North Carolina’s Mountain Treasures
Help Protect the Vulnerable Wildlands of the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests
 

Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Planning Update

Most of the public’s involvement with the revision of the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest Management Plan has centered around Wilderness, but there are other important elements concerning the “nuts and bolts” of forest planning that have broad implications for special places in the forest.

We are approaching a watershed moment in forest planning in which we will see where the U. S. Forest Service is heading regarding such issues as old growth, Wild & Scenic Rivers, where timber will be harvested, ecological restoration and, of course, Wilderness.

The Forest Service plans to release several key elements in late May/early June that apply to important questions outlined below. This will be a critical time for public input as it will soon become more difficult to have a meaningful voice in the direction of the forest plan.

How does the Forest Service decide where to apply its many types of management?

New Management Allocation: Matrix Forest

The Forest Service is changing its structure for forest management from a primary focus on three categories—backcountry, restoration, and frontcountry—to just two—backcountry and “matrix forest.” Matrix forest management will be broad, including everything from careful ecological restoration to rotational forestry which is falsely interpreted as restoration.

We are concerned that sensitive lands (those that have wilderness characteristics, patches of old growth, and Natural Areas under the State Natural Heritage Program) could be subject to rotational logging. Some of these areas could benefit from proper ecological restoration, but rotational logging would destroy their conservation and social values. It is possible that other rules and guidelines within the new plan could ensure that appropriate ecological restoration is applied on sensitive conservation lands, but we do not know yet.

Dividing the forest into manageable chunks

The Forest Service proposes to divide the forest into 12 “large geographic areas” which could recognize the unique natural and social qualities of different areas and tailor management accordingly. These large geographic areas generally correspond to the Conservation Areas in which The Wilderness Society’s North Carolina’s Mountain Treasure Areas are organized. However, dividing lands in this way could put special lands at risk. We do not know how this delineation will guide management within the areas or throughout the whole Forest. The descriptions and goals of each geographic area that will be released soon will be the first indication of how sensitive conservation lands—such as wilderness inventory areas, State Natural Areas, and old growth—will be allocated in each area.

The nitty gritty details

Important constraints on the framework for managing the Nantahala-Pisgah will be outlined as “plan components” (desired future conditions, objectives, standards and guidelines). If these are good, then we believe that even sensitive lands in “matrix forest” management could be properly identified and cared for. Yet the plan components that we have seen thus far have been inadequate, including those that should address a sustainable road system. These constraints, if not properly developed, could allow destructive management even in backcountry areas.

 

How does the Forest Service decide where to harvest timber?

The Forest Service is required to manage national forests and grasslands for “multiple uses,” but for many decades the agency emphasized timber production. The prevailing model was rotational forestry in which trees are harvested on a regular rotation (e.g. every 80 years) regardless of the ecological impact.

The Forest Service is required to do analysis to determine which areas of the forest are legally and technically feasible for timber harvest. There are areas that are clearly not suitable for timber harvest, including Wilderness and those places with very steep slopes, stream riparian buffers, forest communities that do not regenerate well, and where preventing erosion and stream sedimentation is more important than the revenue from harvesting timber.

Timber Suitability Analysis

The first step in determining areas that are unsuitable for timber harvest is to identify those with legal or technical constraints. As part of the May/June rollout, the Forest Service should have a detailed suitability analysis for the “alternative” that they are sharing with the public. This will be a detailed scenario of what the revised management plan could potentially look like.

The timber suitability analysis in this alternative will represent a significant investment of resources, and should indicate the direction that the Forest Service is heading. Questions such as “how much land will be protected from timber harvest in the alternative?” and “how much suitable land is identified?” will help us understand the long-range provisions for old growth, Natural Areas, and protected lands in the new plan.

Wilderness Evaluations…again.

Last summer the Forest Service released a what we consider a flawed evaluation of potential wilderness areas that they have been revising based on feedback from the public.   These revisions will not be ready for the upcoming rollout, which will somewhat awkwardly refer to both previous wilderness alternatives as well as possible areas that could be incorporated into future wilderness alternatives. The public should be ready to advocate for areas that they think should move forward in the planning process to be considered for wilderness recommendations.

 

How can the public make an impact on how the forest around us is managed?

Those of us who care deeply about special places, old growth, and biological hotspots on the Forest will need to speak out so that such places will be acknowledged in the planning process.

If you care about areas like Big Ivy, the Black Mountains, Mackey Mountain, Harpers Creek, Lost Cove, Daniel Ridge, Cedar Rock Mountain, and Bluff Mountain on the Pisgah National Forest; if you care about areas like Tusquitee Bald, Upper Santeetlah, Tellico Bald, Siler Bald, the Unicoi Mountains, and Terrapin Mountain on Nantahala National Forest, then this may be the best opportunity to express your thoughts on their fate. If you want these areas recommended for wilderness or protected by other designations, then we hope you will get involved in these rollouts.

The Forest Service is planning public meetings around this rollout and mapping. Stay tuned to the Forest Service web site to see materials as they are released:

https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/nfsnc/home/?cid=fseprd491137

The Wilderness Society Southern Appalachian team will start reviewing these materials as soon as we see them. Stay tuned to this site for help with interpretation and advice on how we can work together to make sure these special areas get proper treatment.

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