When rain finally quelled the wildfires running rampant through the Southeastern U.S. last year, the public was breathing a collective sigh of relief while the scientific community spotted an opportunity. Fall 2016 was a wildfire event unlike anything seen in recent history — in the eastern part of the country, at least — and the blazes left behind a natural laboratory to study what happens on a burned landscape once the flames fade.
“It’s a unique opportunity, because the forested areas — especially the high northern hardwoods areas — burn very infrequently,” said Sarah Workman, associate director of the Highlands Biological Station.
When rains finally quelled the flames of 2016’s historic fall fire season, firefighters breathed sighs of relief and mountain residents rejoiced in the newly smokeless air, but land managers were already looking ahead to springtime, when wildfires are typically even more severe and damaging than in the fall.
At the time, the region was plunged in the most severe drought designation possible — even the days of steady rain that ended the fire season made barely a dent in it — and long-term forecasts were calling for a dry future.
Now that the wildfires that ravaged Western North Carolina a couple of months ago are no longer active, U.S. Forest Service officials are beginning to assess the aftermath damages and create a plan of action for the spring.
Over the course of thousands of years lived in the Southern Appalachian mountains, the Cherokee people had pretty well developed a system of relationship with the land that ensured they harvested what they needed to live while leaving enough to ensure future generations would yield the same benefit.
But then there was the arrival of Europeans, years of conflict, the removal, and the establishment of the Qualla Boundary under the supervision of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It’s been a long time since Cherokee land was truly managed in the Cherokee tradition, but with the impending approval of a new forest management plan the pendulum is swinging back closer than it’s been in a long time.
The sun had barely risen over the Pisgah Ridge, but the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Devils Courthouse pull-off was teeming — mainly with women, mainly older, wearing pins and clad in skirts and stoles and scarves, some of which were made of bona fide mink.
They were the Daughters of the American Revolution, and they were excited to commemorate an achievement of their predecessors, the Daughters of nearly a century before.
The timeline for a draft forest management plan has been kicked back once more, with the document now expected sometime at the very end of 2016.
By Brent Martin • Guest Columnist
In recent months I have watched a tense and difficult relationship play out nationally between some members of the mountain biking community and advocates for Wilderness. And over two years ago when the Forest Service began its management plan revision for the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, it appeared this would be the situation here.
I was commiserating with a friend who works for the Forest Service just after it was announced that they were taking a step back from the plan revision process to schedule another round of public meetings.
The FS rolled out a “draft” management plan last fall after a series of public meetings. The plan, while clearly labeled “draft”, placed around 700,000 acres of the million or so acres of the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests in management areas deemed appropriate for logging. To say the plan caught some stakeholders off guard is like saying the Grand Canyon is a ravine in Arizona.
It wasn’t long before the management planning process for the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests got heated and emotional, eventually causing the U.S. Forest Service to ease up on its original goal of releasing a draft plan this June.
A movement to create new wilderness areas in the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests has met resistance in the seven western-most counties.
County commissioners have gone on record in recent months opposing new wilderness areas, claiming it would limit recreation and logging.