By Josh Kelly and Jim Sitts, GUEST COLUMNISTS Published 8:12 a.m. ET April 1, 2018
When it comes to our national forest, timber and environmental interests are often kept out of the same room – let alone the same sentence, unless it’s about conflict. But we don’t think they have to be. That’s why we gathered in Boone on March 22 to speak at “The Future of Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests: An Expert Panel,” sponsored by MountainTrue and members of the Nantahala-Pisgah Partnership. We spoke with each other, along with mountain biking, bird watching, and equestrian representatives, and shared our vision for a balanced and sustainable forest plan. For this vision to become a reality, we need you – and your friends, coworkers, and neighbors – to tell the U.S Forest Service why the activities you love in our national forests matter to you and our region.
Right now, the Forest Service is preparing to share the first draft of a new management plan for Western North Carolina’s two national forests, Nantahala and Pisgah. This big-picture plan changes about every 15 years and is incredibly important because it sets the ground rules and strategic direction for all activities in the forests: from wildlife management and timber sales, to hiking, biking and horse trails, to protective designations. Comprising more than a million acres combined, Nantahala and Pisgah are a central part of our natural and cultural heritage and a driver of our region’s economy. Everyone who loves our forests has an issue they care about that will be impacted by the new forest management plan.
We didn’t come up with the ideas we shared at our panel discussion in Boone overnight. For the past five years, we’ve been proud members of the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Partnership, a collaborative group that brings an even broader range of voices into the same room together. We’ve developed a vision and a set of win-win strategies for the new forest plan that would give all of our interests incentive to work together.
The basic idea behind the the Partnership is that we move all values forward at the same time: water, wildlife, timber, recreation, wilderness, economic development and more. We don’t leave anyone behind. It’s critical that everyone be willing to understand and broadly support everyone else’s values with the expectation that the support will be reciprocal. Rowing in the same direction allows all of us to accomplish more.
The Partnership’s vision represents Western North Carolina’s broad cultural heritage and the range of activities that depend on Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests: from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to an economic spokesperson in Graham County; from local forest products businesses engaging in ecologically-sound timber practices to environmentalists; from paddlers, hikers, bikers, and climbers to hunters and anglers. We don’t expect the Forest Service to produce a carbon-copy of the Forest Partnership’s recommendations, but we do expect a new forest plan that meets the spirit of those recommendations. If the Forest Service can accomplish that, all of the groups around the table will have the opportunity and motivation to work together for years to come.
Since the outcomes of the forest plan are shaped by the public, we’re asking you to get involved and stay involved over the coming year. Be a champion of an inclusive Forest Service and forest plan that works for the entire community. Pisgah and Nantahala are national treasures that deserve the best plan possible – we hope you’ll help make that vision a reality.
Josh Kelly is biologist for MountainTrue, and Jim Sitts is the Appalachian timber manager for Columbia Forest Products in Old Fort.
The Asheville Citizen-Times is the proud media partner of #WNCforthePlanet – a collective of local environmental organizations, community groups and businesses coming together through workdays, service projects and educational events throughout the month of April. Celebrate environmental stewardship for our planet and the region by getting involved at WNCforthePlanet.org.