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Forest management plan now final

Forest management plan now final

After 11 years of work, the U.S. Forest Service released the final, revised Nantahala and Pisgah Forest Plan Feb 17, which will now go into effect to guide future management of national forest land in Western North Carolina.

The Forest Service released a proposed final plan in January 2022, heard objections from stakeholders over the last year, and has now finalized the plan.

“The forest plan is a framework to address incredibly complex challenges like climate change and invasive species, impacts from development on adjacent private lands and high levels of visitor use,” said James Melonas, forest supervisor of the National Forests in North Carolina. “Ensuring our forest ecosystems are healthy and resilient is critical to long-term sustainability of all the habitats and ecosystem benefits on which we all depend.”

The Forest Service considers the outcome to be a balanced plan that supports the forest’s multiple uses and multiple benefits, emphasizing the ways people use the forest and the places that are important to them. It allows the Forest Service to partner with Native American tribes to co-manage resources while honoring traditional ecological knowledge and protecting culturally significant places.

The plan is centered around four themes that came out of public engagement during the revision process. These themes are connecting people to the land, sustaining healthy ecosystems, providing clean and abundant water and partnering with others. The plan provides a vision for each ecosystem on the forest and recommends that 49,000 acres be added to the 66,000 acres of designated wilderness already contained in forest lands. Additionally, it recommends nine new Wild and Scenic Rivers to join the three that already exist and 10 that are eligible. 

According to the Forest Service, the plan focuses on forest resilience in the face of climate change and makes the biggest commitment to old growth in decades — while also recognizing the need for more young, open forest and restoration of important species such as oak. 

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However, several groups that have been heavily involved throughout the planning process issued a strong rejection of the plan on the same day it was released. A press release from the Southern Environmental Law Center, MountainTrue, Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and The Wilderness Society highlighted what those groups see as “glaring flaws” in a plan that “recklessly opens critical areas of these two forests to logging and roadbuilding.”

These groups say that the plan ignores the forest’s role in fighting climate change and fails to protect more than 100,000 acres of old-growth forests, habitat for rare species and roadless backcountry while “dramatically” expanding logging. 

Sam Evans, who leads SELC’s National Forests and Parks Program, called the plan a “step backwards” that puts wildlife habitats, backcountry areas and old growth areas “on the chopping block.” 

“We will continue to oppose this plan, and we will certainly oppose any project that will harm old growth, rare species and backcountry areas,” Evans said. 

The final plan, environmental impact statement, and record of decision are available at

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