Protecting forestland involves an interdisciplinary approach. In the United States, 191 million acres of forestland are managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resource Planning Act (RPA) of 1974 and the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) of1976 mandated management plans for forests and rangelands to ensure that resources would be available on a sustained basis. Management policies must sustain and protect biodiversity; old-growth forests; riparian areas; threatened, endangered, and sensitive species; rangeland; water and air quality; access to forests; and wildlife habitat.
The Forest Service provides inexpensive grazing lands for more than three million cattle and sheep every year, supports multimillion-dollar mining operations, maintains a network of roads eight times longer than the U.S. interstate highway system, and allows access to almost one-half of all national forest land for commercial logging. The For est Service is responsible for producing plans for the multiple use of national lands.
Sustainability policies require that the net productive capacity of the forest or rangeland does not decrease with multiple use. This involves making sure that soil productivity is maintained by keeping erosion, compaction, or displacement by mining or logging equipment or other motorized vehicles within tolerable limits. It further requires that a large percentage of the forest remains undeveloped so that soils and habitats, as well as tree cover, will remain undisturbed and in their natural state.
The RPA and NFMA, along with the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973, mandate policies that encourage the proliferation of species native to and currently living in the forest. Natural ecosystem processes are followed to ensure their survival. Even though forests and rangelands are required to be multiple-use areas, policy maintains that there can be no adverse impact to threatened, endan gered, or sensitive species. Species habitats within the forest are to remain well distributed and free of barriers that can cause fragmentation of animal populations and ultimately species loss. If a forest contains fragmented areas created by human activity, corridors that connect the forest patches are constructed. In this way species are not isolated from one another, and viable populations can exist.
The Forest Service creates artificial habitats to encourage the survival of species in cases of natural disaster. When Hurricane Hugo devastated the Francis Marion National Forest in South Carolina in 1989, winds snapped 90 percent of the trees with active woodpecker cavities in some areas of the forest. The habitat destruction caused 70 percent of the red-cockaded woodpecker population to disappear. The Forest Service and university researchers created nesting and roosting cavities to save the woodpeckers. Within a four-year period, the population had dramatically recovered.
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