from the N.C. News Service
For the first time in its history, the U.S. Forest Service is placing greater importance on watershed protection when it comes to long-term planning. In western North Carolina, the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests will be two of the first to have their plans revised with the new priorities.
This time, the Forest Service is seeking help from some of the people who use the land for recreation the most, including members of Pisgah SORBA, the local chapter of the International Mountain Biking Association. Chris Strout is president of the group and says he is happy to provide input.
“They’ve got shrinking budgets, they’ve got constraints. You know, what can we offer to the Forest Service in return for the use of our resources that they’re charged with managing?”
The revision of the plan will take about three years, but will provide a blueprint for both forests for the next 15 years. The Nantahala and Pisgah forests cover 1 million acres of Western North Carolina and are among the most-visited national forests in the nation.
Strout says past plans placed a greater emphasis on logging, but this time the Forest Service understands the growing contribution recreation and tourism play in the economies of the forest areas. Timber harvesting has decreased by 65 percent in the past 20 years.
“From a recreation and conservation standpoint, the forest plan going forward will be very different than anything we’ve seen in the past, yet there’s still always going to be timber extraction, there’s still always going to be that side of resource management.”
The last plan for Nantahala and Pisgah was completed in 1987. The Forest Service is seeking input from hikers, conservation groups, hunters and others.
More information is to be found at www.fs.usda.gov.