Unusual shapes and forms are typical in old-growth forests, such as the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness, in Graham County. Photo by Mike Belleme
Unusual shapes and forms are typical in old-growth forests. Trees shaped like this one, found in Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness, in Graham County, often started life growing on a large, downed log, or "nurse log," which has since decayed. The Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is celebrating the 75th anniversary of its dedication this year. Photo by Mike Belleme

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The upper loop trail in Joyce Kilmer is part of Nantahala National Forest and close to where firefighters have been fighting wildfires. For more than a year, an effort has been going to set impact how Pisgah, Nantahala will be managed for the next 20 years. File photo by Mike Belleme, Carolina Public Press
The upper loop trail in Joyce Kilmer hosts a diverse cove forest, featuring a variety of tree species. It is part of Nantahala National Forest and is close to where firefighters have been fighting wildfires. File photo by Mike Belleme/Carolina Public Press

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.

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Angie Newsome

Angie Newsome is the executive director and editor of Carolina Public Press. Contact her at (828) 774-5290 or e-mail her at anewsome@carolinapublicpress.org.

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