With the U.S. Forest Service offering a window for public comments to its Nantahala/Pisgah Forest Plan Revision, the Ruffed Grouse Society of North Carolina is asking for help in persuading the agency to make a sea change in how it manages a million acres of public land in western North Carolina.

The RGS hopes to convince the USFS that logging should be allowed within the framework of an ecological plan to protect forest resources, especially water, yet harvest some older forests to make way for early-successional growth that will enhance wildlife habitat.

“Management decisions made pertaining to the future of these two forests need to be recognized as integrated within a broader ecosystem,” the RGS wrote in a presentation to the USFS. “Projects are initiated at the watershed level with many of the impacts reaching beyond forest boundaries. Management scope needs a much larger vision.

“Designating areas for ‘ruffed grouse management’ or ‘small or large-patch old growth’ are concepts of the past. Management of the forest proper to resemble the desired uneven-aged structure revered by the USFS and many user groups at a scale to have multi-generational influences on populations over time rather than a moment in time should be the focus of the new Forest Plan.

“In doing so, ruffed grouse management will occur where appropriate in the management of the forest as a part of larger entity, rather than focusing on a particular area to appease a small sector of forest visitors. The resulting forest mosaic may place young regenerating forest adjacent to old-growth timber or an 80-year-old stand.”

RGS has been frustrated – as have local N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission forestry experts and wildlife biologists – at USFS policy that has resulted in a loading of the understory with dead and dying trees and an overreaching canopy that stymies low-to-the-ground growth of bushes and grass species that could provide food and cover for many wildlife species. They have been asking the USFS for years to open up some old-growth forests to timbering to create openings for forest regeneration that can last a generation, giving time for wildlife species to expand in the national forests.

“This (could be) accomplished through regeneration timber harvesting methods in conjunction with stand renewal fire and understory/fuels reduction prescribed fire as tools not in lieu of harvesting,” the RGS wrote. “These accepted management methods are supported by documented research consisting of long-term silivicultural (timber science) and ecologic experimentation results within these same forest types, many of which were from their own USFS Southern Research Station.”

The RGS didn’t ask for changes to be made without research of the potential adverse or beneficial effects. It also noted that opposition is likely to come from environmental groups that oppose all changes in management of forests. But denying change has resulted in few opportunities for wildlife to flourish.