US Forest Service fails to fix glaring flaws in Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan
ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Today, the U.S. Forest Service officially published the Final Forest Plan for the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests, moving forward with a plan that recklessly opens critical areas of these two forests to logging and roadbuilding.
The Forest Plan guides the long-term future of the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests, which are among the most visited and beloved public lands in the country. The plan outlines where activities like logging are prioritized, as well as areas that will be managed to allow for recreation or to protect rare species and clean water. The Forest Service released a proposed Final Forest Plan in January of 2022, heard objections from stakeholders – including SELC, MountainTrue, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and Defenders of Wildlife – over the last year, and has now finalized the plan.
Despite receiving more than 14,000 objections to the final Forest Plan, the Forest Service failed to make needed corrections. The plan dramatically expands the amount of logging in these forests and fails to protect more than 100,000 acres of old-growth forests, habitat for rare species, and roadless backcountry. The plan also ignores the role of these forests – and their ability to store massive amounts of carbon – in the fight against climate change.
The limited remaining old-growth areas in the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests are particularly vital to fighting climate change and preserving biodiversity. In the draft plan, the Forest Service suggested that it might spare individual stands of old growth in the future. In the final plan, however, the agency backed away from even this small gesture. The Forest Service now says it won’t even consider whether forests qualify as old growth before logging them. This is a violation of current Forest Service guidelines, and it blatantly defies Biden administration directives to conserve old-growth forests.
Below are statements from the Southern Environmental Law Center, MountainTrue, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and Defenders of Wildlife in response to the finalized Forest Plan:
“The Forest Service had a once-in-a-generation opportunity to map out a better future for these two incredible forests, but this Forest Plan is instead a step backwards. The plan not only dramatically expands where and how much logging will happen, but it puts the wildlife habitats, backcountry areas, and old growth areas that make the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests special on the chopping block,” Sam Evans, Leader of SELC’s National Forests and Parks Program, said. “We will continue to oppose this plan, and we will certainly oppose any project that will harm old growth, rare species, and backcountry areas.”
“It is disheartening that after 10 years and thousands of hours of input, the Forest Service decided that what these national treasures really needed was commercial logging on a larger footprint,” MountainTrue Public Lands Biologist Josh Kelly said. “This Forest Plan had an opportunity to set priorities for which ecosystems and places needed the most active management and it utterly failed to make those distinctions. Instead,100,000 acres of irreplaceable natural treasures are zoned for commercial logging.”
“It’s a shame that the Forest Service has turned a tin ear to legitimate input from all of the stakeholders who pointed out substantive deficiencies in the draft plan and offered workable alternatives,” said David Reid, N.C. Sierra Club’s National Forests Issue Chair. “The N.C. Sierra Club’s volunteer leaders contributed expertise and countless hours to the plan’s development since the stakeholder process began a decade ago. We collaborated in good faith, in the hope that our input would be respected and reflected in the final version, for the sustainable future of these forests and the health of our broader environment.”
“The Nantahala and Pisgah Forests represent the gold standard of National Forests for key priority conservation lands, old-growth and mature forest, wildlife habitat, biodiversity, and clean drinking water. Despite receiving thousands of objections from those who depend on the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests for these values and use these lands, the Forest Service chose to blatantly ignore the voice of the people and the best available science in determining the future of our public lands. This Forest Plan will put key conservation areas and values at risk at a time when we need to act swiftly to mitigate the worst impacts of the climate crisis for communities across the Appalachian Mountains. We are especially disappointed by this decision in light of the Administration’s clear directive to preserve and protect old-growth and mature forests,” Hugh Irwin, Senior Conservation Specialist at The Wilderness Society, said.
“The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests represent some of the most vital landscapes to support thriving populations of hundreds of rare wildlife species in the Southern Appalachians,” said Ben Prater, Southeast Program Director with Defenders of Wildlife. “At the very least, a forest plan should identify the known habitats in which these species live and develop the appropriate management actions. Instead, the plan falls short and outright dismisses the need to protect thousands of acres of high-priority areas for rare species.”