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Why Some Public Lands are Devoid of Game

Every year hunters across the nation lament the loss of their favorite hunting cover.

Every year hunters across the nation lament the loss of their favorite hunting cover. Maybe the owner sold the land and it is being turned into another gated community for baby boomers who want to experience living in nature. Surely development plays a role in the loss of habitat, but there is a larger culprit that needs to be addressed. Increasingly, we are hearing from hunters about the paucity of wildlife on public lands, some of it supposedly managed for wildlife. So, why is there a decline of wildlife on public lands that our license fees and taxes pay to support?

First of all, the National Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy recently released a "2007 Watch List" of bird species in danger, including songbird species, which require "disturbance-dependent" habitat for their survival. For the uninitiated, this disturbance is typically produced by one of two means: wildfire (which nobody likes) and forest management, typically through timber harvests. Forest fires are mostly a thing of the past in the East, and logging is too often viewed as anti-environment. The American Bird Conservancy noted this when it issued a report in 2007 that named the loss of early successional Eastern deciduous forests (logged areas) as one of the "20 Most Threatened Bird Habitats." Early successional habitat is essential for the ruffed grouse and other birds in danger. That early successional habitat is also essential for other game animals such as deer, turkey and rabbits.

It's easy to blame rampant development and big corporations for loss of wildlife habitat. Yes, they are part of the problem on private land. However, millions of acres of national and state forest lands should be able to compensate. We all enjoy the bounty of our public forests. So why isn't there sufficient habitat there for wildlife?

A report commissioned by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and conducted by the highly regarded Pinchot Institute was released in November 2007. It pointed out that the USFS is not cutting enough trees. The audit states, "In all cases harvests did not reach levels necessary to achieve a future condition reflecting their social, economic and ecological goals."

You can primarily thank environmental organizations that masquerade as conservationists for the plight of the ruffed grouse and many other species. Every time the USFS attempts to harvest hardwood timber, these groups use procedural appeals and lawsuits, sometimes with allies in the judiciary, to stop the project. Their vocal protests are based on destroying the view along scenic roadways and from gated communities in the vicinity of public forests, often described as "view sheds."

A recent report by the Nature Conservancy shows that since the late 1980s American participation in outdoor activities has dropped by as much as 25 percent. Due to this loss of connection with nature, an uninformed populace can be easily swayed by environmental groups that espouse a "no cut" policy on our public land. We no longer understand the need for a diverse habitat to provide a home for wildlife. Also, less game on public lands lessens the experience of hunters who can't afford private-land leases; as a result, environmentalists are not just harming wildlife, but are reducing hunter numbers.

The misguided efforts of environmental groups, shrouded in the mantle of conservation, depend on the uninformed to support their mantra: "Don't cut the trees." This uninformed group includes elected representatives who increasingly support designating "wilderness areas" in national forests and "no-cut" policies on state forests throughout the country. If you want to have healthy populations of grouse, deer, turkey, rabbits, songbirds and even endangered wildlife, then you have to cut trees to establish early successional habitat.

I had the opportunity to hunt national forests in Minnesota in the autumn of 2007. There are a lot of grouse. They also cut trees. These beautiful forests are a patchwork of diverse habitat. There is also varied recreational use.

Whether you enjoy the thunderous explosion of the ruffed grouse over a solid point or the early morning gobble of a tom turkey coming down off the roost, it is time to act. Real conservationists, particularly hunters involved in wildlife organizations, should start listening to the professionals in the USFS and Pinchot Institute when it comes to managing forests and providing a home for wildlife. We must not only listen to them, but become actively engaged in supporting the efforts of federal and state agencies in managing land for wildlife. Forestry and wildlife habitat must be based on science, not emotion as dictated by preservationists. Preserving a renewable resource like trees to maintain a human vista at the expense of a home for wildlife is a losing position for all who enjoy our nation's forests.


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