Conservation groups object to Forest Service’s Revised Nantahala and Pisgah Forest Plan
ASHEVILLE, NC — This week, conservation groups formally objected to the US Forest Service’s revised Nantahala and Pisgah Forest Plan, arguing that it falls short of what is needed to ensure these popular, beloved, and iconic forests are properly managed for future generations.
The plan, which took eight years to develop, guides the long-term future of the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests. At the most basic level, the Forest Plan outlines where things like hiking, logging, mountain biking, and roadbuilding are allowed, and where they aren’t.
Where and why logging happens is one of the most important issues addressed by the Forest Plan. The plan does not prioritize using timber harvests to restore forests degraded by past mismanagement, nor does it prioritize storing carbon to help fight climate change. In fact, the plan doesn’t commit the Forest Service to any priorities except for cutting more trees and for the large majority of the landscape – 610,434 acres – it defines success as simply logging more. It proposes a major increase, not only in the amount of logging, but also in the places on the landscape where it will occur. Timber production is a legitimate use of our shared public lands, but it is not appropriate in the more-than 100,000 acres of existing old growth forests, state-recognized habitat for rare species, and backcountry areas that would be open to that use under the new plan.
The Forest Service had a clear roadmap for a successful Forest Plan, which they chose not to follow. Over the last decade, the Nantahala Pisgah Forest Partnership – which is made up of a diverse group of conservation organizations, recreation groups, timber interests, hunting groups, and many others – created a set of consensus recommendations for the plan. This innovative collaborative effort led to recommendations that would have increased overall timber harvest levels, but would have ensured that timber harvest is being used as a tool to restore degraded conditions without sacrificing rare and unique values, like rare species habitat and old growth.
Fortunately, it’s not a done deal. The “final” plan won’t truly be final for several more months, during which the Forest Service has one more chance to get it right.
The objecting groups represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center include MountainTrue, the Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and Defenders of Wildlife. Statements from each group are included below:
“Anyone who has spent time in the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests knows how special they are. These lands deserve a plan that lays out a clear vision for a better future. Unfortunately, the new plan is long on rhetoric but short on commitments,” Sam Evans, Leader of SELC’s National Forests and Parks Program, said. “Nothing in the new plan would prevent the kinds of harm we’ve seen under the old plan – including the loss of old growth and rare habitats we can never get back. This is a once-in-a-generation chance for the Forest Service to show that it can change course on its own, and we still hope that it will.”
“The Pisgah and Nantahala Forests are a keystone to preserving the unique natural values of the Southern Appalachian ecosystem and mitigating all the pressures that are now brought to bear by climate change on these natural systems. The Forest Plan presents an opportunity to give clear direction to those who will implement it, but this plan falls short. The objection gives stakeholders an additional chance to dialog with Forest planners and hopefully make the needed changes to strengthen protections for key components on the forest that help make them resilient in the face of the threats to come,” David Reid, Sierra Club National Forest Issue Chair, said
“Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests are crown jewels of American public lands and nothing short of an excellent forest plan is acceptable,” MountainTrue Public Lands Field Biologist Josh Kelly said. “We hope the critiques and ideas offered in our objection will help to make the final plan as good as it can be. These forests and the American people deserve that.”
“The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests are vital strongholds for rare wildlife that depend on these lands for their very survival. This plan is a squandered opportunity to proactively address biodiversity loss and the climate crisis. We stand with our partners, ready to redouble our efforts to gain a better outcome for our forests,” Ben Prater, Defender of Wildlife’s Southeast Program Director, said.
The Forest Service’s Plan is a step backward for conservation in the face of climate change and the biodiversity crisis. The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests were an opportunity to set the gold standard for how national forests should be managed. This gold standard would have required protecting key priority conservation lands, including old growth, state Natural Areas, and Mountain Treasure areas, while also providing a sustainable flow of forest products and wildlife habitat,” The Wilderness Society Senior Conservation Specialist Hugh Irwin said. “There was excellent collaborative stakeholder support for this win-win solution. Unfortunately, the Forest Service presented a Plan that will put key conservation areas and conservation values at risk. We are hopeful that the objection process offers a chance to get it right – the future of our forests depends on it.”