First published here
By M. Ashley Evans
Conservation is a Lifestyle
As a kid, I dreamed of being a writer and an artist when I grew up. Now, I am very blessed to be able to stay home with my kids, write about subjects I am passionate about, and sell my art. I only know of one other kid I grew up with who was able to become what he wanted to be back then – and that person is Robert Brown, who now works for the Alabama Forestry Commission. Recently, Robert and I sat down to discuss a topic that we are both passionate about, the vital role of hunters in conservation and proper land management.
Robert is the Etowah County Forester. He graduated in 2009 from Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Science where he got a Bachelor of Science in Forestry, later he took an exam to become a Licensed Registered Forester.
“I grew up in Valley Head, Alabama on a 2,500-acre farm where we specialized in growing timber and wildlife via hunting leases on our property. This is a 2,500-acre tract of land that runs north from Valley Head through the railroad valley and alongside Lookout Mountain towards Chattanooga, TN is where it all began for me. Being fortunate enough to grow up on a farm, hunting since childhood, developed a deep love of the land the way I did sparked a fuel inside me that ignited the drive to choose my career. A career that is far more of a lifestyle than a job.” Roberts family was so passionate about land management and educating others that one year in elementary school, he brought enough pine seed for every kid in class to grow their own tree and we were able to learn a little about tree farming, pine crop, and reforestation.
This little corner of Northeast Alabama that he talks about is one of the most special places in the world to me. Not only is it full of Appalachian countryside beauty, but my family, like his, were some of the first settlers there – so our love of that valley is many generations deep. This farm he spoke of is stunning – his sister Mandy and I explored the woods and fields as kids. We grew up picking wild blackberries; fishing in the creek; exploring the old mining caves; watching the beavers, deer, and inevitably finding a snake on every trail in the woods.
The Alabama Forestry Commission is a state ran organization that differs from the Federal Department of Game and Wildlife and from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. In Alabama, the AFC primarily helps private landowners. They also manage the three state forests: Choccolocco, Little River, and Geneva. The AFC’s motto is Protect, Sustain, and Educate, and really, it should be the motto of every hunter.
Alabama Forestry Commission
“The first of these three areas is Protect. We strive to help Alabama’s forests from all harmful agents. The most apparent and one of our main focuses is wildfires. If you have ever been burning leaves in your backyard and it got away from you and then caught the woods on fire you have likely crossed paths with our organization. Becuase the person operating the dozer to suppress the fire is one of our wildland firefighters. As wildfire suppression is one of the major parts of protection we also conduct annual aerial surveillance flights for southern pine beetles and help assist landowner’s with invasive species problems on their property.” The southern pine beetle is one of the most destructive pests for pine in the southeast. They kill pine trees on a massive scale and spread rapidly.
“The next area we can touch on is sustain. This is the area where we directly help forest landowners conduct responsible forest management on their property. This is done on different levels which may be as simple as a stand management recommendation or as complex as a forest management plan for their entire property. Where our entire focus is based on multiple use sustainable forestry practices. We also like to promote and recognize landowners that are excelling in managing their properties through certification programs such as Tree Farm, Stewardship Forest, and TREASURE Forest Award.”
Tree Farming is not just about cutting down timber – it’s about proper stewardship of the land and sustainable production and reforestation. The Stewardship Program requires the landowner to meet numerous stewardship principals, maintain 10+ acres of land, and actively practice proper land management. To actively manage a forest means providing sustainable timber crop with reforestation, providing wildlife habitat, watershed protection, and other practices. Getting landowners involved in protecting the land by using it wisely ensures that their forests will remain intact for future generations. TREASURE is an acronym for Timber, Recreation, Environment, and Aesthetics for a Sustained, Useable, REsource and characterizes the multiple-use ethic. To be a TREASURE Forest Owner is a title of honor, it only comes through dedication to proper land management and a lot of time invested.
About 45% of the forestland in America is privately owned. It is imperative that the land is properly conserved for future generations. By getting landowners involved in these programs helps to ensure that their forests will remain intact for our children and grandchildren.
“The last area that we can touch on is Educate. This is the area where we educate the general public about the value of our forests here in Alabama. This can be from conducting Smokey Bear programs in schools to landowner workshops and tours. We try to help educate all ages of the general public in several different ways. Most people have no idea what I do on a daily basis and to be honest, when I took this job I had no idea what I would be doing from day to day. I just knew that working to protect the land for future generations was important to me. Educating the general public about the importance of the Alabama Forestry Commission and all the wonderful services we offer is very important. Being able to conduct interviews like the one you and I are doing right now is a great way to reach a different portion of the public that probably did not know that our agency even existed or let alone what services we provide.”
The Forestry Commission is here to help landowners. Invite them out to your property – they can assess the value of your timber, help you farm timber more sustainably, and help you create the ideal environment to bring in more game species.
Are you interested in a career with the Forestry Department? Many schools with a focus on agriculture and biology have a Forestry degree. They also have entry-level positions such as Forester, Forest Ranger/Technician, and Police Communications Officer.
“In a civilized and cultivated country, wild animals only continue to exist at all when preserved by sportsmen,” said Theodore Roosevelt, “The excellent people who protest against all hunting, and consider sportsmen as enemies of wildlife, are ignorant of the fact that in reality, the genuine sportsman is by all odds the most important factor in keeping the larger and more valuable wild creatures from total extermination.” Hunting is not only a thoroughly enjoyable pastime, but it is a very effective wildlife management tool. Hunters provide information that the wildlife managers need and also help to promote healthy species.
Robert said, “Sad isn’t when a hunter takes the life of a deer – sad is when you have hundreds of deer in an area, riddled with disease, and starving because of overpopulation.” By wisely harvesting game species like deer, hunters are protecting the land. In 1900, only 500,000 whitetail deer remained. Due to hunters conservation work, today there are more than 32 million.
Hunters also provide the bulk of the monetary resources for land preservation. Through state licenses and fees, hunters pay around $796 million a year for conservation programs.*
Data gathered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for its most recent (2006) National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, show that only five percent of Americans—which is about 12.5 million individuals—consider themselves hunters today, this number is down from nine percent in 2001 and 15 percent in 1996. Only 5% of the US are paying for the bulk of the upkeep of the state forests, that citizens get to hike for free.
It is vital that we pass down the sport of hunting and therefore the love of proper wildlife and land management to our children. My family hunts – does yours? Are you doing your part to pass down the forests to the next generation?
financial info via America’s Sporting Heritage: Fueling the American Economy (January 2013) & Hunting in America: An Economic Force for Conservation (January 2013)