Letter: Science-based Forest Management versus Consequences of Inaction

Should we manage our forests? Deciding to use science-based management practices or deciding to manage the forest by allowing “nature to take its course” are both forms of management.

Management decisions on our public lands are made by trained professionals based on relevant science. When making these decisions, the US Forest Service and the IDNR Division of Forestry invite input from the public, the individuals and organizations that care about public lands and all that they have to offer. If you’ve read this far, you likely have an interest in the public forests we have today, as well as their future condition.

Public land managers in Indiana and throughout the eastern U.S. are under attack for attempting to take actions they were professionally trained for on the public forests that they have dedicated their lives to. A small faction of society has caused an uproar at the thought of “managing” forests, claiming nature can do a better job than we humans ever could.  And they are right, to an extent. If humans had never intervened, forest management likely wouldn’t be needed today. But that is not the case.  

The forests we have today are a legacy of human use and manipulation since their existence.  Today’s forestry professionals see it as their duty to restore balance to the areas they have the privilege to steward – to restore ecosystems and processes such as low-intensity fire; to diversify age, species and structure to improve their health and adaptability to a changing climate and provide for the needs of wildlife and people.  That is the goal of science-based forest management and why the Four Rivers Forestry Committee supports it – healthy forests to provide for our needs now and in the future.

Is it messy?  Yes.  Is there risk involved?  Of course.  Does it always work the way we think it will?  No.  Welcome to “adaptive management” – do the best you can with what you know, monitor the results and adapt future actions accordingly.  Sounds a bit like the medical field, doesn’t it?  If a person collapsed in front of you, had no heartbeat and wasn’t breathing, would you do CPR?  Most people probably would, because the potential benefit outweighs the possible risk.  Our forests are in dire need of CPR, the threats are many and they continue to increase – lack of diversity, oak wilt, oak decline, anthracnose, non-native invasive species, drought, armillaria (root rot by fungus), and more.  All these stressors compound upon one another, weaken the trees, and make them more susceptible to pests and pathogens.  And climate change is predicted to make forest health even worse.  

So, is the answer really to do nothing, when we are armed with scientific consensus that says otherwise?  Has society become so cynical that we no longer trust our civil servants to do what is best in their professional judgment?  Can we not trust our state and federal laws that are in place to protect wildlife populations, cultural resources, water quality, etc.?  Have we become so selfish that we can’t fathom losing the use of one trail or recreation area temporarily for the long-term good of the ecosystem?  Can we accept the loss of an individual box turtle so that the remainder of its species can have a better food source and chance for survival?  Have we lost faith in humanity?

These are the questions you need to ask yourself, and decide if you will support science-based forest management on our public lands, or prefer the consequences of inaction.

Signed: Members of the Four Rivers Forestry Committee including Doug Brown, Judi Brown, Philip Gramelspacher, and Alan Smock