Good Neighbor Authority Brings Hope For Wildlife

 

January 23, 2017

Fires ravaged hundred of thousands of acres in the southern Appalachians, but it remains to be seen how they will affect new growth in the spring, providing food for wildlife. (Photo courtesy of David Whitmire)

This past fall's historic fire season proves the importance of our local, state and federal agencies' ability to work in unison. Sharing of resources and support was tested in our surrounding forest by these agencies, at levels probably never seen. Although Transylvania dodged some close calls, lessons from the event should be noted. One of the best stories I have heard coming from those on the ground was that agencies cooperated together. This led to the successful saving of lives and structures all while keeping fire fighters safe. Hats off to all those agencies that stepped up and performed so well.

Just a couple months before the start of these fires, an effort to further expand the use of resources between our state and federal land mangers had begun. Stemming from data received from the ongoing Nantahala Pisgah Forest Revision Plan, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Council (FWCC) became concerned that the U.S. Forest Service didn't have the capacity to meet many of its restoration objectives on its own. Sportsmen and the FWCC have voiced concerns about objectives not being met in the current 1994 amended plan, and that there is a lack of much needed restoration resulting in harmful effects on many wildlife species populations.

Sportsmen directly fund the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and rely on its ability to manage North Carolina's wildlife and gamelands. To address some current forest service roads needs the NCWRC had given $700,000 sportsman dollars to the USFS for much needed maintenance.

So now how do sportsmen and the NCWRC assist the USFS in meeting its goals and improving wildlife habitat? The answer may well lie within the 2014 Farm Bill. Embedded within this bill was a provision that will allow state agencies to perform work on federal land and further the sharing of resources.

The Good Neighbor Authority allows the USFS to enter into cooperative agreements or contracts with state agencies to allow the agencies to perform watershed restoration and forest management services on National Forest System lands. At the time of this writing, two USFS GNA agreements are in the final stages, one with the NCWRC and one with the N.C. Forest Service. These agreements will cover the entire state and will encompass over 1.2 million acres.

Could this be a game changer for wildlife in Western North Carolina? Pisgah is no stranger to being a game changer for wildlife. A hundred years ago, at the very beginning of Pisgah National Forest, the Pisgah District was designated the National Game Preserve. This preserve served a very important role in bringing back the whitetail deer to this and many other states. The preserve protected deer populations to encourage stockings and was the site of some of the first studies on whitetail deer and its habitat ever recorded.

The bear sanctuaries established in Pisgah and the State in 1971 by NCWRC were the first to be implemented in North America and have been one of the most successful and important innovations in the history of bear management in North America and a primary factor in the recovery of bear populations. Both of these species at the turn of the century would have been listed as species of special concern under the present N.C. Endangered Species Act.

What do yesteryears success and today's habitat needs have in common in our forest? The benefit of dedicated sportsman dollars.

Not only does the NCWRC receive money from hunting and fishing license to further Wildlife management, but a federal tax on hunting and fishing supplies also goes toward wildlife. The Pittman – Robertson Act of 1937 allows the revenue generated by this excise tax to be apportioned to state wildlife agencies for conservation efforts, hunter education and shooting programs. This is the essence of the North American Wildlife Model that is revered the world over and is one of the greatest conservation models ever implemented. More than $10.1 billion was collected between 1939 and 2013, and in 2013 $522.6 million was collected from appropriations from the Act.

The tax is based on an 11 percent excise tax on guns and ammo and fishing and hunting gear. The Act pays up to 75 percent of programs and project costs with individual states covering the rest. It also creates a direct link between those who hunt and fish and the resources that are needed to protect enhance wildlife, both game and non-game, and its habitat. The Pisgah National Game Preserve was one of the first fund recipients in 1939.

The ability to further this model in conjunction with the Good Neighbor Authority on our NC National Forests could well be answer to the lack of capacity the USFS finds its self in. This States sportsman and the NCWRC know the importance of habitat for wildlife in our forest. Sportsman funding, along with our forest and wildlife managers can once again restore these forest to meet the needs of wildlife. From the success of cooperation among these agencies in the past, I look for a bright future for our forests and wildlife. The process of a collaborative forest revision plan is responsible for the conversations that brought this opportunity to life. We hope to see more positive outcomes from the process and plan.

David Whitmire is the owner of Headwaters Outfitters, and he is actively involved in the ongoing Pisgah/Nantahala Forest Plan Revision, and local conservation efforts.

 
 

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