This meeting will cover two main topics — wildlife habitat and managing for ecosystem integrity and ecosystem diversity — with information and comment station available for “Wild and Scenic River” discussion/nomination. The wildlife session will run from 9-11:30 a.m. followed by the wild and scenic river session from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and then the ecological integrity session from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
I ask if anyone is listening because a Forest Plan revision was undertaken (complete with public meetings) back around 2000 (see “The Naturalist’s Corner” 23 March 2011, www.smokymountainnews.com/component/k2/item/3588-the-devil-is-in-the-details-%E2%80%93-again).
Undoubtedly the powers that be didn’t like the direction of those efforts and the FS decided to fly solo and implement its own Planning Rule in 2005. They were sued by a group of environmental and conservation organizations and in 2009 a District Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. So everyone is back at the table.
I perused some of the public comments offered to date and saw a lot of the same names and/or organizations that were part of that 2000 effort. It looked like many just dusted off their 2000 comments, changed the date and sent them in. And for many participants those comments are still valid, because many of the issues are the same and for people and/or groups that have staked out rigid positions there is probably, still little room for compromise.
But I’m gonna go out on a thin and brittle optimistic limb here — I know, kinda outta my normal curmudgeony character — but I believe the 2009 court ruling may have convinced the FS to listen. And I believe that the recent move towards more “Stewardship Contracting” — a process where the FS can “enter into stewardship projects with private persons or public or private entities, by contract or by agreement, to perform services to achieve land management goals for the National Forests or public lands that meet local and rural community needs,” is helping to build a better model of cooperation when it comes to forest management. You can see more about stewardship contracting by visiting www.thenaturalistscorner.com/?p=447 and at www.smokymountainnews.com/ news/item/5819-master-stewardship-on-the-ground.
Add to that, the Nantahala Pisgah Forest Partnership — a diverse group of forest users comprising 24 different organizations, clubs, businesses and individuals that are meeting collaboratively to come up with suggestions for the Forest Plan in hopes of developing a plan that “… reduces conflict across the forest…” — and I think the Pisgah/Nantahala Plan could be a model for the country. Some of the groups in the Partnership include The Wilderness Society, David Wood, Cherokee County Commissioners, Back Country Horsemen of North Carolina, Columbia Forest Products, Banner Forest Resources, Trout Unlimited, Wild South, International Mountain Biking Association and the Western North Carolina Alliance, to name a few. To find out more about the NPFP go to www.npforestpartnership.org/.
I better stop now before I get my hopes too high and they bottom out like a New Yorker’s first walk across Sliding Rock. But I will follow up after the July 10 meeting. And for all you working stiffs out there, like me, who can’t be at Crowne Plaza all day – you can go to www.fs.usda.gov/detail/nfsnc/ home/?cid=STELPRDB5397660 to learn how to comment.