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Working on Forestry and Wildlife:
A conversation with Greg Corace, chair of The Wildlife Society’s Forestry and Wildlife Working Group
By Andrea Watts
The Forestry Source
, February, 2017]
To further explore the interplay between wildlife and forests, I chatted with Greg Corace, chair of
The Wildlife Society
’s Forestry and Wildlife Working Group. Corace brings a dual perspective to the wildlife-forestry conversation: He has a bachelor’s degree in zoology and a master’s in biology from Northern Michigan University, and a doctorate in forest science from Michigan Technological University. What follows is an excerpt of our conversation.
What is the role of the Forestry and Wildlife Working Group?
We have four goals that include facilitating communication and information exchange, enhancing knowledge and technical capabilities, engaging foresters and others in the expertise and application of forest management, and increasing public awareness and the appreciation of forestry.
When was the working group formed? Was its original focus wildlife and forestry, or was this added later, or was the original intent to cover both topics?
The working group was established in 2011, and the charter for the group was approved in 2015. We have between 150 to 160 members, and that makes us one of the largest working groups in The Wildlife Society. Our focus is to provide an interface between what have been treated as separate professions: forestry and wildlife management. The original intent was to fill the need for folks who saw the interaction and the interplay between forestry and wildlife management. Many people were aware that forests provide multiple amenities, commodities, and values, and when one manages a forest, one ultimately directly or indirectly manages wildlife habitat. Some [of these amenities] are linked, and there was a need to start talking about that linkage.
When do you think this linkage started becoming apparent?
That’s a great question, and one I’m dealing with every day in my career. I was seeing it a long time ago, and I thought that, of course, I was the only one. I came to find out that many folks have been seeing this for quite some time. It’s interesting that the history of our professions separated the two [disciplines]; students usually go to school for forestry or for wildlife. And for some reason, those divisions have continued over time. I think there have been some chinks in that armor, but many agencies and many academic institutions still treat the two as separate.
When I went through the forestry program at the University of Washington, wildlife wasn’t really emphasized, as far as I can remember. Only now that I’m managing my parents’ forestland am I more aware of the wildlife.
I’ve never enjoyed walking the woods more so than with foresters. They are able to see so many of the links and interconnections in a given forest. I think the contemporary view of forests is that they’re complex ecosystems, and they’re not just there for timber production or wildlife. Many of the historical links between forestry and wildlife focus on game management (grouse, deer, turkeys, etc.) Only more recently has the discussion really made it into the mainstream public that forest management and wildlife management must be considered simultaneously.
Can you talk about the draft position statement on forests from TWS?
We are hoping to work with TWS’s review board to finalize it. The draft position statement covers many of the things we’re already discussing, including the need for managing more forests; that forests are dynamic; and the threats to forests aren’t necessarily forest management per se, but conversion, increasing human populations, fire out of its natural range of variation, simplification, and climate change. Those are the kind of things that worry us. Forest management is our friend, if done appropriately and in the right place at the right time; again, we need more forest management overall, but [we] also need to talk explicitly about how it is done and the multispecies ramifications. Our biggest concern is our lands getting away from being managed in large blocks and getting parcelized and fragmented. I think we in the wildlife field have gone through a transition in thinking about active forest management.
For TWS, what issues are you concerned about from the wildlife-forestry perspective?
Forestland conversion and simplification— that’s one of our main concerns, because when we lose or simplify a forest, it takes a long time for that land to go back to the complex forest it once was. Global markets for wood products—if we don’t have markets for active forest management, a lot of things can’t be done. For example, if I want to manage habitat for earlysuccessional species, and I can’t get the mechanical disturbance I want because there’s no market for my timber products, I’ve got an issue. We have some concerns about use of recreational vehicles on forestlands, in terms of what they might do in introducing invasive species. There’s lot of concern about fire in forests—those fires outside of the natural variation, and [their] impact on wildlife—but also getting fire to do what it’s supposed to do in certain systems. From a wildlife angle, the pre-forest condition described by [professors] Jerry Franklin and Norm Johnson is also something we need to be thinking about—the time prior to woody regeneration has multiple values for many taxa. This is a critical stage in forest succession that is being underappreciated. Many times, for public purposes, we want to get that stand regenerated immediately. People think forests must be dominated by woody vegetation at all times.
What do you see as potential collaborations between TWS and SAF?
I think there are a number, including having more detailed discussions about restoration silviculture or wildlife-based silviculture and the pros and cons of it. Foresters can understand or relate to landforms, soils, sunlight, and disturbances perhaps better than many of our wildlife biologists. There’s a potential for a lot of learning between the two. We have SAF members who are members of the working group, including on the board, and I do see more work in the future with the two organizations.
In Washington State, our 2017 annual meeting is a joint meeting with TWS. Do you think there should be more of these joint meetings at the state and local levels?
Absolutely. We’ve had them in Michigan, and TWS partnered with Oregon SAF in 2015 on a joint annual meeting. Do they occur as often as they should? No, but that’s probably for practical reasons. Just working in your own professional organization can be challenging. I’m pretty sure many of our professionals in both organizations believe working together is something we want to do.
What are misconceptions that wildlife biologists have about forestry and that foresters have about wildlife management?
I have many of my colleagues who, when they hear the word “forest,” think it inherently means forestry and whatever vision of cutting trees they have in their head is what forestry is; some don’t see either the science or the art. For others, hearing the word “wildlife” gets them to think ruffed grouse, white-tailed deer, or anything else you might shoot. At the end of the day, I think many of us struggle in communicating the intricacies of forests and intricacies of wildlife and wildlife habitat. When we talk about forests, my colleagues in the working group and others think there are no bounds to which we can have the discussion. Forests are complex; they exist over large spaces, and they operate over long time frames, so we can have discussions about soils, wildlife, dead trees and live trees, fungi, other plants, etc. What we need to avoid is having discussions that focus solely on one of those things.
That’s a good point, but does the discussion become so complex and overwhelming that it’s easier to focus on one issue?
I don’t think so. I think the unifying theme here is in many ways ecology. I am also a registered forester in the state of Michigan, and I sought registration because forestry seemed to be applied ecology in its essence. Ecological forestry, in the framework we’re coming up with and applying as an ecological forestry–management framework, offers the basic premise of understanding the system and how it operates. Once you understand that, there are all sorts of things you can do with that knowledge. I think what we’re doing is we’re changing the underpinnings of many of our professions. The underpinning of forestry was the old German production system of plantations, and the underpinning of wildlife management is the game-management philosophy of [Aldo] Leopold and others. I’m not saying [these philosophies are] going to get thrown away; the working group is saying that we’ve learned a lot in the last hundred years, so let’s start applying it.
Because you still need wood products. I wonder if some people might hear the term “ecological” and think that means conservation instead of active management.
I think conservation and active management are often synonymous. We in the working group believe there needs to be more forest management and more acres treated. How we treat those acres, where we treat those acres, and what the outcomes of our treatments [are]—all those things we can discuss. But what’s unfortunate is the number of acres not being managed and the number of acres where we’re not allowing processes to work, things like fire. These are the kinds of processes inherent to many forests that we would like to see more of across the landscape. The focus of ecological forestry is definitely not, for a lack a better word, preservation. It’s much more of a realistic and practical focus. The modern world needs to be managed more, so let’s have the conversation about how we go about doing that.
Do you think there’s a misconception that by thinking from an ecological approach, it makes managing forests for wildlife and timber more complicated?
I think we came up in a world and academic setting that made prescriptions into cookbooks. The phrase “best management practices” has often been used, and there’s utility in BMPs. However, what happens too often is that we then overly simplify the application and homogenize our forests by doing so. What I’m suggesting is that part of our job requires us to continually learn and take into account variability and complexity. And that isn’t easy.
What are the benefits of having a combination of forestry and wildlife perspectives when developing a management plan?
That’s a good question. I work with Kirtland’s warbler and jack pine forests in Michigan, and we have meetings where there are a group of foresters, a group of biologists, and very few folks who do both. In general, the foresters tend to be better at planning, at understanding opportunities and limitations. Foresters in my opinion tend to have a better handle on things such as soils, landforms, and geology, things like that; thinking about long time frames and big spaces are less difficult for foresters, I think. They understand how to take a parcel of land and make it into what they envision as their desired future outcome. The wildlife folks are a little bit more focused on the monitoring aspect of the future outcome, the individual organism, or given populations; there tends to be a little trepidation about treatments being variable. Sometimes we wildlife biologists struggle a bit with concepts of disturbance and change and variability. There often seems to be a dichotomy in our profession: wildlife production or protectionism. I think there are many more options available to us. More and more we need to identify common goals across forestry and wildlife management, then work at how to achieve those goals. We have to think big picture in time and space. We must stop the dichotomy of protectionism or the inverse, single outputs—being it board feet or the population value for a single wildlife species. Neither of these approaches seems to jibe with what we know about forest ecosystems being dynamic, what climate change has done or will do the distribution and composition of forests, invasive species, etc. And science seems to suggest both approaches tend to simplify forests and exacerbate these issues.
Nature is built around disturbance….
Exactly. And so that’s how we have to view forests. Whether it’s from a wildlife angle or a forest production angle, I think our view moving forward is of complexity: It’s of heterogeneity; it’s of change.