Pennsylvania Game News - June 2017 - 47

True Worth

F

IRE has always played a role in nature, even conservation. But its use has
always bothered some folks, even renowned conservationists.
Using fire to improve forest habitat in the early 1900s was gaining momentum
among foresters as an ecologically beneficial practice, and it was against this
trend that Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service, made his
stand against controlled burns - or any fires - on forestland.
Considered by many the "Father of American Forestry," it's probably a little
surprising to some that Pinchot was anti-fire, given fire's use in resource management today. But his preference was to manage trees like crops, capitalizing
on timely rotational harvests that fed our growing country's insatiable need for
building materials. America followed his lead for decades.
Pinchot had no interest in old-growth timber or snags. They were space-takers,
crops beyond utility. He managed forests for trees first, and wildlife became a
secondary, sometimes even a tertiary, consideration.
But Aldo Leopold, who would die from a heart attack in 1948, fighting a grass
fire on a neighbor's property, was no fan of Pinchot's "economic determinism,"
even though he admired Pinchot. He saw the forest for all its trees and recognized
fire was beneficial to its myriad organisms.
"A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of
the biotic community," wrote Leopold in A Sand County Almanac. "It is wrong
when it tends otherwise."
With time, resource managers better understood the complexities of ecosystem
dependencies and the ecological value of old trees, multi-layered canopies, even
understories. They increased use of controlled burns to reduce wildfire threats
and expedite nutrient recycling by burning built-up supplies of forest litter. Fire
promoted forest health, helped cull invasive plants, and provided ecosystem
improvement much faster than decomposition.
Given its established benefits, it's not surprising fire management is on the
short-list of many resource managers for habitat improvement. In Pennsylvania,
the Game Commission, state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources,
The Nature Conservancy and U.S. Forest Service have used fire as a management tool for years with terrific results. All recognize the vigorous - but natural
- ecological progression it provides.
As suggested, fire management is anything but new. Native Americans used it
to boost the land's fertility. It's a necessity to improve habitat, and its use generates expedient greenness. For wildlife, that's food and cover, desirable habitat
components with which they hardly ever are overwhelmed.
If you still find yourself unsure about controlled burns, follow one from start
to green-up. Once you get past the charring, you'll see the effort's true worth.

Joe Kosack
JUNE 2017	

47



Pennsylvania Game News - June 2017

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Pennsylvania Game News - June 2017

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Pennsylvania Game News - June 2017 - Cover1
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2017 - Cover2
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2017 - Contents
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Pennsylvania Game News - June 2017 - Cover3
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2017 - Cover4
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