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Fraught Forests: A conversation about climate change and WNC forests

Elk and other large species are impacted by development in their habitats.
Colby Rabon/Carolina Public Press.
Elk and other large species are impacted by development in their habitats.

The Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest Plan is supposed to be put into effect this summer. The U.S. Forest Service strategic plan for over a million acres in Western North Carolina will have an impact on the land management for timber, conservation and recreation.

Carolina Public Press’s Jack Ingelman talked to BPR’s Lilly Knoepp about his five-part series investigating how climate change fits into the balance of land management in Western North Carolina.

In his research, Igelman says that the number of days above 90 degrees this summer in Asheville and the surrounding Western North Carolina region is rising.

“There’s no doubt that to make sure our forests are more resilient to climate change that they need to be more connected. We have to think of them as one contiguous landscape,” said Igelman. “And I think the challenge in Western North Carolina is that it’s growing really really fast and we are encroaching on those natural spaces.”

Extreme weather from flooding to drought are also becoming more common in the region. Igelman points to Tropical Storm Fred in Haywood County as one example. At a higher elevation, the spruce forests are a unique habitat that needs specific conditions to support a range of species that only live in the spruce trees. This includes the world’s smallest tarantula: the moss spruce-fir spider. The endangered spider is just a tenth of an inch long. If you want to see the spider, check out this 2021 report.

The five articles also highlights: what more extreme weather means in the region, the endangered high-elevation spruce forests, how large animals are impacted by development, what climate changes does to mountain biking and hiking trails and how to rethink conservation.

If you want to hear more conversations about Fraught Forests, there is a virtual panel on June 7th at 6:30pm. Register here.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.