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Forest Service wraps up final Nantahala Pisgah Forest plan meetings with stakeholders

Rhododendron in the Nantahala National Forest.
Lilly Knoepp
Rhododendron in the Nantahala National Forest.

The final meetings to discuss the Nantahala Pisgah Forest Plan wrapped up Thursday afternoon. The strategic plan to manage about a million acres in Western North Carolina has been underway for almost 10 years.

There were three days of meetings to make the last compromises between stakeholders and the Forest Service. The discussions focused on changes to the plan with topics ranging from recreation and land management to wildlife and more.

During the meeting wrap-up, Rick Lint, Forest Service delegated reviewing officer for the plan, explained that one of the main themes of the discussions was simply “more.”

“I don’t know if we can make more of everything unless we make more of the Pisgah and Nantahala - yeah, I got a thumbs up there,” said Lint referring to attendees in the Zoom room.

Facilitator Nancy Walters, Deputy Regional Forester Rick Lint and North Carolina Forest Supervisor James Melonas on the meeting resolution zoom call.
Courtesy of U.S. Forest Service
Facilitator Nancy Walters, Deputy Regional Forester Rick Lint and North Carolina Forest Supervisor James Melonas on the meeting resolution zoom call.

“If you think about it that is some of the weight that I feel and that is the nexus that we are at,” said Lint, the Deputy Regional Forester for the Forest Service Southern Region.

Now Lint will work on putting the discussions from these meetings into the final plan. The transcripts and videos of the meetings will be on the Forest Service website by the end of next week.

Manley Fuller took part in the meetings as a representative of the Nantahala Pisgah Forest Partnership. The partnership is made up of about 20 groups from across WNC who have been working with the Forest Service on the plan for almost 10 years. He says he’s looking forward to receiving Lint’s comments in the fall.

“I think the meetings generally went well and the Forest Service appeared open to consideration of Partnership recommendations,” said Fuller in an email. Fuller is vice president for Conservation Policy for the North Carolina Wildlife Federation and is a registered lobbyist.

“We hope the Forest Service incorporates the Partnership’s solution-oriented approach to areas of conflict in the Final Plan’s Final Record of Decision,” he said.

The final decision on the plan rests with James Melonas, the forest supervisor for North Carolina. Melonas says that through the forest planning process, he has learned a lot of lessons including how to better collaborate.

“With as complex as the forest is, not everyone is going to get everything that they want but we want to show that the things that are important are reflected in the plan,” Melonas told BPR at the Protect Pisgah Rally.

The extent of corrections or changes made by the reviewing officer will impact how much time is needed to finalize the forest plan, according to a Forest Service spokesperson.

Right now, the main themes of the plan are: connecting people to the land, sustaining healthy ecosystems, providing clean and abundant water and partnering with others. Read about the revised plan here.

The Forest Service hopes to share the final plan in the winter.

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.