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Draft forest management plan released

Draft forest management plan released

After more than six years of work, a draft forest management plan for the Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest is now available.

The proposed plan includes four different alternatives, each of which uses an alternative method for managing vegetation and wildlife habitat, special designations, access, sustainable recreation and economic contributions of the forests. The alternatives offer different ways to make progress towards multiple goals and be sensitive to special places. Any of the four alternatives — or portions of all of them — could comprise the final plan.

The proposed plan was built using a new process that includes substantially greater public input than previous planning processes. The result will guide the management of Western North Carolina’s 1 million acres of national forests for the next generation.

"These drafts are significantly different from the early plan materials we shared in 2017 because we've incorporated public feedback received since then," said Michelle Aldridge, team lead for the forest plan revision. "Using public input, we've re-written parts of the plan, changed management area boundaries and added a new chapter about places and uses on each part of the forest. We built alternatives based upon what we heard were shared values to offer win-win solutions and minimize polarization.”

A 90-day public comment period will begin Feb. 14 and conclude May 14, with open houses scheduled throughout the region in March and April. Forest Service staff will spend the summer and fall seasons incorporating public feedback into the draft plan, releasing a draft decision this time next year. From there, a two-month objection period will begin with the Forest Service having three months after that to resolve any objections. A final plan should therefore be in place within 18 months.

"We heard from a wide range of people and groups who use, depend on and appreciate the forests as we developed the plan," said Allen Nicholas, Forest Supervisor of the National Forests in North Carolina. "We're sharing this proposed plan so the public can review it and provide additional information before the plan is finalized."

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The draft plan is available online at www.fs.usda.gov/detail/nfsnc/home/?cid=stelprdb5397660, with public comment open through May 14. Public comments are most helpful when they include detailed information about specific places and uses of the forest.

Look for a more detailed story about the draft plan in the Feb. 12 issue of The Smoky Mountain News.

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