PNF courthouse habitat

Young forest habitat created in 2017 in the courthouse area of Pisgah National Forest.

Editor’s note: This is part two of two, continuing from last week’s article titled “Preserving the heritage of hunting.”

Last week I wrote about the observations of our local hunters to wildlife population declines in Pisgah National Forest. Wildlife are excellent indicators to healthy habitat conditions.

Deer, for example, will migrate within an area to find adequate food sources.

Ruffed grouse, another species that requires a percentage of young forest to thrive, will simply disappear from the landscape when their habitat disappears.

While there are currently no official studies on the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests about the cause and effect of young forest habitat loss, a study on a neighboring national forest captures it.

According to a January 2021 article in UGA Today by researchers at the University of Georgia, the decline in deer populations may point to larger issues involving the wildlife dynamics happening in the Chattahoochee National Forest.

Gino D’Angelo, assistant professor in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, highlights the loss of young forest habitat in the Chattahoochee causing an almost two-thirds loss of the deer populations in the past 40 years.

The declines in populations can be directly attributed to 68 percent fewer hunters using this forest.

The remaining hunters presently using the forest are only successful 25 percent of the time in filling a season tag.

While browsing created in young forests is listed as a big concern for year around deer food sources, another dynamic has been indicated.

Researchers found that with the lack of thick cover in these young forest areas deer fawns have limited areas to hide from predators.

The study indicates current lack of forest management is directly affecting fawn survivability.

D’Angelo went on to say: “There’s a missed opportunity there, because if we had a variety of habitats, we could enjoy a greater variety of songbirds to see, or we’d see different habitats to hike through.”

Jacalyn Rosenberger, a recent graduate of UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, went on to emphasize the root cause is not about the failings of a particular agency.

She points to a larger process that has made it difficult for the U.S. Forest Service to manage the land as it was historically maintained. “It’s such a fixable problem,” she said. “Hopefully, our research can provide some scientific evidence that the U.S. Forest Service can use in defending some projects and reversing some of the trends.”

During the past 10 years of the Nantahala/Pisgah national revision plan, hunters have been sounding the warnings of what this study now concludes: wildlife and the hunting heritage has suffered during the last 30 years from lack of active forest management, past plans goals were not met and trends must change in the new plan.

Troubling is the fact that it’s just not a local problem but a regional and more likely a nationwide problem of managing our national forests.

Let us at least hope the Regional 8 Forester, for which the Chattahoochee, Nantahala and Pisgah national forests fall in under and now holds the final decisions on the plan, allows the plan to reverse the trends for wildlife here.

David Whitmire is co-owner of Headwaters Outfitters and is actively involved in local conservation efforts, such as the French Broad River cleanup and wildlife rehabilitation programs. He is also chair of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Council.

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