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A plan for 2 national forests' future in western NC received about 800 eligible objections

 A view of Lake Powhatan in the Pisgah National Forest.
Catherine Komp/BPR News
A view of Lake Powhatan in the Pisgah National Forest.

The U.S. Forest Service is about halfway through the final lap to implement the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan. Here’s what is happening during the final five-month objection process.

The final draft of the strategic plan to manage over 1 million acres of national forest in Western North Carolina was released in January. Individuals and organizations had 60 days for final objections on the plan but only if they had previously commented.

That means out of the nearly 14,000 objections received, just 800 objections were eligible. Those objections trigger a 90-day response time from the U.S. Forest Service. The objection filing period ended on March 22, 2022.

Michelle Aldridge, planning team leader for the plan, explained the process to BPR in January.

“The intent would be to review those objections and see if we are able to resolve concerns and if we are able to incorporate those updates into the final decision,” Aldridge said.

The Forest Service says that the objections sent in by folks who weren’t eligible to comment were very similar to the ones that are currently being reviewed.

“Most of the issues identified by non-eligible objectors are the same, or similar to, issues identified by eligible objectors, said Regional Forester for the Southern Region, Ken Arney in a news release. “We greatly appreciate the time and energy you have taken to engage in this process,” added Arney.

One organization that submitted an objection letter was the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Partnership. The partnership is made up of about 20 groups that have been working with the Forest Service on the plan for almost 10 years. The partnership started officially in 2013.

Manley Fuller, vice president for conservation at the North Carolina Wildlife Federation and a registered lobbyist, is part of the partnership.

“We think our recommendations if they were incorporated would be beneficial to the forest and to the Forest Service," Fuller said.

The partnership highlighted four main objections: old-growth forest conservation, “improved” recreation management, more open woodlands paired with sustainable timber harvests and more clear protections for natural heritage areas.

Those are areas with ecological significance that represent North Carolina’s unique biodiversity.

Fuller says that right now the rules around timber harvesting and road building in natural heritage areas aren’t clear.

“We want to be sure that those areas, which are essentially biological or biodiversity hotspots, that they're properly managed and taken care of," Fuller said.

Some other objectors include Graham County, Buncombe County, Friends of Panthertown and the city of Asheville.

  • The Asheville City Council's objection letter, submitted by Mayor Esther Manheimer, explains that the council passed a resolution in support of the protection of the entire Craggy/Big Ivy section of the Pisgah Forest.   
  • The Friends of Panthertown group's objection letter says that there are inadequate protections for the Panthertown region, including the 30-mile Panthertown Valley Trail System. The organization says the entire area of Panthertown Valley, Bonas Defeat and Dismal Falls, totaling 9,266 acres, should be classified as a special interest area. The letter also objects to prescribed burning and timber harvests within the area under most circumstances.  
  • By sharp comparison, Graham County's objection letter asks for greater opportunities for timber harvesting in the county for economic reasons, citing the fact that over 65% of the county is in Nantahala National Forest.  
  • The Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Partnership objection letter outlines the way that the partnership made up of over 20 organizations worked to compromise. “We feel that the Plan does not go far enough in resolving conflict,” states the objection. The objection explains that while all of the organizations might not individually agree their solutions should be respected stating, “We are a collaborative organization of interests which acts for each of us, as we act for all.” 

You can read all the objection letters online here.

The Forest Service is expected to respond within in 90 days. The response period can be extended by the reviewing officer. The final strategic plan could be implemented later this year.

Copyright 2022 BPR News. To see more, visit BPR News.

Lilly Knoepp serves as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina. She is a native of Franklin, NC who returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.