Hunters Petitition Forest Service to Expand Logging, Improve Habitat

Phil Taylor, E&E reporter

The Forest Service should allow more intensive logging in eastern and southern forests to create habitat for ruffed grouse and American woodcock, according to a legal petition announced Friday by the Ruffed Grouse Society.

Ruffed Grouse - RGS

Ruffed grouse require young forest for food and cover./RGS

The "even-aged" forest treatments, which are sometimes referred to as clearcuts, would create young forest habitats favored by the ruffed grouse, golden-winged warbles, and other game and non-game bird species, the society argued in its petition to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.

The service has failed to maintain adequate young forests in the Wayne National Forest in Ohio, Jefferson National Forest in Virginia and Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee, among others, the April 30 petition claims.

"The failure of national forests in regions 8 and 9 to meet even their own minimum goals for young forest habitats has contributed to substantial declines in the populations of game and nongame wildlife that depend upon these habitats," RGS President John Eichinger said in a statement. "These deficiencies indicate a systemic problem that demands the attention of our most senior officials within the Forest Service."

The group's petition asks Tidwell to issue a directive ordering southern and eastern forests to "move promptly" in meeting minimum goals for young forest habitat. The directive would apply to regions 8 and 9, which include more than 25 million acres in more than 30 national forests.

Failure to achieve viable populations of ruffed grouse on the Chattahoochee, Hoosier and Sumter national forests is a violation of planning regulations issued under the National Forest Management Act that require habitat to be managed to maintain "viable populations of existing native and desired non-native vertebrate species," the petition notes.

Ruffed grouse are among the most popular upland birds to hunt. The society claims 15,476 members and 113 local chapters and is based in Coraopolis, Pa.

Young forest is defined as "open leaf canopy, which allows sufficient sunlight penetration to the forest floor to support the growth of certain tree, shrub and grass species that cannot survive in a mature, closed canopy forest."

Such habitat allows wildlife to "find food and shelter among the young shrubs and saplings that thrive in recently harvested areas."

For many years, such habitat was created in eastern forests by disturbances like wildfire, windstorms, and insects or disease. But today, the primary mechanism is through logging, the petition said. But the Forest Service has "abdicated its responsibility" to provide such habitat, it argues.

Young forest habitats in the northeast and north-central United States have decreased by 45 percent over the past 25 to 30 years, it said.

"Even-aged treatments, which remove most of the mature trees in a particular stand at the same time, have been shown to be a key feature enabling increased bird species diversity," the petition states.