Locals urge Forest Service to keep western North Carolina wild

Fall foliage is expected to peak in western North Carolina’s Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests around Oct. 14. Many are asking the U.S. Forest Service to increase the acreage managed as wilderness as the Forest Service evaluates its land management. (© Bill Lea)

Wild places will always tug at our heartstrings. But there’s more than sentimental value to the land we protect as wilderness: these lands harbor rare stands of old growth forest, protect pristine water quality, and provide important habitats for imperiled species, not to mention scenic and economic benefits. The U.S. Forest Service is now considering new areas in western North Carolina to recommend as designated wilderness.

Many locals are voicing their support for new wilderness designations. In late September, large crowds turned out in support of the Buncombe County Commissioners resolution supporting wilderness designations. Buncombe County includes Asheville and swaths of the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests, the two national forests currently under evaluation. The Friends of Big Ivy, who were out in force at the Buncombe County meeting, are particularly looking to expand the Craggy Wilderness Study Area in the county’s northeast.

Although the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests cover 1.1 million acres, including some of the wildest and most remote places in the East, only a tiny fraction of these public lands are protected as wilderness. During its ongoing land management plan revision, however, the Forest Service is evaluating whether other areas also deserve a formal wilderness designation—the highest form of protection available for public lands. The public in Buncombe County thinks so, and the County Commissioners agreed, with a unanimous endorsement for the Craggy Wilderness.

Wilderness is open to all kinds of traditional uses, including hunting and fishing, hiking, and kayaking but, unlike most public lands, it is fully protected against logging, road construction, and motorized/mechanized equipment. Under the 1964 Wilderness Act, wilderness will always “retain its primeval character…which is managed so as to preserve its natural conditions…an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

Clearly, recent public feedback shows that many who have visited these wild places believe they should remain. Now is our chance to keep western North Carolina wild. Learn more about the Forest Plan revision here and send your feedback to the Forest Service here.

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