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Healthy Forests = Healthy Wildlife

James Earl Kennamer, Ph.D

Meet Our Leaders

James Earl Kennamer, Ph.D.
Chief Conservation Officer

The adage of “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” has many implications.

It’s particularly true when it comes to landowners and their properties.

The owner’s perceptions of the value and benefit of his or her property may differ greatly from that of others, both human and wildlife. A well-maintained, closely mowed and manicured area may have high curb appeal to some humans, but little draw to most species of wildlife. Conversely, a property with irregular fields managed with native plant borders may appear rough and unmanaged; however, it could provide extremely valuable and critical habitat for ground nesting birds like bobwhite quail and wild turkeys.

The same examples can be applied to forest management.

Some groups champion the virtues of old growth, almost park-like forests, and promote vast acres of protected forests with no access. It may look neat and seem like a good idea, but this protectionist attitude has contributed to a seemingly overt public campaign against timber cutting and other forest management activities, particularly on public lands. Timber management has been curtailed in many regions with the unintentional results of less wildlife habitat and decreased wildlife populations.

Similarly, a long-standing national campaign against wildfires has been so successful that now any type of fire is viewed as detrimental to the forest and its inhabitants. Yet fire is an extremely valuable management tool for healthy forests and wildlife populations when properly used by professional managers. Prescribed fire encourages native species growth, increases wildlife food supplies, provides nesting and brooding cover for wild turkeys and other species and reduces wildfire hazards.

Timber cutting or thinning (often followed by prescribed burning) may improve forest health by removing overly mature or diseased trees, invasive plant species or regenerating a new and more vigorous stand.

Our forests provide habitat for an incredible diversity of plants and animals. Because forest ecosystems are very complex, good forest management and sound wildlife management are closely linked. A forest is home for potentially hundreds of animal species. Each animal has a specific place and role, or niche, within the forest ecosystem. The more niches that are created within a forest, the greater the number of species it can support.

To support a diversity of wildlife species, today’s forestry management practices also need to be diverse. Stands may require thinning, selecting a few older trees for cavity nesting species, cultivating oaks for acorn production and understory trees like dogwood and crabapple for their fruit, creating openings or all of the above. A diversity of forest stands produces a diversity of wildlife.

Forests provide wildlife, recreation, timber and watershed protection, and each forest stand is unique with its own characteristics and history. Past treatments and the current condition (sometimes referred to as forest health) will help determine and shape the treatments necessary to meet the landowner’s future objectives. Each private landowner has specific goals for his or her property, and a management plan should be developed to meet those objectives. Goal setting and management decisions should not be taken lightly, since the treatments and results have long-term impacts.

NWTF recommends landowners consult a professional manager to assist in meeting their objectives and in designing a forest management plan. Most state agencies have district foresters or private land foresters that provide technical assistance to private landowners. Federal and state cost-share assistance may be available for timber stand improvements.

In many areas, NWTF regional biologists are also available as Natural Resource Conservation Service Technical Service Providers to develop wildlife plans for private landowners. Landowners must complete an application for a Conservation Activity Plan (CAP 142) at their local NRCS office, then make a direct request to an NWTF biologist for assistance.

Healthy forests create healthy wild turkey populations along with other wildlife species. What is the health of your forest? Is it time for a checkup? Call us at (800) THE-NWTF, and we’ll be glad to discuss your land management needs.



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