By Jesse Wood
Jan. 7, 2013. The U.S. Forest Service is revising the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests Land and Resource Management Plan, which will guide management of the forests for the next 15 years.
The Pisgah National Forest includes more than 28,000 acres in Avery County and 400 acres in Watauga County, according to Stevin Westcott, the public affairs officer for the National Forests in North Carolina.
The plan, which received a significant amendment in 1994 and subsequent minor changes, was originally published in 1987 in accordance to the National Forest Management Act, and the 2012 Planning Rule finalized by the U.S. Forest Service will guide the current planning revision process.
Westcott said the 2012 Planning Rule will use the “best available science” and includes stronger protections for forests, water and wildlife, while supporting the economic vitality of rural communities. It will also strengthen the role of public involvement and dialogue throughout the planning process.
“We’ll be looking at conditions related to ecosystems on the ground and also aquatic ecosystems, watersheds. We’ll be looking at air, soil and water quality and looking at carbon stock and threatened endangered species,” Westcott said – to name just a few of the elements to be perused.
The revision is a three-phase process that will occur over a three to four years and will be monitored until the next plan revision. It begins with the one-year assessment phase, where the National Forest Service will collect and compile data and other information about the current state of Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests, and the planning phase will take two to three years to complete.
“Three to four years is a fast time,” Westcott said. “Years ago, it would sometimes take seven years to occur. Now we are trying to do them in half the time with fewer resources, fewer people. It’s challenging, but we are committed to getting it done.”
As for how dramatic the potential changes to the plan will be, Westcott said that “it depends on what’s happening on the ground.”
He mentioned that in the late ‘80s timber harvesting was more emphasized in the plan, more of a vocal point and larger part of operations in the national forests.
“Timber harvesting dropped 65 percent over the last 20 years. We are harvesting a fraction of what we used to harvest. This is something that will be very different this time around,” Westcott said.
Another example of how the plan might change from past revisions regards the prominence of outdoor recreation in North Carolina forests. He mentioned that the mountain biking industry was in its infancy when the original management plan was established, but today it’s booming.
“That’s an area we will look at – recreation overall,” Westcott said. “What is the sustainability of recreation sites – campgrounds, mountain biking trails, hiking trails, off-road vehicle trails, horse trails? Recreation has really increased over the last 20 years, and that will play a bigger role we think.”
Westcott said that another theme that has recently been “very important” is the idea of restoration, the restoring of national forests. He mentioned that the U.S. Forest Service is trying to bring back native species or push out invasive, non-native plants that harm native species.
“The same thing with animals – if we got some endangered species, what new provisions are needed in the new plan to give those species a chance at coming back?” Westcott said.
Public comment regarding the revision process will be sought in February with exact dates and times to be announced.
For more information, click to http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/nfsnc/home/?cid=STELPRDB5397660.