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Protect Pisgah rally kicks off forest plan resolution meetings

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Lilly Knoepp
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A banner to represent the public comments that were part of the process to create the Nantahala Pisgah Forest Plan was unfurled at the Protect Pisgah rally in Asheville.

Tuesday kicked off three days of meetings to resolve objections to the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan. The plan will manage over one million acres in Western North Carolina.

There was a rally to protect the forest on Monday night in Asheville.

About 300 people turned out for the Protect Pisgah rally where organizers had a food truck, live music and vendors at the U.S. Forest Service district office.

Whenever logging was mentioned, the crowd made it clear how they felt.

“Boo!”

Will Harlan is one of the organizers with I Heart Pisgah – a coalition of over 100 local businesses and organizations. To show their support for forest preservation, the group unfurled a heart covered banner.

“All right so if everyone can spread out in a long line. We are going to unveil the banner and get this around the Forest Service so that they can feel the love today,” said Harlan.

The banner stretched beyond the length of the building and represented about 34,000 public comments submitted to the Forest Service. The 10-year-long process to work on the strategic plan included an unprecedented amount of public input.

“The forest is what brought us here. It’s why we moved here and it’s why we’re staying,” said Rick Swanson, who was enjoying some fries from the food truck. Swanson says he’s lived in Western North Carolina for four years and is an avid mountain biker.

Other interest groups like rock climbing, hiking and more were also at the event.

The City of Asheville is one of about 800 stakeholders that have objections to the final plan. They will be taking part in this week’s meetings.

“I liken this plan to a giant zoning map around Asheville,” said Mayor Esther Manheimer at the event.

“What we want to see is more designation that protects more of our water courses, we also want to see we also want to see more protection that will prevent logging around us,” said Manheimer as the crowd cheered.

The U.S. Forest Service was also at the rally. James Melonas is the forest supervisor for the National Forests in North Carolina. He spoke to the crowd about the importance of the biodiversity in the area and the need for compromise.

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Lilly Knoepp
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James Melonas is the Forest Supervisor for the National Forests in North Carolina.

“We always knew with as complex as the Nantahala Pisgah is socially, with the amount of use that we have, with the biodiversity – there’s no easy answer,” said Melonas. “What we wanted to do is to provide a framework by which we can work together in the future.”

One of the critiques of the current plan from some stakeholders has been that it’s too broad. Melonas says there will be important discussions on a project-by-project basis.

“We also know that when we get to a project, an actual place on the ground that we actually want to work, we are going to have to go through that analysis and collaboration at that project level as well,” said Melonas.

At one point during the rally an activist spoke directly to Melonas.

“It’s going to cost you a lot more to fight us out there than to save the old growth. I hope you know that James. I hope you see my eyes and you know that I’m not messing around because we are not going to let you cut those trees down,” said Marissa Perecoco.

Mary Crowe, an activist and a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee explained her ancestral connection to the land.

“We’re just 50 miles down the road but this is our traditional territory. I don’t have to acknowledge it, I know where I’m at. All I’m asking is for you all to acknowledge it,” said Crowe.

She says she has worked with the Indigenous Environmental Network since 1993.

“How are we going to protect this together? That’s all I’m asking. That’s all I’m wanting,” said Crowe.

The meetings started Tuesday morning and run through Thursday. The Forest Service hopes to release the final plan in winter.

You can sign up to watch the meetings here.

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.