By Tzar Wilkerson
The development of a 15-year plan for the management of more than 1 million acres of National Forest land will now incorporate public feedback. Until May 14th, the NFNC (National Forests in North Carolina) will maintain an open forum on their website for public comments. Now is the time to weigh in on the issues at stake in the new plan.
With the recent release of the U.S. Forest Service’s draft for a revision of the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan, a formal 90-day public review and comment period began last Friday.
“We heard from a wide range of people and groups who use, depend on, and appreciate the forests as we developed the plan,” said Allen Nicholas, Forest Supervisor of the National Forests in North Carolina. “We’re sharing this proposed plan so the public can review it and provide additional information before the plan is finalized.”
Aside from the plan itself, which focuses on the multiple uses of forest areas and resources – including recreation, timber, water, wilderness, and wildlife habitat – an accompanying Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) presents 4 alternative plans. Each alternative differs in its methods for managing vegetation patterns and wildlife habitat, special designations, access, sustainable recreation, and economic contributions of the forests, and helps inform the decision about the final plan.
According to the Plan Revision Reader’s Guide (which can be viewed on NFNC website) the four alternatives are:
- Alternative A is the alternative that continues existing plan management direction (or the “No-Action” Alternative).
- Alternative B has the most land available for active timber management, motorized access and recommended wilderness, and provides most flexibility to add new trails and adjust the old growth network.
- Alternative C has the least land available for active timber management, motorized access and recommended wilderness, and instead places more land in backcountry and a new management area that emphasizes active management for species composition. This alternative adds the most restrictions on new trail development and eliminates future additions to old growth.
- Alternative D includes a moderate amount of land available for active timber management, recommended wilderness, backcountry and the new management area that emphasizes active management for species composition. This alternative allows adjustment to the trail network and old growth network in the future, only when specific conditions are met.
The revision also breaks down goals for Timber Management, Sustainable Recreation, New Trail Building, Access, Recommended Wilderness, Social Economic Resources, and Plant and Animal Species in the coming years.
Groups such as the NC Audubon Society are already voicing their concerns for the fate of the forests and the animals within. See their primer for the plan at https://nc.audubon.org/news/wnc-forest-plan-101-what-it-means-birds
In response to public feedback, the NFNC is also proposing the division of the forests into 12 Geographical Areas in order to more efficiently manage the forests. The goal of the strategy is to more effectively fulfill the unique needs of the individual communities, environments, and organizations that interact with the forest (see Geographical Areas map).
Collaborative relationships seem to be another goal of the revision, as is explained in its 2-tiered approach to objectives over the next decade. The Reader’s Guide explains “The plan identifies objectives for the next 10 years at two tiers: one if existing Forest Service capacity continues at expected levels, and a second tier if we increase capacity in the form of help from others or additional resources. By outlining what we could do with the help of others we hope to incentivize shared stewardship and build partnerships to accomplish more work”
In addition to the public comment period, the NFNC has scheduled several public meetings in communities around the forests to discuss the plan. Those meetings will be held:
- March 10, 5:30-8:30 pm at the Foothills Conference Center, 2128 S. Sterling St., Morganton, NC.
- March 12, 5:30-8:30 pm at the NC Arboretum Education Center, 100 Frederick Law Olmstead Way, Asheville, NC (The Arboretum will be open to attendees as early as 4:30 pm. The parking fee is waived and each attendee will receive a parking pass. Pets are not allowed in the facility.)
- March 16, 5:30-8:30 pm at the Rogow Family Community Room, Brevard Library, 212 S. Gaston St., Brevard, NC.
- March 19, 5:30-8:30 pm at the Brasstown Community Center, 255 Settawig Rd., Brasstown, NC.
- March 24, 5:30-8:30 pm at First Presbyterian Church’s Tartan Hall, 26 Church Street, Franklin, NC.
- March 26, 5:30-8:30 pm at Bentley Fellowship Hall, 265 Cascade St, Mars Hill, NC.
To read about the plan itself, or to leave a formal comment, visit https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/nfsnc/home/?cid=stelprdb5397660