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Soft-hat management for southern forests.

A veteran observer urges an innovative course change for the rich resources of the evolving New South.

Dr. John Gray is a part-time policy and program consultant in Little Rock, Arkansas, and a senior associate of the Winrock International Institute for Agricultural Development. When he retired from full-time employment in 1982, he was director of the U. S. Forest Service's Pinchot Institute for Conservation Studies. Prior to that, he was director of the University of Florida's School of Forest Resources and Conservation. He was an American Forestry Association director from 1975 to 1983.

This article is adapted from a presentation he made to national-forest supervisors and regional staff of the U.S. Forest Service's 13-state Southern Region at a meeting on the Ouachita National Forest in western Arkansas. Revision of that forest's 1986 plan has generated a continuing flood of controversy over practices such as clearcutting and the use of herbicides on public forestlands.

Academaniacs and ex-academaniacs are supposed to be objective and unbiased. I am not. The late E.B. White, in speaking of writers, once said, "All writing slants the way the writer leans. And no man is born perpendicular, though many are born upright."

I suffer from many biases. I am pro-southern, born on the south side of the Potomac River, thank God, when Falls Church, Virginia, was a small southern town. I married and am still married to an Arkansas girl. I've spent most of my personal and professional life in the South (note that I capitalize it). I agree with a Tennessee-born Methodist minister of my church when he told us, "I believe even yet we'd'a whipped them Yankees if we just hadn't run out of grits. "

I am pro forest industry. I have worked briefly for and, for many years, cooperatively with the industry in land-grant university extension and research programs. This industry led the way in many respects in the South's forestry and economic development in the post World War II era. Like any human enterprise, it is not an unmixed blessing. But the forest industry is one of our few manufacturing sectors that is still cost-competitive in the world economy. And since it is based on a renewable raw material, it has been, and can continue to be, sustainable.

I am, and always have been, pro U.S. Forest Service. I was in it early on in 1940 in a summer job as lookout fireman, Lower Salyer Ranger District, Trinity National Forest, California. I wound up my full-time career with the agency as director of the Pinchot Institute for Conservation Studies, Milford, Pennsylvania.

In thinking about the role of national forests in the southern region, I dug through a fair amount of background material. As a half-baked forest economist, I'm tempted to dazzle you with data and logic. But I've resisted in order simply to share straight out a few overviews as to why southern national forests are in considerable turmoil today, plus a few ideas about new approaches that might be worthy of consideration for moving the program forward.

In gathering background, I first looked at the Service's latest plan for the South as embodied in the Fourth Forest Analysis and Recommendations." Here in fairly rapid-fire order are the reactions that ran through my mind as I reviewed the published proceedings:

This seems to be what Yogi Berra called, deja vu all over again." I heard much of the same when the "Timber Resources Review" came out in 1958 and at several updated iterations since.

The Service is preaching the same old-time religion it did in 1958timber primacy; future timber-supply shortfalls (this time, for the first time, including hardwoods in addition to pine); the nonindustrial private forest owner (or NIPFO) identified as both the problem and the key to continued growth of the timber economy sector.

For the first time, Forest Service spokesmen have recognized how skewed nonindustrial private forest ownership is. Only 8 percent of the more than three million owners hold almost three-quarters of the forestland in this category. The small forest owner, like the small southern farmer, is no longer small. But I wonder if they are all timber-primacy oriented and would respond to efforts that would concentrate on reaching and influencing the unsaved among them to make the large investments in pine regeneration and other productivity-increase measures that the Service feels are profitable and needed.

Where do the region's national forests fit in a timber-primacy thrust? Over the five past target years in the analysis, the national forests' share of regional timber removals has been in the 3 to 4 percent range. Regional Forester Jack Alcock suggested that the effect of new plans would be to raise removals by about 27 percent over the next decade. But even then, on a regional basis, the national forests' role in timber supply will be a minor one.

All of the timber-situation analysis, investment opportunities and needs, and program needs are probably true. And the Service's continuing long-term efforts in these directions over the past 32 or more years have undoubtedly contributed much to the simple fact that in a gross regional sense, timber shortfalls have not occurred. In 1984, pine and hardwood growth still exceeded removals -hardwood markedly so-in the face of a more than 40 percent increase in the total harvest since 1952.

The primarily rural, economically poor, underdeveloped, underdiversified South of the 1940s and 1950s almost desperately needed to expand timber productivity to supply and sustain the diversification, modernization, and expansion of its forest industry-especially the 700 percent increase in pulp manufacturing. This industry led the way in the South's private forest resource recovery and has been a major factor in overall southern postwar economic development.

But today's South is far different. It is far more urban, cosmopolitan, and diversified economically as a result of radical shifts from agriculture to manufacturing and services. Many areas of the South now represent the epitome of the urbanized, post-industrial Sunbelt. The population is more affluent, better educated, employed in areas other than farming and manufacturing, and has different expectations for forests.

* AFA's Executive Vice President Neil Sampson hit this nail on the head (and inadvertently put his finger on the gross weakness of the proposed program) in a recent speech:

"The forests of the South frame the quality of life in this region and have always done so."



What does all this add up to for the region's national forests?

We are in a very different societal operating environment.

The industrial, agronomic-type forest-management model based on plantation silviculture, which we used as a guide over much of the postwar period for public lands and attempted to sell with mixed success to NIPFOS, can no longer be the sole or even the lead model for these ownerships.

* Timber primacy in national-forest multiple-use management in the South (where it still exists) will be an almost impossible row to hoe and justify. Only 10 percent of the South's forestland is publicly owned. National forests make up more than half of that 10 percent. Their regionwide contribution to timber supply has been minor -3 to 4 percent of total harvest. We are well past being able to convince the public that expansion of this supply source is critical to, and a major option for, survival of the industry in the South.

The Forest Service's own effort to develop New Perspectives or new initiatives is needed for management of national forests, nonindustrial private forestlands, and, in all probability, industrial forest ownerships as well.

Forest industry led in "Breaking New Ground" in postwar southern forestry. But I believe its dominance of the forest-management scene is going to moderate, for two reasons. First, industry is going to have to concern itself increasingly with public concerns over management of its own lands. And second, as former AFA President R. Scott Wallinger of Westvaco indicated in a recent speech, industry is going to have to develop new and better procurement and harvesting options and controls if it is to expand open-market procurement with a new breed of non-industrial private forest owner as well as from public forests.

In summary, I see both a larger opportunity and a greater need for Region 8 national forests to lead in southern forest-management improvement. The system will have to innovate in any event if national forests are to continue to be managed rather than simply preserved.



What changes should be considered to better fit national forests to the New South that has grown up around them?

Here are four I would flag:

Naturalistic Forestry: I believe Region 8 national forests will have to, and can, serve as large-scale testing and demonstration areas for what I call a more naturalistic forestry" that minimizes environmental impact.

Recently Arkansas changed its state motto from "Land of Opportunity" to "The Natural State." By letter I urged that the Ouachita National Forest in western Arkansas, which incorporated many changes toward "naturalistic forestry" in its recent plan, link to this new state motto by adopting "The Naturalistic National Forest for the Natural State" as its announced future theme.

Perhaps "Naturalistic National Forests for a More Natural South" is a theme the Region should consider to signal a change away from timber primacy, real or imagined, and toward what I call a "soft hat" rather than a "hard hat" forestry and Forest Service. (These terms are not original with me. They were used by the late Dr. Stephen H. Spurr in a speech to the Society of American Foresters some years ago.)

Smokey Bear wears the soft hat of the conservation ranger, the forest protector, the dedicated natural-resource steward. Why do our image makers put us in the hard hat of the logger or millworker in every forest scene in which we appear, regardless of activity? This implies to the public that foresters are nothing more than another element in a commodity-production process. Commodity production is indeed a major dimension. But forestry and foresters must embrace much more than this in today's South, particularly on public lands.

I see "naturalistic forestry"- "soft-hat forestry"-as continuing evenaged management but shifting away from clearcutting/complete site preparation/replanting to seed-tree and shelterwood regeneration methods, with prescribed fire for site preparation where conditions permit. I see it as accepting mixed-species reproduction, as meeting regeneration standards where site conditions warrant and then managing as a mixed stand on through the rotation.

I would not abandon clearcutting. But I see clearcutting and planting as a regeneration method of last resort. I see it as being justified where it is a must. I see it conducted for habitat management; I see it retained for management of watersheds where maximum water supply is a critical need; I see it applied in regenerating intolerant hardwoods. However, this concept will have to be communicated far more effectively if it is to be accepted.

I don't believe the use of herbicides must be abandoned, but that use must be even more highly selective and conservative. And perhaps their application in streamside buffers and other sensitive zones should be scaled back.

Landscape Design: A second major element should be landscape design for scenic enhancement along viewsheds on heavily used land and water-travel routes.

If Arkansas is representative, the New South puts a high premium on natural beauty. A recent Image Survey conducted by the state's Department of Parks and Tourism asked native and nonnative Arkansans what they liked best about their state. "Natural beauty" and "friendliness of the people" ranked first and second by a mile.

I'd turn the landscape architects loose to develop compartment prescriptions along viewshed and water corridors. And I'd keep careful records of costs in terms of man-hours, equipment, etc., for the possible benefit of industry, which may well find that it needs to modify management of roadsides and streamsides of public corridors through its own lands in the interest of better public support.

Research: I see a much greater linkage with and use of the South's national forests for research.

John Gordon, Yale's forestry and environmental studies dean, recently chaired a committee of the National Research Council which looked into the adequacy of forestry research. In the publicity attending the release of its report, he stated that the Committee's findings were surprising and disturbing in terms of how little we know: about forests in a system sense; about interaction of plants, animals, microbes, and people; about relationships between forests and climate.

Because of the national forests' diversity, it seems to me that they are the best locations we have for such research, for studies that require long-term monitoring, watersheds as sample units, holistic-impact comparisons of management systems and practices.

Environmental Education: I would go all out to promote the use of the southern national forests as facilities for a greatly expanded environmental education program. Not only would I look at ways to utilize existing visitor information centers, interpretive trails, etc., I would also develop demonstration teaching areas featuring resource-management practices, rationales for them, how they are applied, and their known effects.

The Forest Service and its National Forest System can and should play the lead role among federal resource agencies in education involving environmental management.

In summary, I believe a decision to mount a new or expanded southern national forest initiative, which would incorporate naturalistic forestry, natural-beauty enhancement, large-scale systems research, and environmental education, would find wide public favor in the South. I believe it would be supported by professional societies, scientists, the public education community, travel and tourism interests, public agencies, and the moderate conservation and environmental organizations. I see the possibility of these entities coming together in a supporting ad-hoc coalition for approaching southern congressional delegations and the relevant subcommittees of the U.S. Congress-and carrying considerable clout with both.

The New South evolving around us has startling ramifications for all southern forestry, but particularly the region's national forests. Recent evidence of this has not been as shocking as the spotted-owl controversy in the Pacific Northwest. But it has been shocking enough to cause much turmoil. National forests are under heavy fire, some of it justified, much of it a result of public ignorance or deliberate misrepresentation by extremists.

But our Alamo has a back door. It involves listening to our reasonable critics, making sure we and they sort out and understand their valid concerns, moving to meet these, and asking for support to do so.

We'll never satisfy the extremists on both ends of the use-preservation spectrum. We shouldn't try. I think that over time the public will become disenchanted with them.

But we can strengthen the hand of the moderate majority by working opening and honestly with them. And the moderate majority can and will stand with us in return.
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Title Annotation:Public Forests
Author:Gray, John
Publication:American Forests
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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