Stakeholders Forum Works to Find Common Ground on Draft Forest Plan
The U.S. Forest Service is releasing its draft land management plan and draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests, and the 90-day public comment period kicks off today, February 14th. Community members representing interests from across the 18 counties continue to offer input through collaborative conversations in the Stakeholders Forum for the Nantahala and Pisgah Plan Revision.
Members of the Stakeholders Forum will meet throughout the comment period to discuss the draft materials, pour over maps, and identify ways the final plan might meet the needs of all interests. The Forum includes many perspectives, with members representing wildlife advocates, local forest products businesses, wilderness and environmental advocates, state agencies, and recreationists (hiking, biking, horseback riding, paddling, hunting, climbing, fishing). “It’s been important to have all these voices at the table to learn about interests and look for balance,” says member Rob Elliot of Evergreen Packaging.
Stakeholders Forum meetings around the draft plan build on years of members’ engagement with the plan revision. The group began collaborative discussions in 2015 with facilitation by the National Forest Foundation, supported by grants and the U.S. Forest Service. These collaborative discussions, in addition to other public input and the best available science, have helped to shape the draft.
Developing a new management plan has been a long, but thorough, process. I have been very impressed with the knowledge and dedication of the Forest Service professionals and the depth of the science used to determine the needs and health of our forests.
The release of the draft plan and environmental impact statement is a critical step in the forest plan revision process that began in 2013, and the Forest Service is seeking public input during a 90-day comment period. The draft is the product of U.S. Forest Service analysis and public input. The document presents a range of alternative management strategies and the effects of various strategies on resources such as wildlife habitat, recreation, soils, timber, rare species and habitats, and water quality.
“We appreciate the hard work of Stakeholders Forum members and all the groups and individuals who have worked with us throughout this process,” says Forest Supervisor Allen Nicholas, “We are now looking for input on how we did representing the broad suite of interests we heard you express.” Public comments on the draft will be used by the Forest Service to inform the final plan that is scheduled to be released in 2021. The final plan will guide management of the Nantahala and Pisgah’s 1.1 million acres for the next 10-15 years.
The Stakeholders Forum encourages you to get involved during the 90-comment period. “Even if you haven’t been involved before, this is a very important time to participate and tell the Forest Service if what you value about the Nantahala and Pisgah is reflected in the Draft EIS,” says Josh Kelly of MountainTrue and an environmental conservation representative. Information about the proposed plan and draft environmental impact statement can be found on the Forest Service website (www.fs.usda.gov/goto/nfsnc/nprevision) and comments can be submitted beginning February 14, 2020 and through the 90-day comment period ending May 14, 2020.
The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests are a multiple-use landscape and the Forest Service is charged with balancing diverse public needs and demands while maintaining forest health and resiliency over the long term. Meeting these goals requires working through complex, and sometimes contentious, forest management issues, but win-wins are possible. “Participating in the Forum has enabled me to communicate better,” says Ruth Hartzler of Carolina Mountain Club and a recreation representative, “I’ve taken the opportunity to share where interests of the hiking community are compatible with the needs of other groups, especially in areas that at first may seem unlikely…When we focus where our interests are compatible, we can arrive at a solution that can be implemented.”
To help achieve the balance and support needed for an implementable forest plan that meets multiple and integrated objectives, the Stakeholders Forum asks you to consider many perspectives as you review the draft plan and raise your voice to comment.
About the Stakeholders Forum for the Nantahala & Pisgah Plan Revision: The Stakeholders Forum’s purpose is to support a collaborative dialogue amongst stakeholders representing diverse interests and identify zones of agreement to form recommendations around critical resource issues related to the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests’ plan revision. For more information about the Stakeholders Forum, please visit nationalforests.org/stakeholdersforum or contact the National Forest Foundation at (406) 830-3352. For more information on the draft forest plan and environmental impact statement, please visit fs.usda.gov/goto/nfsnc/nprevision or contact the Forest Supervisor’s Office at (828) 257-4200.