The Feb./March 2013 issue of The Appalachian Voice briefly introduced the prescribed burn being proposed for the Linville Gorge Wilderness. The burning of this rugged landscape would be attempted multiple times over the next decade, ostensibly to restore the natural fire regime and reduce future wildfire potential. These commendable claims face serious logistical challenges in the daunting terrain of the gorge, and the controllability of a prescribed burn has been questioned by forestry professionals, National Forest Service employees, and even the burn proposal document itself. Nevertheless, NFS was moving forward with the project until word leaked out and public opposition quickly grew.
The merits and risks of the burn proposal continue to undergo examination by NFS and the public alike. Meanwhile, one thing is clear: this process would have unfolded very differently if the public had not become involved. Without the demand for due diligence, without the raising of valid concerns, and without the contribution of viable alternatives, this project would be controlled by that single greatest factor facing NFS at this time: funding. It’s a fact, freely admitted by the agency, that serious budget shortfalls are currently shaping policy. It so happens that funding has been allocated for those ranger districts willing to burn their forests, and the Grandfather District encompassing the Linville Gorge Wilderness hopes to gain access to those funds.
Without public action on the various issues faced in national forests across the nation, a radically different National Forest Service may emerge from this time of fiscal crisis. Just as NFS is under pressure to reexamine its purpose in the context of new economic conditions, we too are under pressure to decide what we expect in the management of public lands.
Jonas Ridge, N.C.