Philosophy and Mission of the National Forest Service

The US National Forest Service’s motto, “Caring for the Land and Serving People,” captures their mission to “achieve quality land management under the sustainable multiple-use management concept to meet the diverse needs of people.” Their complete philosophy is outlined in their 13 Guiding Principles, including using an ecological approach to the multiple-use management concept of the National Forests and Grasslands, respecting private property rights, encouraging grassroots participation in their decisions, and being industry and forestry leaders in research and professionalism.

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“Caring for the Land and Serving People”

The National Forest Service mission includes:

  • Advocating a conservation ethic in promoting the health, productivity, diversity, and beauty of forests and associated lands.
  • Listening to people and responding to their diverse needs in making decisions.
  • Protecting and managing the National Forests and Grasslands so they best demonstrate the sustainable multiple-use management concept.
  • Providing technical and financial assistance to cities and communities to improve their natural environment by planting trees and caring for their forests.
  • Providing international technical assistance and scientific exchanges to sustain and enhance global resources and to encourage quality land management.
  • Helping States and communities to wisely use the forests to promote rural economic development and a quality rural environment.
  • Developing and providing scientific and technical knowledge aimed at improving our capability to protect, manage, and use forests and rangelands.
  • Providing work, training, and education to the unemployed, underemployed, elderly, youth, and disadvantaged in pursuit of our mission.

Associated Risks of Prescribed Burns

The NC Prescribed Burning Act outlines the rights of North Carolina’s timber industry to use controlled burning to dispose of slash, like tree stumps and other side-products of logging. Two different strategies are used by the timber industry, and each carries its own advantages. Broadcast burns are used when slash is spread over a wide area. Broadcast burns are lower heat fires over a wider area, and more difficult to control. However, the wider area used prevents heat damage to the soil. On the other hand, bonfire burns are used when slash is collected in piles. They are far easier to control; however, the highly concentrated heat can result in soil sterilization.

The dangers of administering controlled burns over a wide area of forest can be avoided by following strict weather protocols. Communicating the NC Forest Service’s burning schedule is important to protecting potential visitors and nearby residents from the dangers of the fire. When these protocols are not followed the results can be disastrous. A controlled burn in Oregon went wrong when smoke was carried by the wind to a nearby highway where it significantly reduced visibility. State officers blamed the smoke for a fatal twenty-three car pile-up. Following this incident, the state of Oregon considered outlawing controlled burns due to the difficulty of managing smoke.

Wildfires, the Wildland/Urban Interface, and Prescribed Burning

The practice of using controlled burns to prevent the possibility of more serious fires is used throughout the country, but is especially important in North Carolina because of the state’s high percentage of land lying in the Wildland/Urban Interface (W/UI). This interface represents forested, undeveloped land that borders with highly populated urban areas, where an uncontrolled forest fire presents the greatest threat to human safety and property damage. North Carolina has more W/UI acres than any other US state, and the acreage is increasing each year with the state’s growth.

Current state policy for controlled burning is outlined in the NC Prescribed Burning Act (GS 106-80). The act designates controlled burning as an effective and efficient forest ecosystem and wildfire management tool. Forests are assessed for eligibility for controlled burning on a case-by-case basis. Fire-dependent ecosystems, like most of the forests of North Carolina, gain the greatest advantage when subjected to controlled burning compared to other types of ecosystems.

The NC Forest Service is in charge of administering controlled burns to the state forests and regulating permits for controlled burns in private forests. Their website announces upcoming burns to inform recreational forest users of park closings and avoid unnecessary emergency calls in response to the heavy smoke. In the past couple of months, all four of North Carolina’s national forests have undergone large-scale controlled burns. Nantahala and Pisgah have undergone three burns in the past month that cover a total of approximately 3,500 acres. 943 acres of Uwharrie National Forest were burnt in March, and the Croatan National Forest has undergone several smaller burns over since February that total more than 6,500 acres.

Fire Adapted Forests of North Carolina

Fires are a natural element of both forest and grassland ecology, and controlled burning (also called “prescribed burning”) can be a valuable and effective tool for forest managers. Controlled burning is the organized application of fire by a team of fire experts under specified weather conditions that helps restore health and ecosystem sustainability to fire-adapted environments. The origins of this practice lie in the slash-and-burn agriculture of the early humans that transitioned from hunter-gatherers to farmers. Presently, controlled burning is used in forest management as well as agriculture, where farmers use “field burning” to clear the field of the previous crop, weeds, and weeds’ seeds. “Patch burning” is used to prevent the possibility of large-scale fires by burning contiguous land stretches with high fuel buildup. Fires are often started with a driptorch or a helitorch, which is a delivery system for flaming fuel.

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The natural cycle of forest fires provides a number of benefits to fire-adapted ecosystems.

There are a number of human and ecological advantages to the practice of controlled burning in fire-adapted ecosystems. Humans benefit from the practice by preventing more serious, hotter fires caused by leaflitter and treefall buildup. By limiting the frequency and scope of wildfires, controlled burns increase the area available for recreational usage by creating pine savannah and increase the volume of the timber harvest. Controlled burning can similarly be used to dispose of logging debris, while simultaneously preparing the land for the next planting. Controlled burns benefit the ecosystem by mimicking the natural cycle of forest fires necessary for the regulation of fire-adapted ecosystems. The fire destroys underbrush and creates pine savannah, which improves wildlife habitat, controls species competition, minimizes the spread of pests and disease, provides forage for game, all while recycling nutrients within the ecosystem.

* Not all forests of North Carolina are fire-adapted.

Dutch Elm Disease

Dutch Elm disease is a fungus that affects all American and European species of Elm. It was first spotted in Ohio in 1930. It then spread to New Jersey, throughout New England, down south the Georgia, and west throughout the Great Plains, Rocky Mountains, and eventually to the Pacific Coast. The quick spread of the disease can be attributed to the main method of dispersal—insect. The native insect responsible is the elm bark beetle. The adult beetles burrow through the dead or dying bark of trees affected by the disease laying eggs. After the eggs hatch, they feed on the diseased tree and develop into adult beetles. The spores of the fungi attach themselves to the bodies of the adult beetles who exit the tree and fly to healthy elms to breed, spreading the fungus. The beetles will fly up to two miles in search of proper breeding grounds. This speeds up the spread of the disease. Clear-cutting forests forces beetles to travel further distances to breed, increasing the rate at which the fungus spreads. Climate change also has the potential to speed up the spread of the fungus due to the short reproductive cycles of both the fungus and the beetle.