Applying Ecological Principles to Management of U.S. National Forests
Issues in Ecology
Ecological Society of America
he U.S. National Forest System is a diverse and unique resource that must be managed within the context of competing and shifting social expectations. The policies under which the system operates have changed over the century, along with the values society places on wood production, wilderness protection, recreation, and biodiversity conservation. Proposals for major changes in the management of the National Forests are once again being debated. The consensus among forest ecologists is that all forests, despite their complexity and variability, should be managed as ecosystems. Sustainable forest management practices must be based on an understanding of how natural forest ecosystems work.
We have identified major ecological considerations that should be incorporated in sound forest management policy and their potential impacts on current practice:
* Maintenance of soil quality and nutrient stocks that hold the key to current and future forest productivity may necessitate adjusting timber harvest rates and leaving more large woody debris on cutover sites.
* Protection of water quality and yield and prevention of flooding and landslides call for greater attention to the negative impacts of logging roads and the value of undisturbed buffer zones along streams and rivers.
* Conservation of forest biodiversity will often require reducing forest fragmentation by clearcuts and roads, avoiding harvest in vulnerable areas such as hardwood or old growth stands and riparian zones, and restoring natural structural complexity to cutover sites.
* Planning at the landscape level is needed to address ecological concerns such as biodiversity, water flows, and forest fragmentation. Repeated overcutting of National Forests lands in the past has been linked to lack of planning at the landscape scale.
* Increasing pressures on forests due to human population growth and global change oblige land managers to be alert for climate-related stresses as well as damage from ground-level ozone, acid rain, and acidification of soils and watersheds.
Aber, J., N. Christensen, I. Fernandez, J. Franklin, L. Hidinger, M. Hunter, J. McMahon, D. Mladenoff, J. Pastor, D. Perry, R. Slangen, and H. Van Miegroet. 2000. Applying ecological principles to management of U.S. National Forests. Issues in Ecology. Issue 6. 20 pp. Ecological Society of America. Washington, D.C.