The forest for the trees: Debating Forest Service plan at Newsmakers forum

The Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests may be our shared, public lands. But what do we do with them? How do we preserve and protect them — and for what uses?

These were the questions posed at the first of Carolina Public Press’s Newsmakers series, held Thursday, Nov. 13. The lively discussion focused on the U.S. Forest Service’s draft plan for 1 million acres of public lands in Western North Carolina — and demonstrated just how passionate area residents are about the public lands that are part of the region’s great outdoors.

NEWSMAKERS: Carolina Public Press' Nov. 12 "Newsmakers" forum included panelists interviewed for a recent series about draft plans for Western North Carolina's national forests. (Photo by Pat Barcas)
NEWSMAKERS: Carolina Public Press’ Nov. 12 “Newsmakers” forum included panelists interviewed for a recent series about draft plans for Western North Carolina’s national forests. (Photo by Pat Barcas)

Moderated by environmental reporter Jack Igelman, the four-person panel included Kristin Bail, forest supervisor for the National Forests of North Carolina; Kevin Colburn, national stewardship director for American Whitewater; Gordon Warburton, mountain ecoregion supervisor for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission; and Hugh Irwin, landscape conservation planner with The Wilderness Society.

“I consider the national forests in Western North Carolina to be my home,” said Igelman, who has written a series of articles for CPP about the Forest Service proposals and call for public comment.

“They’re your forests,” said Bail. “This is what makes our country great — these are public lands.”

For the next half hour, the panelists advocated for their respective causes. Colburn pushed for water quality and river protection and recreation. Irwin pressed for more and better wilderness designations and less timber production. Warburton urged the creation of a greater diversity of wildlife habitats.

Bail, for her part, emphasized the long-term process of developing the Forest Plan and insisted that the draft proposal is just that — a draft, with the intricacies inherent in trying to satisfy its many “multi-use” provision. “This is not just about what is here today, but what will be there for our kids and grandkids,” she said.

A member of the audience, however, decried the Forest Service’s past use of defoliants such as Agent Orange. But Warburton, who argued for forest plans that provide a variety of wildlife habitats (from open fields to old-growth stands),  maintained that the agency had changed dramatically in the last 30 years. “The Forest Service does not clear cut. They are not going to do industrial logging. This is scientific forestry,” he said.

Bail, Colburn, Warburton and Irwin expressed similar sentiments and talked about conservation initiatives at the beginning of the 20th century that resulted in the creation of the national forest system, the importance of national forests to clean water and air, and the crucial role the forests played in providing wildlife habitats. The first wilderness areas were designated in the 1960s, for example, and two WNC areas were among the first — Shining Rock and Linville Gorge.

But those were the last points on which the panelists – or the audience, for that matter – agreed.

Irwin and Warburton hashed out their differing views on how best to manage WNC’s woods. They rebutted, rebuffed and interrupted each other a few times in the discussion. Irwin pled for consideration for more wilderness areas: “There is a whole spectrum of areas we feel deserves better protection and the planning process should consider that,” he said. “The current proposal is extreme, unbalanced and misses a chance for collaboration.”

Warburton, on the other hand, argued that public lands like the Pisgah and Nantahala forests need a greater diversity of habitats — especially early-succession areas, he argued. Creating those areas, however, would involve “opening up” densely canopied, older sections of forest. As he put it, “In order to have diverse wildlife, it is necessary to have diverse habitats.”

On more than one occasion, Igelman had to cut one — or sometimes both – of the men off mid-sentence. And Angie Newsome, CPP’s director, moved the discussion along, inviting the audience to participate in a Q-and-A session. Some audience members seemed to forget that they were supposed to be posing questions and instead took turns leveling criticism, largely at the Forest Service. Bail fielded several questions and comments, encouraging public comment and input about the draft plan. Warburton and Irwin continued their cordial debate.

And at the end of the session, Bail thanked the audience for their involvement. “I’m glad to see people continue to come out and be engaged,” she said. “These are your lands, and this is your plan.”

The last of six public comment meetings will be hosted by the U.S.D.A. Forest Service tonight at McDowell Technical Community College in Marion, NC. However, Bail also said that comments can be submitted at any time. Bail can be reached via email at or by phone at 828-257-4269.

For more information on Carolina Public Press and their Newsmakers Forum, visit To see a video of the panel discussion, click here.


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About Erik Peake
Writing is my craft, my passion, my solace - and my livelihood. As a professional writer, I have worked in an array of venues and filled a variety of roles. Since I moved to Asheville, NC, I have enjoyed a freelance career as a grant writer, a technical writer, a Web-content writer, a copy editor, and an English tutor. I am currently specializing in web-content writing, blogging, and tutoring. Although an obsessive-compulsive nature inclines me toward proselytizing on behalf of English grammar, I also pursue forays into creative writing (as a balance, I suppose). Creative non-fiction is a field of particular interest to me, and I hope someday to publish a collection of short stories that circumnavigates the vicissitudes of my unorthodox youth.

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3 thoughts on “The forest for the trees: Debating Forest Service plan at Newsmakers forum

  1. I have grown up and enjoyed the forest for 60 some odd years and realize there is no perfect answer to every one’s wishes as to how our wonderful woodlands should be used. as trees age, they create this beautiful canopy that the hikers and nature lovers so enjoy. With age comes disease, or more susceptibiliy to it, just as we as humans do. if left unattended, these canopies fall and dissolve into wrecks of old growth which increases the fire risk from dead tender on the forest floor. Nature does this naturally and after a “burn” new growth springs forth replenishing the forest with undergrowth that provides cover and habitat for wild life. In nature, everyone’s ideal is served at different times in different places. What the forest service has to do is decide when the woods have outgrown or out lived their potential for utilizing the trees for lumber and building materials and try to reap the harvest before it becomes useless to us whom wish to build homes or rebuild that which has become in disrepair. This responsibility seems to be the subject of much debate, depending on what each of us wants “right now” and forgetting the long range impacts of letting the forests go back to nature. The beautiful woods we love to walk through today, in the next century: will not be the same if left unattended or harvested while they are “ripe”. The thing is, what will be there for the next generations down the line? We can through selfishness over our particular spot today, choose to enjoy it for our lifetime and leave a dead spot for our grad children, or: allow the foresters to do what they are trained to do and get a jump on nature by harvesting now and re-seeding in order to assure that there will be woods for our future citizens to enjoy as well, rather than wait for mother nature to do it without our consent and lose the benefits of good timber harvests.

  2. Jeffrey Powell

    Number one: the national forests are not for preservation but for conservation management and multiple use. Educate people on our national forests and national parks and the differences and purposes of each. Why were each set aside by law and for what purpose? Trees are Americas renewable resource. We are not nor are we going to run out of trees. Not at all. About one-third of the United States — 728 million acres — is covered with trees and the amount is growing.
    In fact, we have more trees today that we had 70 years ago. Scientists estimate that America’s forest land contain some 230 billion trees — around 1,000 for each person and more trees are being planted each year. On the nation’s commercial forest land, net annual growth exceeds removals through harvesting by an impressive 31 percent each year and the amount of wood in our nation’s forests continues to increase. We have added 28 million cubic feet of wood since 1977. Are we damaging the land by cutting so many trees? Roughly one-third of the nation’s forests—245 million acres—is set aside in national parks and wilderness areas, and in other “non-commercial” areas. This third of the U.S. forests is bigger than Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Holland, Switzerland, Belgium and Israel combined. The remaining lands are classified as “commercial” and can be used for growing and harvesting repeated crops of trees. But even in the national forests, portions are permanently set aside for non-commercial uses such as recreation and wildlife. Know the facts.

  3. treelady

    We Americans consume vast amounts of natural resources including wood products. Yet we are disinclined to take responsibility for that consumption by being willing to see evidence of that use – even if it is done in a way that is as environmentally sensitive as is practical. Personally, I would rather see some timber harvested and young trees growing back in a sustainable manner on our national forests than to know our wood products are being imported from abroad. We Americans want to use the products from the earth, but we don’t want to have to see where they come from. That, to me, is globally environmentally irresponsible.

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