The former Southern Appalachian Regional Director for The Wilderness Society was the catalyst and key facilitator for a compromise and groundbreaking proposal for the Pisgah-Nantahala national forests that brought conservationists and recreational users together under one umbrella.
Issues surrounding the management of the country’s national forests have always been thorny. It’s easy to see why — there are numerous user groups that, on the face, often appear to be at odds regarding how national forests should be managed. The USDA Forest Service is charged with the stewardship of these national forests and it is, by and large, a thankless task.
While a draft forest management plan is still nearly a year away, a group of recently released documents gives a glimpse into how the U.S. Forest Service might ultimately manage the 1.2 million acres in the Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest over the next 20 years.
A meeting to talk about wilderness started off with a bang last week when a group of pro-wilderness folks who had showed up hopeful of putting a bug in Congressman Mark Meadows’, R-Cashiers, ear were asked to leave.
The cadre of groups helping the U.S. Forest Service work toward a new management plan for the Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest recently got a first peek at one of the most controversial aspects of the planning process — the proposals for new wilderness designation.
“This is the first real concrete opportunity we’ve had to see what the Forest Service is thinking,” said Richard Mode of the N.C. Wildlife Federation. “I’m thrilled to have an opportunity to look at them.”
National forest trails around Fontana Village are in for an overhaul, thanks to a federal grant that’s putting the final piece in a years-long funding puzzle.
Between 2013 and 2015, the U.S. Forest Service has pulled in a total of $380,000 in grants to work on the area, but it’s just now getting going on the project the money was intended to support — 9 miles of upgraded trails in the Nantahala National Forest that will connect to the roughly 28 miles of trail that Fontana Village Resort, in Graham County, maintains on its own property.
The conversation about wilderness and how it should fit into the next management plan for the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests will continue with a pair of public meetings this month.
Out of the gate, the U.S. Forest Service’s first stab at listing potential wilderness areas in the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests met with criticism following its release in late November.
Whether concerned about which areas were on the list, which weren’t or the timing of the release, nearly everybody had something negative to say about the wilderness inventory.
The painstaking process of outlining a clear mission for the U.S. Forest Service and how it will manage its expansive public lands in Western North Carolina and the varied — and sometimes competing — interests of the people that use them has begun. Once completed, the new plan will serve as a reference for the coming 15 years on any major decision made about the Pisgah and Nantahala forests in regards to protected wilderness areas, logging, mountain biking, fires, hiking, hunting and more.