conserA recent report by the U.S. Forest Service titled National Forests on the Edge lists North Carolina’s national forests as the fourth most-threatened in the nation due to development pressure along their boundaries. In fact, of the 10 most-threatened national forests in the United States, six are in the East, and three of those are in the southern Appalachians: North Carolina’s Nantahala/Pisgah, Georgia’s Chattahoochee, and Tennessee’s Cherokee.
Hoping to address the problem, the Forest Service requested $4.2 million from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund to enable the agency to acquire three tracts in North Carolina. Doing so would protect and provide access to three important areas within and adjacent to our national forests: Catawba Falls, the Uwharrie Trail and the Appalachian Trail.
Meanwhile, the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy has proposed two projects for 2009 through the federal Forest Legacy Program. Both would help landowners permanently protect working forests and their conservation values. The first one, the 176-acre Turkeypen tract, was ranked second in priority in North Carolina by the state’s Forest Legacy Committee. The parcel adjoins Pisgah National Forest in Transylvania County at the Turkeypen trailhead, a popular access point. The Redden tract (810 acres) was ranked third among Forest Legacy projects in North Carolina. It shares a 7,000-foot boundary with the Pisgah in the upper Mills River watershed in Henderson County. Conserving these tracts would add significant protection to the natural resources along the periphery of the Pisgah National Forest in Henderson and Transylvania counties—but if the president’s recent budget proposal is approved, they don’t stand a chance of getting funded.
In 2001, President Bush declared at a photo op in Birmingham, Ala., that he would fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, saying, “It’s a high priority for me.”
This was big news for people who work in land conservation. The fund was established in 1963 with proceeds from offshore oil and gas leases, and $900 million is supposed to be put into it each year. Since its inception, this extremely important revenue source has protected a total of 4.7 million acres, including tens of thousands of acres along the Appalachian Trail (which stretches from Maine to Georgia). Here in North Carolina, the fund has provided in excess of $63 million to help protect more than 37,000 acres and advance more than 800 state and local park projects.
In all these years, however, only once—in 1998—has the fund received a sum even close to full funding. Instead, Congress has repeatedly “borrowed” those moneys to bankroll other priorities. And if that weren’t bad enough, the president’s 2009 budget proposal calls for one of the lowest appropriations in the conservation fund’s 44-year history. The proposed $41 million allocation (a $110 million dollar cut from last year)—a broken promise to all Americans who care about parks, forests, wildlife and open space—will barely cover the program’s administrative costs. To add insult to injury, Bush’s budget request includes a meager $12.5 million for Forest Legacy—a popular program that helps states conserve threatened private forestlands through working-forest easements and the purchase of development rights. The current budget is $52 million.
The proposed budget also includes drastic cuts in many other important conservation programs. State and private forestry programs were cut by two-thirds, prompting angry reactions from foresters working within these programs. Maryland State Forester Steven Koehn said, “This budget undermines the very mission of the Forest Service, neither caring for the land nor serving the people.” Leah MacSwords, vice president of the National Association of State Foresters, warned, “These outrageous budget cuts put our tradition of partnership in jeopardy and could have disastrous effects on the forest resource.”
More could be said about the drastic cuts proposed for the already-underfunded U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service, with further meaning for North Carolina residents that is particularly alarming.
It’s up to Congress to make sure that enough funding is provided to protect our natural heritage—before it’s too late. Please write your congressional representatives. Urge them to fully fund both the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Forest Legacy Program and to provide the needed funding for our projects in North Carolina. Although the final budget is still several months away, this is an election year, and the sooner they hear from us, the better.
[Brent Martin works for The Wilderness Society in Franklin. He can be reached at email@example.com]