Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan

Updates:
06.29.2020 public comment deadline
02.14.2020 Nantahala and Pisgah Proposed Forest Plan published

With a comment deadline of Monday, June 29th, the revised Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan is important for two major reasons:

  1. It will determine the path of one million acres of forest and streams and the species and towns that depend on them.  The Forest Plan will set goals and guidelines for management and guide every Forest Service project from trail construction to timber harvests.
  2. The Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan is also a preview of plan revisions for the Chattahoochee Oconee National Forests, which will begin in a few years.

Diverse groups have worked together for years to develop management options that would protect the core values of all stakeholders, including conservation values.  Please urge the Forest Service to adopt the full recommendations of the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Partnership.

Resources:

If you would like more detailed information on the issues with the Proposed Forest Plan, please see the talking points and example letters below.

This is the point in the process when your comments can have the greatest impact.  Forest Planning inherently involves tradeoffs; and the ultimate shape of the plan will depend on what the public values the most.  Please speak up for what you value.

IssueTalking Points
Old Growth
Problem #1: Existing old-growth is rare, and scientifically, biologically, and socially valuable but the Forest Service offers no protection for old-growth discovered during the course of timber projects.

Solution #1: Please tell the Forest Service there is no substitute for protecting existing old-growth forests, and all should be protected.

Problem #2: The Forest Service overestimates how much old forest (aka “future old growth”) there will be in the future because it does not account for storms, insects, wildfires, and other natural disturbances killing stands of trees. Additionally, climate change is expected to increase natural disturbance severity and the rate at which trees are killed.

Solution #2: Encourage the Forest Service to designate more areas to grow older and become more like old growth. In Forest Service terminology, tell them to include backcountry, wilderness, and similar areas in the old-growth patch network, and put Mountain Treasure Areas, State Natural Areas, and existing old-growth in management areas that contribute toward future old growth.
State Natural Areas
Problem: Natural Heritage Natural Areas contain the most biologically important habitats in North Carolina. Past Forest Service projects have threatened them through logging and road building, and now the Forest Service wants to only avoid known rare species rather than protect the entire habitat.

Solution:  Urge the Forest Service to designate all Natural Heritage Natural Areas as “unsuitable for timber production” and place them in management areas that assure they will be managed consistent with the values that led their recognition by the state.
Unroaded Areas
Problem #1: Wilderness Inventory Areas (aka Mountain Treasure Areas) provide exceptional recreational value, ecological integrity, and habitat connectivity.  One version of the proposed plan would leave 112,000 acres of them (about a third) unprotected and open to logging and road construction

Solution #1:  Push the Agency to manage all Wilderness Inventory Areas (aka Mountain Treasure Areas) to maintain or restore their wildland values.

Problem #2:  Wilderness Inventory Areas (aka Mountain Treasure Areas) provide high levels of connectivity, especially important in the face of climate change.  While free of active roads, they could still be fragmented by infrastructure projects like pipelines and highways. 

Solution #2:  Ask the Agency to put All Wilderness Inventory Areas (aka Mountain Treasure Areas) off limits for the construction of new linear rights of way, like utilities or highways.  See sample comment below
Bonus: Increase the impact of your comments by speaking for the importance of a specific Mountain Treasure you’re familiar with.  For background information and preferred management on each area, check out this webpage.
Congressional Designations
Problem: Despite including several areas of national significance and support from most people in the region, only 6% of the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest has permanent protection as Congressionally designated Wilderness or National Recreation Area.

Solution: Urge the Forest Service to recommend the following areas for Wilderness or National Scenic Area designation in the revised plan:

Craggy/Big Ivy (Wilderness and National Scenic Area)
Overflow
Black Mountains
Mackey Mountain
Joyce Kilmer Extensions (excluding Yellowhammer)
Southern Nantahala Extensions
Ellicott Rock Extension
Shining Rock Extensions
Harper Creek
Lost Cove
Snowbird
Tusquitee
Unicoi & Cantrell Top
Middle Prong Extension

If you personally know any of these areas, your comments can be especially influential by talking about an area’s exceptional naturalness, opportunities for solitude, or opportunities for primitive recreation.
Recreation & Trails
Problem:  Most users’ enjoyment of trails hinges on the natural surroundings of the trails, but the proposed Plan places 350 to 525 miles of trails in the designations most likely to have logging and road building.

Solution:  Please let the Forest Service know how important natural surroundings are to your enjoyment of trails and other recreation sites.  Ask the agency to protect the settings of trails as much as possible.  You can make your comments stronger by sharing how the natural environment has impacted you on any specific trails you are familiar with. See example comment below
Logging & Roads
Problem #1:  The Forest Service is given only enough money to maintain 12-13% of the road system.

Solution #1:  Request that, before increasing levels of timber harvest (which would require expanded road access), the Forest Service demonstrate steady progress toward reducing its road maintenance backlog and preventing the spread of associated invasive plants.

Problem #2:  In North Carolina, soils are just as easily eroded and streams just as sensitive to sediment as in other states, but the Forest Service uses weaker safeguards for streams and steep slopes.

Solution #2:  Encourage the Forest Service to require stream buffers and prohibitions on logging on steep slopes at least as strong as those of surrounding national forests.
Climate Change
Problem #1:  Climate change will force species to move into new areas to survive, but roads and altered habitats can block that movement, especially for species that naturally don’t move far, such as salamanders.

Solution #1:  Tell the Forest Service that anywhere new or reconstructed roads cross streams they should provide passage for all relevant aquatic organisms.  Also urge the Forest Service to avoid timber harvest and road construction that would create barriers to the movement of salamanders.

Problem #2:  Climate change is too big a problem for any one entity to directly solve, so  a solution will come only from everyone doing what they can. The Plan dismisses the forests’ ability to contribute to carbon storage as insignificant because they represent just a fraction of the country’s forests.

Solution #2:  Ask the Forest Service to provide a full accounting of the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests’ role in sequestering carbon, along with the cumulative impact of management and disturbance trends across the National Forest System.

Unroaded Areas example comment
Dear Supervisor Nicholas, As someone whose earliest forest memories are from within the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, I want to thank you for recognizing some areas that may be suitable for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Setting aside areas where natural processes dominate and having permanent protection for those areas is important to me. I would like to see Wilderness Inventory Areas (which I know as Mountain Treasure Areas) be off limits from the construction of new rights of way, like utilities or highways, and be managed to maintain or restore their wildland values.

Specifically, I want to see greater protection for Overflow Creek Mountain Treasure and Southern Nantahala Extensions. I strongly believe that keeping all the Wilderness Inventory Areas mostly left alone from direct human disturbances will continue to benefit the plants and animals, increase the value of these ecosystems as refuge, help keep the streams clean, and provide some peace of mind to those of us who appreciate and seek out true wilderness experiences in these forests.
Thank you,

Recreation example comment letter
Dear Supervisor Nicholas,

Hiking is how I get away from my problems and find some peace.  It takes me out of my head and gets me paying attention to my surroundings.  So the condition of the area I’m hiking through is really important to me.  If I’m hiking along and I see an area adjacent to the trail that just been logged, it’s jarring.  Hiking on a trail overgrown with blackberries isn’t much fun either.  A 50- or 100-foot buffer isn’t enough to prevent those negative experiences.

Keeping natural settings for trails isn’t just a personal issue.  Many of the businesses in our mountain towns depend on recreation and tourism.  Protecting these trails and their surroundings should be a top priority for the Forest Service.  Please put in the new plan strong measures to protect all of our trails and their surroundings.

I appreciate all you and your staff do to keep the trails in good condition and open for all to enjoy.  I know maintaining trails takes a great deal of time and effort.  Thank you.
Sincerely,