By Megan Pettey
Several conservation groups are concerned with the future of forests in Western North Carolina after the Forest Service announced its updated Nantahala-Pisgah Forest management plan early in 2023. The plan covers over one million acres and will guide forest management for 10 to 15 years.
Groups including Southern Environmental Law Center, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, MountainTrue and Defenders of Wildlife allege that the plan ignores public concerns and jeopardizes crucial ecosystems, old-growth forests and backcountry areas.
The plan increases how much logging is permitted and opens up more than 100,000 acres — including old-growth forests —to the commercial timber industry. Old-growth forests store more carbon than younger forests, meaning more carbon would be released into the atmosphere when they’re cut down. Additionally, the plan fails to include priorities for ecological restoration, according to advocates.
They also cite a few benefits, such as increasing prescribed burns necessary for protecting biodiversity and preparing for climate change, as well as allowing the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians more authority over forest management. The revised plan also recommends 49,000 acres of new wilderness and grants new eligibility for nine rivers to receive National Wild and Scenic Rivers designation.
“I think that some good things will happen during this plan, but unfortunately, I think progress will be slowed by all the bad things the plan allows and the inevitable social conflict that will result,” writes Josh Kelly, a public lands biologist for the environmental group MountainTrue.