The U.S. Forest Service sought further information on Monday, Nov. 16 in the early stages of its forest plan, which aims to classify select rivers and lands in the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests as further protected under stricter levels of conservation.
More than 150 people packed a meeting room in the Kimmel Arena at UNC Asheville, as the Forest Service performed a give-and-take of information. The Service has received 12,000 comments so far and has identified three main ideas that the public wants in the plan: connecting people to the land, providing clean and abundant water and enhancing and restoring the resiliency to the forest.
The plan is slated to culminate in late 2017 with a recommendation to Congress on exactly which rivers and which tracts of land will be protected against bicycle and machine use, structures, permanent and temporary roads and commercial enterprise — including logging. Congress can then act to protect areas under the Wilderness Act of 1964.
“Right now, we’re looking for areas that have met the basic criteria, and we’re seeking input,” said James Melonas, acting forest supervisor.
It’s is still very early in the process, said Michelle Aldridge, planning staff officer.
“We’ve been working on revising our drafts based on public input,” she said.
The Nantahala and Pisgah are one of a few Eastern forests that are going through this four-step conservation process right now. Step one is inventory, followed by evaluation of the land, analysis and, finally, a recommendation. All steps will be transparent to the public with an objection process scheduled for spring 2017. Step one has been ongoing for the last 22 months.
There are currently 52 areas encompassing 362,000 acres under the microscope for special protection — or 35 percent of the forest. These are areas that are rich in “apparent naturalness” — they must have outstanding opportunities for solitude and appear to only be affected by nature, not the work of humans.
Further information about the plan revision can be found online here.
Comments can be emailed to NCplanrevision@fs.fed.us with the subject line “Wilderness evaluation input,” or mailed to Forest Plan Revision, 160A Zillicoa St., Asheville, NC 28801. Forest Service officials are asking that comments for the next stage be filed by Dec. 15.