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Forest Plan in Action

View from US highway 64 just west of Franklin, North Carolina, USA. Part of the Nantahala National Forest in the Appalachian Mountains.
Alexius Horatius
View from US highway 64 just west of Franklin, North Carolina, USA. Part of the Nantahala National Forest in the Appalachian Mountains.

The U.S. Forest Service released the final version of the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan in February 2023, after a ten-year planning process. The strategic plan will manage more than a million acres of national forest in Western North Carolina.

BPR attended a Nantahala Pisgah Forest Partnership meeting back in 2019 when the details of the first draft were being finalized.

The Nantahala Pisgah Forest Partnership, an organization made up of more than 20 groups across the region, came together to collaborate on recommendations for the plan. In addition to the partnership’s work, the Forest Service has also hosted over 40 public meetings and received over 20-thousand comments.

A draft of the plan was released in February 2020 which launched a public comment period.

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. Those comments lead to an official objection period that ended with stakeholder meeting in August 2022.

After more than a decade of putting the pieces together, the community got a first glimpse at the complex composition. The final puzzle contains four main themes, according to Forest Supervisor James Melonas: restoring forest ecosystems, providing clean and abundant water, connecting people to the land and acting in partnership with others.

Alongside the final plan, the 754-page environmental impact statement was published as well as the 95-page record of decision which explains the reasoning behind the plan. All those documents and others are available on the Forest Service website.

BPR will continue to follow reaction and developments to the plan.

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.