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I Heart Pisgah will host rally before final Nantahala Pisgah Forest Plan objection meetings

Lilly Knoepp
The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests both cover over a million acres. Pictured is the Nantahala National Forest in Otto.

Next week is the last chance for the U.S. Forest Service to make changes to the plan that will manage over a million acres of forest in Western North Carolina.

The Nantahala Pisgah Forest Plan to manage both national forests has been in development for almost 10 years. The final draft of the strategic plan was released in January.  There were more than 800 eligible objections submitted citing concerns ranging from requests for preservation of scenic areas to disagreements about the amount of logging in the national forests and much more.

Will Harlan is a scientist with the center for biological diversity and an organizer with the I Heart Pisgah coalition.

“This is our last chance. This is our final opportunity for the public's voice to be heard,” said Harlan.

That’s Will Harlan. He’s a scientist with the center for biological diversity and an organizer with the I Heart Pisgah coalition. His group’s objection will be discussed with the forest service as part of three days of meetings during the first week of August.

The objection period was supposed to end on June 21st but it was extended gather more input from all of the eligible parties.

The scheduled discussion topics are:

  • Day 1: Recreation, Land Management Allocations, Special Interest Areas, Wilderness
  • Day 2: Soil and Water, Roads, Forest Management and Ecological Integrity
  • Day 3: Wildlife, Plant and Aquatic Species; Climate Change, Monitoring Program, Next steps

These meetings are open to the public but only the official objectors and stakeholders will be able to participate in the discussions.

Before the meeting, Harlan and a coalition of eight environmental organizations and more than 100 WNC businesses are organizing a rally on August 1. The Protect Pisgah Party + Rally for the Forest will be held outside the U.S. Forest Service headquarters in Asheville on Monday, August 1 from 4:00 - 5:30 p.m.

“So this rally can really set the tone for those meetings and really show the forest service, how much love is out there for this forest and, and how important it is that more of this forest is protected,” said Harlan.

One reason it has taken Almost 10 years to develop this plan is because it was made with a new model of additional input from the public and stakeholders. The Forest Service hosted over 40 public meetings and received over 20-thousand comments.

“There are a lot of voices coming from all parts of the forest wanting to see more of the forest protected because this is forest is the backbone of our regional economy,” said Harlan.

Harlan’s objection letter on behalf of I Heart Pisgah says that there is too much logging required in the plan. It also states that the plan “fails to protect the entire proposed Craggy National Scenic Area. It fails to protect federally listed species and species of conservation concern and degrades biological diversity across the forest.”

“Protection can come in a lot of different forms and we want the Forest Service to use those many different tools: It could be a national scenic area. A national recreation area. It can be a wilderness. It can be designation of old growth. There's a lot of different ways that the Forest Service can protect the forest,” said Harlan.

Along with the I Heart Pisgah coalition, Southern Environmental Law Center, the Sierra Club, MountainTrue, Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of Big Ivy, Forest Keeper, The Wilderness Society, and others will also attend the rally.

Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer, Buncombe County Commission Chair Brownie Newman, and Buncombe County Commission Vice Chair Amanda Edwards will speak at the event as well as The U.S. Forest Service Supervisor James Melonas. The City of Asheville submitted an objection on the plan asking for the protection of the entire Craggy/Big Ivy section of the Pisgah Forest and more.

The timeline for the plan to be finalized depends on how these meetings go. The Forest Service says it is working toward issuing a final plan this winter.

Lilly Knoepp serves as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina. She is a native of Franklin, NC who 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.