bankhead_restoration1The goal of ecological restoration is to enhance ecological integrity by restoring natural processes and the resiliency of ecosystems.

It is well understood that by maintaining and promoting native intact forest ecosystems we will continue to reap the benefits of ecological services provided by our forests. Ecological services include clean air, clean water, carbon sequestration, and even climate change mitigation. All of life and our human economies ultimately depend on healthy ecological functions and the services they provide.

Since the change in administration in Washington, “restoration” and “collaboration” have become the new buzzwords at the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). Under the leadership of Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Undersecretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment Harris Sherman, and new Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, there are initiatives afoot that have the potential to institutionalize management principles that benefit overall ecosystem health.

USFS is now considering a change in the rules by which National Forest Management Plans are constructed and implemented. In the spirit of collaboration, the agency has held national and regional public meetings to receive input in this process. Wild South and its partner organizations, notably the Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition (SAFC), have been vocal in these meetings, lobbying for ecological restoration principles and sound science to play a strong role in rule planning.

Equally important as a good planning rule is the budget structure to implement it. An Integrated Resource Restoration line item has been proposed to the National Forest System Appropriations budget. SAFC, Wild South, and others have submitted comments to Secretary Vilsack supporting the proposal to change the budget structure for national forest projects and shift the emphasis to maintaining and restoring the integrity of forest ecosystems and watersheds. Our comments stressed accountability, transparency, and the importance of appropriate and effective indicators in monitoring performance in restoration activities.

bankhead_restoration2USFS has also initiated the National Collaboration Cadre, facilitated by a group of community members and Forest Service professionals with diverse experience in collaboration and restoration. Its stated purpose is to “further ecological restoration activities” in the Southern Appalachian ecosystem and develop a framework for a collaborative action plan. Wild South has participated in the Cadre’s discussions this spring, sharing restoration experiences in the Bankhead National Forest over the past ten years.

As a Bankhead Liaison Panel member, Wild South has led the monitoring of restoration projects, and we continue to advocate for policy and practices that benefit ecosystem health. With the restoration of 80,000 acres of loblolly pine plantations in the Bankhead, long term monitoring is essential to adaptive management.

Educating the public about restoration in national forests is an important part of the Wild South mission. We have collaborated with the USFS in the development of the first of three public demonstration areas in the Bankhead — the Payne Creek Outdoor Classroom had its grand opening in April. This interpretive area showcases a typical loblolly planting, which is being restored to a shortleaf pine woodland through thinning, planting and prescribed burning.

Ecological restoration is at the core of Wild South’s vision for southern forests. We envision a world where communities value the native ecosystems of the Southern Appalachians and work to protect and restore them. In practice, we believe that ecological restoration is central to the role of ecosystem management on public lands in the Southeast.

By embracing protection and restoration as the primary tools by which healthy ecosystems are maintained, land managers foster a culture of preservation that promotes a sustainable human relationship with the environment. This relationship builds the foundation of strong communities that are socially, economically, and ecologically healthy.