Buncombe commissioners back Craggy scenic designation
North Carolina’s first national scenic area is a step closer to becoming a reality. At an April 21 meeting, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners lent their unanimous support to designating 16,000 acres of the Pisgah National Forest in the county’s northeast as the Craggy Mountain Wilderness and National Scenic Area.
The wilderness designation, which would apply to nearly 8,700 acres near Craggy Gardens and the Big Ivy community, would permit all current recreation, hunting and fishing uses to continue but would prohibit logging and new road construction. Scenic designation for the entire area, although less stringent, would still add an extra layer of protection beyond the existing national forest rules.
Protecting the land in that way would require moves by both the U.S. Forest Service and Congress, but the commissioners hoped their resolution would push federal officials to act. The Forest Service is currently undertaking the final revisions of a new management plan for the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests; the public comment period for the plan ends Thursday, May 14.
“I am in awe of those mountains because of the creator that made them,” said Commissioner Joe Belcher as he moved to approve the resolution. “I just want to caution folks, as we look at that beauty: Let us tread lightly. If we preserve it, let us tread lightly as we use it.”
The county joins over 100 conservation groups in advocating for the new scenic area. Will Harlan, the lead organizer for I Heart Pisgah, said the forest was critical habitat for dozens of rare species and defined the sweeping views from the Blue Ridge Parkway and landmark locations such as Big Butt Summit, Snowball Mountain and Lane Pinnacle.
Duke Energy releases new net-zero carbon report
Having announced in September that it would work to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, Duke Energy unveiled a new report (avl.mx/73u) on April 28 that outlines one path to achieving that goal. While the utility stressed that the scenario was only “an enterprise directional illustration” and not a definitive plan, the document provides the most detailed public explanation to date of how company leaders are thinking about the longer-term future.
Under the 2050 scenario, less than half of Duke’s generating capacity would consist of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, while nearly a quarter would employ carbon-emitting natural gas. The company projects that those gas plants, by then used only for “peaking and demand balancing,” would still emit 7.65 million tons of carbon annually, for which the utility would purchase offset credits.
The remaining capacity would include existing nuclear plants and battery storage facilities, as well as “zero-emitting load-following resources” that could be used to smooth gaps in renewable energy generation. Duke cites advanced nuclear plants, molten salt energy storage and gas plants coupled with carbon capture technology as potential ZELFRs; all of those options are still under research and development.
“A critical part of our net-zero carbon strategy is the need for new technologies that are not yet commercially available or are unproven at utility scale,” the report notes. “If these technologies are not developed or are not available at reasonable prices, or if we invest in early-stage technologies that are then supplanted by technological breakthroughs, Duke Energy’s ability to achieve a net-zero target by 2050 at a cost-effective price could be at risk.”
Good to know
- On April 22, Asheville Brewing Co. began the use of eco-friendly six-pack rings for its canned beer. The packaging, made from plant fibers, is fully biodegradable and compostable.
- After testing more than 2,300 deer over the past year, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission concluded that the state’s herd remains unaffected by chronic wasting disease. Deer with the fatal neurological condition, transmitted by infectious proteins in a manner similar to that of mad cow disease, have previously been found in Tennessee and Virginia.
- Kids in Parks, an initiative of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, launched a series of e-Adventures (avl.mx/73t) to help children and their families enjoy nature in the face of widespread park closures. Guided activities include hide-and-seek, flower identification and forest bathing.
- The Great Smoky Mountains Association made available online (avl.mx/73p) four previously out-of-print issues of Smokies Life magazine. The GSMA released the vintage content, along with new “Smokies LIVE” blog posts and videos, to engage lovers of the national park as it undergoes a phased reopening starting Saturday, May 9.
- Lee Warren, who has led the Organic Growers School as its first full-time executive director since 2013, announced that she would be leaving the organization as of Friday, June 5. She declined to comment when asked about the reasons for her departure. Ellie Wigodsky, who chairs the OGS board, said Warren was “leaving on her own terms” and was ready for a change in career path.
- Clay Wooldridge was named the operations manager of the Cradle of Forestry in Pisgah National Forest. Because the Pisgah Forest-based interpretive site is closed until further notice to curb the spread of COVID-19, he will assume those duties upon its reopening.
- Candler-based wildlife rehabilitation nonprofit Appalachian Wild has tapped Savannah Trantham as its first executive director. Trantham previously split leadership duties with co-founder Kimberly Brewster, who will now focus on the organization’s development and finances.
Calls for action
- The Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project seeks donations for the Appalachian Grown Farmer Relief Fund (avl.mx/73q) to support local growers through the COVID-19 pandemic. According to an ASAP report released in April, two-thirds of area farmers said they could be forced into bankruptcy if business disruptions persist for the next two to six months.
- The Western North Carolina Regional Air Quality Agency is accepting online public comment on its fiscal year 2020-21 budget through Sunday, May 10. Members of the public may view the budget at avl.mx/73r and send comment by email to WNCAir@buncombecounty.org.
- The Friends of the WNC Nature Center asks for support after seeing a 90% drop in fundraising revenue subsequent to the center’s closing on March 13. Annual memberships purchased during the closure, available at avl.mx/73s, will activate on the same day that the nature park reopens to provide a full 12 months of benefits.
- Residents who have experienced property damage related to beaver activity are encouraged to contact Anthony Dowdle with the Buncombe County Soil and Water Conservation District at 828-250-4788 or Anthony.Dowdle@buncombecounty.org. Feedback will be used to determine the county’s participation in a state cost-sharing program for beaver troubles.