By Patrick Clemons

 

The U.S. Forest Service has officially released a proposed plan for the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests.

The plan includes a detailed structure for managing the forests over the next 10-15 years. 

The proposed plan will:

• Recognize and contribute to multiple uses of the Forest Service mission to improve forest health and maintain wildlife habitat conditions.

• Contribute to clean and abundant water.

• Improve the forests’ world class recreation opportunities.

• Enable forest access and contribute to local economies.

• Sustain the forests’ scenic beauty and cultural resources.

• Continue to manage existing administrative and Congressionally designated areas which will not be changed during revision 

• Recommend land allocations in recommended wilderness, eligible wild and scenic rivers and special interest areas.

• Recognize the value of partners in shaping our shared future.

•Be inclusive of input from the public, governments, Federally Recognized Tribes and best available science.

The proposed plan will not decide the future of a particular trail, road, recreation site or project design; make any leasing decisions about oil and gas resources; or authorize activities to take place in the forest.

Four alternative approaches have been revealed.

Alternative A follows the plan currently in place.

Alternative B is for those who want more flexibility for managing vegetation patterns, wildlife habitats and access.

Alternative C is for those who would like more certainty described in the forest plan and less project flexibility for managing vegetation patterns, wildlife habitats and recreation areas.

Alternative D moderates between Alternatives B and C in terms of plan restrictions versus project flexibility for vegetation management, wildlife habitat, recreation and access.

Josh Kelly, public lands biologist at MountainTrue, a conservation and environmental nonprofit, says the alternatives do not serve Jackson County fairly.

“One very popular area in Jackson County, Panthertown Valley, wasn’t properly treated in any of the alternatives,” Kelly said. “Panthertown Valley stretches from the Bonas Defeat Gorge in the North to Toxaway Mountain in the South. It has stunning scenery and is heavily used by locals and visitors. Every alternative set forth by the Forest Service includes some of Panthertown Valley in the Matrix Management Area. Friends of Panthertown, the group that does most of the trail maintenance in the area, has asked that Panthertown Valley be allocated to either a Special Interest Area or the Backcountry Management Area.”

The nonprofit Friends of Panthertown, when asked for comment, sent a copy of recommendations they made to the U.S. Forest Service prior to the deadline for public comments.

They said:

• The areas in Panthertown proposed in the draft Forest Plan as Matrix should instead be managed as Backcountry, while the core of Panthertown should remain as a Special Interest Area.

• The Forest Plan should specify that vegetation and ecosystem management within the Panthertown Special Interest Area should recognize recreation values and be solely for the purpose of restoring and enhancing the ecological integrity and values of the area.

• Management of Panthertown should restrict prescribed burning and timber harvesting within 50 feet of system trails, kept outside of popular recreational corridors, and away from Special Interest Areas, unless such activities be deemed absolutely necessary to maintain the outstanding ecological qualities of Panthertown and/or such activities are essential for the maintenance of public safety.

• Panthertown Creek, Greenland Creek, and the East Fork of the Tuckaseigee River should be reconsidered and found to be eligible for Wild and Scenic River designations to receive the maximum possible protections.

• The Forest Service should protect existing old growth forest areas and restore other areas to expand old growth forests for future generations.

• The Forest Plan should include stronger protections for rare, threatened, and endangered species, and dispersal-limited species.

• A comprehensive trail inventory should be conducted to determine which trails are most needed by hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders, climbers, anglers and other trail users 

To learn more about the Nantahala and Pisgah Forest Plan Revision, visit fs.usda.gov.