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Tending to the Forest

After thirty-three years of managing national forests throughout the United States, including his current assignment with the Daniel Boone National Forest-Stearns Ranger District, silviculturist Michael Lick is preparing for retirement and wrapping up his part of the Greenwood Vegetation Management Project.  The Greenwood Vegetation Management project is a U. S. Forest Service proposal designed to diversify wildlife habitat in portions of the Daniel Boone National Forest located in sections of McCreary and Pulaski Counties.

The proposal calls for  thinning of the forest, use of prescribed fire, woodland establishment, shortleaf pine restoration, development of wildlife openings and edge treatments, and the creation of upland water sources for wildlife.  Lick, with his experience and expertise, has been instrumental in the development of the proposal.

Despite his training and experience, Lick acknowledges there are those who have a much different perspective of how national forests should be managed.  Sometimes, that difference in perspective, can be a source of frustration for the man who has spent so many years as a manager of public forests. As a silviculturist working with the management of public lands, Lick views commercial logging as a useful tool in forest management.  Others, including some environmental groups who oppose the use of any commercial logging in the Greenwood Vegetation Management Project, disagree adamantly.

“Forests are a lot like people,” Lick mused.  “Just like people, trees get old, are less vigorous, are more prone to disease and insect attacks, experience dieback, and eventually die.  It’s important to always have young forests ready to replace old forests that may die due to disease, insects, wind events, snow events, and ice events.  Good forestry boils down to having a variety of different ages and types of forests. Commercial logging can be a tool to reach that objective.”

According to Lick, when a forest is properly managed, it can provide a variety of habitats for wildlife, offer diverse recreational opportunities, create jobs which support a rural lifestyle, improve water and soil conditions, be a source of wood products needed in daily life, and ensure healthy trees for the future.

Forest managers of public lands in the U.S. Forest Service use even-aged methods and two-aged methods to regenerate (create) new young forests.

Even-aged management regenerates and maintains stands of trees with a single age class.  A clearcut is an example of an even-aged method and is the cutting of essentially all trees, producing a full exposed microclimate for the development of a new age class.

However the temporary openings left behind after harvest can be disturbing to many.  Locally, many residents have unpleasant memories of clear cutting that took place in stands of timber in the DBNF in the past.

“Clearcutting has been reduced drastically but could be used in rare cases, like converting upland white pine stands to fire-resilient shortleaf pine ecosystems,” Lick stated.

The Daniel Boone National Forest primarily uses two-aged management methods to regenerate new young forests.

In two-aged management, varying numbers of reserve trees, such as potential roost trees and immediate roost trees for Indiana bats are not harvested to attain goals other than regeneration.  This method still creates a relatively open microclimate for restoring shortleaf pine.

“We have to create open conditions in order to restore young pine,” Lick explained.  “We lost 85% of our short leaf pine due the havoc wreaked by the Southern pine beetle, and in order to restore pine, we have to open up the canopy by using two-aged management.”

“Many people consider it clear-cutting, but it’s not.  We leave some trees for wildlife and aesthetic value.  Two aged management can be ugly at first; however, it is beautiful when young trees pop up and produce a beautiful young forest in three to five years.  Regeneration begins almost immediately as young trees begin regenerating from seeds, stump and root sprouts, and plantings.”

Despite the short term unpleasantness of viewing an area subjected to two-aged management, Lick emphasized the importance of restoring short-leaf pine in the DBNF.

“A variety of wildlife need short leaf pine for habitat,” Lick commented.  “Restoration of short leaf pine provides habitat for deer, pine warblers, future habitat for Red Cockaded Woodpeckers, and other species.  Areas restored to shortleaf pine and managed with controlled burning could provide habitat needed by a variety of songbirds, reptiles, and small mammals, and restore fire mediated plant communities and improve the ability of forest ecosystems to withstand and recover from wildfire.  The short leaf pine was originally in this area, and it is a fire resilient tree.  With it, we can do prescribed burns and create habitat for a variety of native grasses, forbs, flowers, turkey and other wildlife.  Diversity is the reason for forest management.”

Lick compared two-aged management to making an omelet.

“If you’re gonna make an omelet, you gotta scramble some eggs,” Lick said with a smile.  “You might not like the look of the scrambled eggs, but the omelet, as the end product, is perfect.  Sometimes, in forestry, you have to clear out some old trees to make way for a new young forest.”

For Lick, being a forest manager has simply been a matter of observing what Mother Nature tries to accomplish and expediting that process.  He likens it to the gardener who tends his crops through cultivating, planting, nurturing, weeding, thinning, and harvesting.  Lick sums up his life’s work as a forest manager by sharing words of wisdom from a forester friend.

“The forest is a gift of God’s creation,” Lick remarked as he recalled his friend’s wisdom.  “To be a servant of the forest is a fine vocation.”

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