MS SAF Position Statement on Harvesting and Forest Health on Mississippi National Forest
The Mississippi Society of American Foresters recommends an increase in harvesting on the National Forests in Mississippi. More regeneration harvesting in overly mature stands is needed to correct a growing, over-abundance of older, less vigorous stands, especially pine stands. This should be done within guidelines to protect endangered species such as the red-cockaded woodpecker. More thinning is also needed to reduce density The alternative is to allow Mississippi's National Forests to become excessively over mature and dense, and risk severe Southern pine beetle or disease outbreaks.
For several years the MS SAF has recognized that a large proportion of forests on the Mississippi National Forests are becoming over mature. Both pine and hardwood forests are becoming over mature but the largest forest health problem is in the pine forests. Statistics now show, over mature pine stands are beginning to pose a potential forest health threat, while at the same time, potential revenues from harvesting are curtailed to those counties located within the National Forest boundaries.
Loblolly, slash, and shortleaf pines reach their peak growth at about 45 to 55 years. Longleaf pines reach their growth peak at about 60 years old. After 60 years, these southern pines begin to lose vigor. The oldest individual southern pine trees have lived to 200 plus years old but unmanaged, pine stands of 80 to 110-plus years typically decline to less desirable composition and structure. Unlike forests in the Pacific Northwest, where many species can live 300 to 500 years or more, southern pines have a much shorter life and most rarely survive past 150.
Research shows that older pine stands are more susceptible to Southern pine beetle attack. In fact, losses to insects and diseases on the National Forests have been increasing in recent decades, mainly because pine stands have become too densely stocked (due to inadequate thinning) and, on average, pine stands have become older. Approximately 53 percent of all pine stands on the Mississippi National Forests are now over 60 years old.
The fact is that too little regeneration harvesting has been accomplished on Mississippi's National Forests in recent years. According to the current forest management plan, the pine regeneration objective for the period 1986 to 1995 was 187,736 acres. The acreage actually regenerated to pine was 104,072 acres. This was 10,407 acres per year or 55 percent of the objective. The amount of regeneration has been further reduced. National Forests in Mississippi monitoring reports provide information on the trend of declining regeneration resulting in a change in the zero to ten year age class from 11 percent in fiscal year 2000 to 3 percent in 2009. This trend continued with the percentage becoming 2 percent in fiscal year 2011.
On average, some 11,000 acres become operable for first thinnings annually. The current thinning program is accomplishing less than one-third of this and is not keeping up with this forest health need. This represents an unhealthy condition.
This situation raises concerns for forest health and proper stewardship. Insect and disease events will become more prevalent without increased attention to forest regeneration and thinning.
The USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station Forest Inventory and Analysis 2006 report on Mississippi's Forests indicates that the National Forest Lands in Mississippi have an average gross growth per year of 114 million cubic feet or 570 million board feet. Annual sale volumes from 2007 to 2011 averaged about 68 million board feet per year. This means that annually, the National Forests are growing more than eight times the volume that is being harvested while the distribution of age classes progress toward old, less-healthy forests.
MS SAF recognizes the importance of managing to maintain some portion of the National Forests in older age classes for endangered species and diversity objectives, but the proportion of older, over mature stands must be closely controlled to safeguard forest health. While some people shrink from talk of harvesting trees, most people want responsible management of our National Forests so they produce the desired mix of benefits while keeping the forest healthy. These benefits include water, wood, wildlife, air quality, carbon capture, recreation, income and many others.
The National Forests in Mississippi is currently completing the analysis for a Draft Forest Plan and supporting Environmental Impact Statement which will guide future management. These documents should be available for public review and comment soon. MS SAF supports the adoption and funding of an alternative which addresses the need for additional timber harvest to improve the health of the Forest.
Originally adopted by Mississippi Society of American Foresters (MS SAF) on October 18, 2000 and revised December 4, 2012. This statement will expire December 31, 2017, unless revised by the MSAF.