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The final Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan is expected at the end of January

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

Updated February 2, 2023:

The U.S. Forest Service says it is still working to finalize the Nantahala and Pisgah Forest Plan.

The plan, which will manage a million acres of national forest in the region, was expected to be completed in January.

A spokesperson declined to give a specific reason for the delay but says the administrative process is ongoing and there will be an update soon.

Originally published January 23, 2023:

The U.S. Forest Service is getting closer to sharing the new Nantahala Pisgah Forest Plan.

BPR spoke to North Carolina Forest Supervisor James Melonas early last week.

“I can’t give an exact date but everyday we are getting closer and closer,” Melonas said.

The Forest Service announced Thursday it issued a response to all 800 eligible objections made by people or groups who previously commented on the plan.

Individuals and organizations had 60-days for final objections on the draft plan but only if they had previously commented. Many of the other objections weren’t eligible because they came from people who hadn’t commented before.

“I am humbled by the number of people interested in their local forests, and I appreciate everyone’s participation in the process. They clarified issues and provided ideas to improve the final plan,” Deputy Regional Forester Rick Lint, the reviewing officer, said in a press release.

The new revised plan has been a decade in the making. The current plan was created in 1987 and has not been changed significantly since 1994, according to the Forest Service.

In January 2022, the final draft plan was released, and stakeholders submitted their objections. The Forest Service sorted through almost 14,000 public comments during this period to determine that 800 objections were “eligible” for conversations about revision.

Local groups such as the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Partnership, the City of Asheville, the Friends of Panthertown, Cherokee County and other groups submitted objections to the plan.

This revision was kicked off by a rally held by Protect Pisgah at the district office in Asheville.

In August, the Forest Service had their final meeting with stakeholders to come together on revisions for the plan on a project-by-project basis.

“I think the meetings generally went well and the Forest Service appeared open to consideration of Partnership recommendations,” Manley Fuller who took part in the meetings as a representative of the Nantahala Pisgah Forest Partnership said.

About six months later, the stakeholders will find out what changes were made to the plan. The objection review process ensures the revised final plan meets current law, regulation and policy, according to the Forest Service.

In a press release the Forest Service shared a summary of changes:

• Wild and Scenic Rivers: Added a newly eligible Wild and Scenic River segment for the North Fork French Broad River, with a recreational classification. Designation as a wild and scenic river is our nation’s strongest form of protection for freeflowing rivers and streams.

• Special Designations: Voluntarily expanded the amount of Special Interest Area management in the Big Ivy/Craggy Mountain and Shope Creek areas, recognizing the ecological, scenic and recreational value of the land. The plan expands the area to more than 12,200 acres overall, an increase of about 800 acres.

• Species protections: Clarified how the plan protects species of conservation concern and the recovery of federally listed species.

• Sustainable Recreation: Clarified aspects of management for user guidance on managing climbing routes through unique created trails, updated habitats, and added management approaches related to visitor management at equestrian campgrounds, all based on input from objectors.

• Updated process documentation on ecological modeling, species analyses and Wild and Scenic Rivers evaluations.

The final plan is expected to be shared at the end of the month.

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.