Forty-two thousand: As of Nov. 16, that’s the count of the number of acres burned in forest fires spread across Western North Carolina this fall.
Six large fires were located within the national forests across the mountains, alone, while others have been spread across state lands. In the short term, families and individuals, classrooms and communities have mobilized to help the firefighters working to contain the blazes.
But, concerned with the relative long-term future of the national forests, some have been mobilizing for more than a year. Advocates, conservationists, forest watchers, business owners and outdoors enthusiasts and residents have also been working to help shape a U.S. Forest Service plan setting out what will happen to the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests for the next two decades. It’s an effort not without controversy.
Here, in the latest installment of Carolina Public Press’s ongoing special report, Forest Lookouts, lead environmental contributor Jack Igelman reports on the effort, which, when complete, will set the course for more than 1 million acres of public national forest lands spread across nearly every WNC county, not only as the region struggles to contain the fires, but also for years to come.
Paul Eggers, multimedia reporter with Carolina Public Press, also contributed to this report.