NWTF Supports Healthy Forests Initiative


Mar 11, 2001
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For more information, contact: James Powell or Jonathan Harling, 803-637-3106.
July 2, 2003

NWTF Supports Healthy Forests Initiative

When National Wild Turkey Federation member George Sloan and his wife Linda look out the back window of their new home, they see black sticks for trees and charred hills where green grass used to flourish. Less than a year ago a raging wildfire left the Sloan's one hour to escape their Arizona home that would eventually turn to ash.

The fire had started and remained far enough away from their 130-home community, at least that's what they thought. Distant flames turned into a 300-foot wide wall of fire with enough fuel in its path to set ablaze thousands of acres of wildlife habitat and buildings, including the Sloan's home.

"There's no doubt that the forests are completely mismanaged out here," said George Sloan, Show Low, Arizona resident. "Environmentalists have stopped forest thinning and they have become so thick you can't even walk through them. These types of forest conditions will lead to more fires most definitely."

In 2002, more than 88,000 wildfires turned 7 million acres and 815 structures to ash across the nation, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. However, the 2003 forecast calls for not as severe conditions and with the Healthy Forest Initiative in full swing, forests in the U.S. will be on the way back to healthy conditions.

"Millions of acres of public lands are affected with insect damage. Invasive plants crowd out native plants. Tree stands, after years of poor management, are so thick that they cannot grow to natural size. We need to reverse these trends," said Gale Norton, U.S. Interior Secretary. "Through our Healthy Forests Initiative, we are restoring millions of acres of our forests and rangelands and protecting communities from catastrophic fires."

Hundreds of leaders in the conservation industry, including NWTF CEO, Rob Keck, met at the White House Rose Garden to listen to the President's speech on the Initiative and summation of last year's wildfires and 2003 wildfire season forecast.

"This is the moment that finally clears the red tape and lets foresters do what they need to in order to make our forests safe," said Keck. "The President understands that this is a common sense issue. We need to clean up our forests or they will burn uncontrollably."

Managed burns are just as important in Eastern forests. When a forest's understory becomes too thick, it is not suitable wildlife habitat. In addition, trees compete for space and nutrients and eventually create unhealthy growing conditions. Trees with less wildlife habitat value such as maple and sweet gum compete with hardwoods like oaks. But Forest Service officials can use thinning to manage for better hardwood growth.

Historically, forest fires benefited the entire forest because their frequency and intensity was determined by the system's natural readiness to burn. Now, certain special interest groups oppose active management, which includes prescribed fire and forest thinning. Managed burns can produce smoke and can alter vegetation, which are concerns for residents in forested areas. However, if the forests are not managed properly, it will not be a matter of if the forests will burn uncontrollably, but when.

To stave off the threat of wildfires, public and private land managers are encouraged to actively use managed fires and other techniques in areas that are vulnerable to the intense and damaging wildfires. If these tools are not used, biologists fear that more wildfires will definitely take over unmanaged forests.

"A forest will not manage itself and today we have forests that are too old and thick for wildlife," said Dr. James Earl Kennamer, NWTF vice-president for conservation programs. "Future generations will also depend on the timber industry for jobs and products and for these reasons and for human safety the NWTF fully supports the Healthy Forest Initiative."

National Forests and other public lands play a critical role in sustaining our nation's hunting heritage. While many Americans may not know this, sportsmen and other dedicated conservationists have a long history of giving their money and time to complete on-the-ground habitat management projects.

Sportsmen have for more than 60 years encouraged a self-imposed tax on ammunition, guns and equipment that is then put toward habitat enhancement and management of state and federal lands.

"Americans must decide: We can remove some of the trees and lower the risk of catastrophic fire; or we can do nothing and watch them burn. I think the choice is obvious," said Dale Bosworth, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service. "We must return forests to the way they were historically, then get fire back into the ecosystem when it's safe."

For more information on how to better manage your land or to learn more about the NWTF, call 800-THE-NWTF or visit the Web site at www.nwtf.org.

About the NWTF: In 1973 when the National Wild Turkey Federation was founded, there were an estimated 1.3 million wild turkeys and 1.5 million turkey hunters. Thanks to the work of wildlife agencies and the NWTF's many volunteers and partners, today there are an estimated 5.6 million wild turkeys and approximately 2.6 million turkey hunters. Since 1985, more than $168 million NWTF and cooperator dollars have been spent on over 22,000 projects benefiting wild turkeys throughout North America.

The NWTF is a half million-member grassroots, nonprofit organization with members in 50 states, Canada and 11 foreign countries. It supports scientific wildlife management on public, private and corporate lands as well as wild turkey hunting as a traditional North American sport.

For more information on the National Wild Turkey Federation, call (803) 637-3106, check out our web site at http://www.nwtf.org or e-mail questions to nwtf@nwtf.net.

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