When Brent Martin emerged from the Forest Management Plan meeting in Franklin, the first glimpse into the direction that management in the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests might take over the next few decades, he was upset. Shocked. Disbelieving, even.
More than 100 people filled the room at Asheville’s Crowne Plaza Hotel earlier this month, but they weren’t there for the pretzels. This 16th meeting in the forest management plan revision process for the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests drew people from across Western North Carolina representing a spectrum of interests. Those interests all converged on one topic — wildlife.
“The overall theme that I feel like from the wildlife habitat perspective is to manage this forest for diversity,” Sheryl Bryan, a U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist, told the crowd.
More than 300 of the 1,000-plus comments the Forest Service has received so far about its management plan pertained to wildlife, and of those, Bryan said, “we did by far receive the most comments concerning the amount of early successional habitat and the mix of age classes associated with that. So the elephant’s out there and we’re going to talk about that.”
Western North Carolina is covered with more than 1,500 square miles of national forest, and residents often measure their assets in terms of towering hardwoods, flocks of turkeys and mountain streams.
National forest land belongs to everybody, but “everybody” includes a pretty diverse group of hikers, bird watchers, hunters, mountain bikers, horseback riders, fishermen, paddlers, environmentalists, loggers and so on — all with different ideas and priorities. As the U.S. Forest Service works toward a new guiding management plan for the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests, it’s a challenge to find a strategy that “everybody” can agree on.
The silence seeped from the mountain ridges and hung heavily over the forest, silence like a deep well, so deep that a pebble tossed in just might go on forever, swallowed up for what seems like an eternity until at last, a dim, muffled plunk echoes up from in the darkness far below.
It was the kind of quiet so steadfast, so impenetrable, little stood a chance against it.
As Brent Martin stared down the barrel of an impending tug-of-war over WNC’s national forests, he dreaded yet another round in the same old fight that’s played out time and time again in his decades as an environmental advocate.
Loggers versus wilderness lovers. Horseback riders versus hikers. Hunters versus environmentalists.
Hidden among the expanse of forestland in Western North Carolina are little-known pockets of trees that are several centuries old. Either overlooked by loggers or too difficult to access, the old growth stands act as windows into the past and markers of Appalachian history.
Since the end of the Civil War until the 1930s, most forests in the eastern United States were clear-cut. However, some tracts were able to escape that era of industrialized logging and continue to grow.
A comprehensive U.S. Forest Service report released last month examines how expanding populations, increased urbanization, and changing land-use patterns could impact natural resources, including water supplies, nationwide during the next 50 years.
The U.S. Forest Service is proposing a controlled burn in Panthertown Valley, a popular recreation area in Jackson County dissected with hiking and biking trails, abundant waterfalls and camping sites.
A sweeping review of the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests will get under way in a matter of months, a behemoth, multi-year process that will layout a new blueprint for how the forests are managed for the first time in 20 years.
Environmentalists have been prepping for the forest plan for more than five years already. After all, the fate of 1.1 million acres of public land in the mountains hinges on the vision mapped out in the forest plan.
A million acres of national forests sounds like a lot, and indeed it is. But consider the 8.6 million people who visit the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests every year and those vast green swaths that checker any map of Western North Carolina don’t seem quite so big after all.