In 1987, the U.S. Forest Service adopted a management plan for the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests. That 1987 plan opened up many of the forests’ most important wildlands to roads and to logging.
Conservation organizations objected to that and to a number of other provisions:
” the continuation of sales below cost (those that fail to recover what it costs the agency to put the timber on the market and result in a loss to taxpayers);
” inadequate consideration of the impact of proposed activities on threatened or endangered species;
” inadequate planning for protection of old-growth forest stands; and,
” too great a reliance on clear-cutting, the removal of all trees in a harvested stand.
Conservationists appealed the plan and the Chief of the Forest Service ordered it redone. Curing those deficiencies required a major amendment to the forest plan. The amendment and the analysis to support it were underway when the first North Carolina’s Mountain Treasures appeared in 1992 and helped move citizens to action during that crucial phase in the planning process.
The Forest Service issued the amendment in 1994 and conservationists were pleased to note that the amended plan was a significant improvement over the original. It afforded welcome protection to some wildlands, placing some key backcountry areas into more protective management categories. It established a framework for establishing large, medium and small old-growth areas located across the forests by watersheds.
Silvicultural or forest management practices were also improved and diversified, eliminating clearcutting as the tool of first resort. The amended plan also recognized that forests need natural processes to recover and retain their health and vitality. And it provided for improved management of habitat for black bear, a species important in the Southern Appalachians for many reasons, not least as an indicator of forest health.
Amidst this good news, though, was the inevitable bad. Many of the wildland areas that the first Mountain Treasures identified remained unprotected and thus vulnerable to the loss of the very values that made them invaluable to begin with. Since 1994, then, the work of North Carolina conservationists has largely been the work of protecting these special places, often acre by acre, until the forests’ management plan underwent its next revision and provided us a new opportunity to achieve lasting protection for these lands.
That time is now. The U.S. Forest Service is launching a plan revision. As in the 1990s, this version of North Carolina’s Mountain Treasures examines the status of unprotected wildlands in the Nantahala-Pisgah and is intended as a primary tool to galvanize, guide and facilitate effective public participation in the forest planning process.