Forest Service completes objection reviews for Pisgah-Nantahala forest plan
The U.S. Forest Service has completed its review of 891 objections to the Pisgah-Nantahala forest management plan it released a year ago, clearing the final hurdle to implement the first new forest plan since 1987.
The 445-page objection response document details 104 issues raised by objectors, which covered nearly every topic in the plan. For each issue, the document includes a summary of the objection, requested remedies, findings from the Forest Service’s review of the objection, and instructions, if any, to amend the plan.
“I am humbled by the number of people interested in their local forests, and I appreciate everyone’s participation in the process,” said reviewing officer Deputy Regional Forester Rick Lint. “They clarified issues and provided ideas to improve the final plan,”
The new forest plan has been a decade in the making, with the Forest Service first reaching out to stakeholders in 2012. The Forest Service released its final plan in January, kicking off a formal objection process that culminated with 24 hours’ worth of virtual meetings Aug. 2-4 between objectors and Forest Service representatives. Lint and his team were charged with reviewing the objections and issuing any instructions for Forest Supervisor James Melonas to incorporate into the plan prior to implementation. The objection review process ensures the revised final plan meets current law, regulation and policy. It also considers changes that improve the analysis and decision.
“The Forests’ planning team did an incredible job with the plan, as you will see in the responses to the objections,” added Lint. “We recognize that healthy forests and communities are interdependent; it’s one of our Forest Service values. We take public engagement seriously; we modified the plan based on what we heard at the objection meetings.”
In a press release, the Forest Service listed some of the most notable changes included in the objection response:
An additional 800 acres will be added to the Special Interest Area management area in Big Ivy/Craggy Mountain and Shope Creek, bringing the total footprint over 12,200 acres in recognition of the land’s ecological, scenic and recreational value. The change is in response to objections from several parties, including I Heart Pisgah and the City of Asheville, which wanted to see the Special Interest Area expanded to 16,000 acres total.
A new Wild and Scenic River segment will be added for the North Fork French Broad River with a recreational classification. Designation as a wild and scenic river is the nation’s strongest form of protection for free-flowing rivers and streams.
Protections for species of conservation concern and federally listed species will be clarified.
Regarding sustainable recreation, aspects of management for user-created trails will be clarified, guidance on management climbing routes through unique habitats will be updated and management approaches related to visitor management at equestrian campgrounds will be added.
Process documentation on ecological modeling, species analyses and Wild and Scenic Rivers evaluations will be updated.
Final instructions and clarifications were shared with the Forests’ staff and objectors following the independent review by the national team. The written responses are the final decision by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the objections.
Due to the high volume of issues, Forest Service staff began implementing instructions as the review team finalized each individual objection response, streamlining the process. The National Forests in North Carolina complied with all instructions, most of which focused on providing clarifications or additional information. The new plan — which replaces the current document created in 1987 and amended in 1994 — is expected to be released by the end of the month.
The resolution response is available at fs.usda.gov/goto/nfsnc/nprevision.