outcomes for public forestlands; the need for significant financial investment in forest ecosystem restoration; a lack of integrated planning and decision tools; and a disconnect between the existing planning process, congressional appropriations, and complex management and restoration problems.

There is clear scientific evidence indicating that the ecological integrity of our nation’s public forest lands and the social fabric of nearby rural communities are imperiled. It is essential to make federal forest land management policy relevant to all interests so that the necessary statutory, regulatory, and fiscal fixes can be applied.

Can we move beyond the rhetoric (“mandated timber harvest targets”, “benign neglect,” “stripping environmental regulation,” “analysis paralysis,” “unnecessary litigation”) and address this reality? Balanced, common sense legislation and administrative processes that allow for science-based active management of our public forestlands to conserve wildlife, enhance forest health and protect water quality while meeting society’s needs and interests is a lofty but achievable goal.

The presentations provided different perspectives on the broad reach of current forest management policies. Speakers focused on the past, present and future of forest conditions and management on public lands as well as what forest science is telling us about the condition of our forests. A panel composed of leaders of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, National Wild Turkey Federation, The Nature Conservancy and Weyerhaeuser Company spoke about how to balance forest management through national policy reform that can benefit wildlife and other natural resource values. The Wildlife Management Institute will publish a record of this session later this year.

Tom Franklin

Now retired, Tom Franklin was the agriculture liaison for the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative and served as senior director of science and policy with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Tom’s education includes a B.S. in natural resource conservation and wildlife management from the University of Maryland and a M.S. in administrative science from The Johns Hopkins University. Tom started his conservation career studying human/wildlife interactions as a wildlife biologist and executive director with the nonprofit Urban Wildlife Research Center. He then joined The Wildlife Society as Field Director where he led local and regional program development and as Policy Director where he led the government relations program. He later became Conservation Director for the Izaak Walton League of America and also was owner of The Wildlife Authority, a nature-oriented retail business.

Tom is a Certified Wildlife Biologist and has authored articles for professional and popular outlets concerning wildlife management, association leadership and natural resource policy. His work has been recognized by the Daniel L. Leedy Urban Wildlife Conservation Award; Professional of the Year award from the Maryland/Delaware Chapter of The Wildlife Society; and received The Wildlife Society’s President’s Award and Special Recognition Service Award. He served as President of The Wildlife Society from 2008-’09 and is a Wildlife Society Fellow. He also served on two national advisory committees including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Farm and Ranchland Advisory Committee and the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council that advises the Secretaries of the US Departments of Agriculture and Interior. He is on the Executive Committee of the American Wildlife Conservation Partners; Steering Committee of the Teaming With Wildlife Coalition; served on the Board of Directors for the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, chairs the Wildlife Diversity Advisory Committee for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and is a member of the Howard County, Maryland Recreation and Parks Advisory Board.

Tom is an avid outdoorsman and especially enjoys fishing, hunting, bird dogs, nature study and managing habitat for wildlife on his family farms in Virginia.