Wilderness areas could be added to existing national forests.
A scene in the Pisgah National Forest. Jack Igelman/Carolina Public Press.

The release of the proposed management plan for Nantahala and Pisgah national forests on Feb. 7 is the culmination of a process that began in 2012 and has been followed closely by Carolina Public Press since the beginning.

This timeline looks at  historical and recent events leading to the plan’s release.

[New to what this plan is, what it means and its significance in North Carolina? This FAQ may help you get up-to-date.]

Historic events

  • February 1905: The U.S. Forest Service is created during the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt.
  • March 1911: The Weeks Act becomes federal law and allows the government to purchase national forest land in the eastern United States. The very first purchase under the act is 8,100 acres in the Curtis Creek watershed in McDowell County.
  • October 1916: Pisgah National Forest is established.
  • 1920: Nantahala National Forest is established.
  • October 1976: President Gerald Ford signs the National Forest Management Act of 1976, requiring each national forest to have a management plan and mandating public involvement in each plan’s creation.
  • 1987: The initial forest plan for the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests receives approval.
  • March 1994: The forest plan for the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests is revised with a significant forest plan amendment. The revised plan serves as the active forest plan managing the two Western North Carolina national forests.
forum on the future of the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests
Join Carolina Public Press for a free public forum on the future of the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests. Livestreaming is available. RSVPs are required. Go here to learn more and reserve your seat.

Current process

  • April 2012: New U.S. planning guidelines, known as the “2012 planning rule,” provide a framework for future national forest land management plans that mandates more public involvement.
  • Nov. 20, 2012: U.S. Forest Service publishes a notice announcing the start of the development of the land management plan revision for the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests.
  • Dec. 2013: The Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Partnership signs charter. The partnership is a collaborative group of public land interest organizations. The goal of the partnership is to “create a lasting voice for innovative management and public investment in the public forests of North Carolina’s mountains for the future.”
  • March 2014: Assessment phase of the forest plan revision is completed. Based on public comments from individuals and organizations, the Forest Service identifies 55 items from the 1994 plan that require a “need for change,” such as the impact of national forests on local economies and the management of cultural and sacred sites.
  • June 2014: The Macon County Board of Commissioners passes a nonbinding resolution opposing any additions to the National Wilderness Preservation System within the southwestern North Carolina county. The resolution is among more than a dozen resolutions passed by counties and municipalities opposing additions to the wilderness base in North Carolina’s mountains.
  • July 2014: The Forest Service hosts a public meeting on wildlife habitat; ecosystem integrity and diversity; and wild and scenic rivers.
  • October 2014: The Forest Service hosts six public meetings across the region. The agency presents draft “desired conditions” for 16 forest-wide “management areas” to propose a social, economic and ecological vision for the forest. Among the 16 areas, two of them encompass nearly 700,000 acres focus on habitat diversity and restoration and would allow timber harvesting as a tool for management. The release of the land classification stokes concerns among wilderness advocates.
  • November 2014: Carolina Public Press hosts a public forum in Asheville on the forest plan.
  • November 2014: The U.S. Forest Service completes an inventory of potential areas that could be recommended for addition to the National Wilderness Preservation System. The Forest Service begins an evaluation of each of the area’s wilderness characteristics.
  • May 2015: The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission forms a “forest plan workgroup” to develop a clear process for providing input from the agency to the forest plan. The WRC manages the wildlife on national forest land. Restoring wildlife habitat has emerged as a central topic in the forest plan revision. Also playing a meaningful role in the plan revision is the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Council, a group of hunting and fishing advocates. The group formed in the mid-1990s and has become more active during the revision process.
  • June 2015: The initial timeline for the plan revision had identified June 2015 for the release of the draft forest plan and a draft environmental impact statement, but that didn’t happen.
  • Summer 2015: The U.S Forest Service provides funding to the National Forest Foundation, a nonprofit organization, to form the Stakeholders Forum for the Nantahala and Pisgah Plan Revision. Its mandate is to address issues of conflict and augment existing areas of cooperation.
  • December 2015: More than 40 organizations sign onto a “Memorandum of Understanding” to the Forest Service that advocates for two new National Recreation Areas in Western North Carolina and proposes an additional 109,000 acres of wilderness. The MOU sparks controversy as several groups argue that the discussion to create the MOU were held outside of the forest plan’s collaborative effort.
  • February 2016: Allen Nicholas becomes supervisor of the National Forests in North Carolina. The supervisor is the top bureaucrat in North Carolina overseeing its four national forests and the forest plan revision process. He becomes the third supervisor during the forest plan revision process.
  • June-August 2016: The Forest Service hosts open houses at each of the six Nantahala and Pisgah district offices. The drop-in events feature informal discussions on the developing forest plan and on local issues and projects.
  • July 2016: The Forest Service shares the results of the wilderness evaluation process that evaluates all areas included in the wilderness inventory and their wilderness characteristics. The Forest Service releases four possible wilderness alternatives and a more than 250 page narrative that explains the evaluation results of 53 land areas in the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests inventoried for wilderness and presented to the public for comment the previous November. The third and final step of the wilderness recommendation process will be analysis of the management alternatives that will be included in the release of the draft environmental impact statement.
  • August 30, 2016: U.S. Congressman Mark Meadows holds a listening session in Macon County to solicit feedback from invited stakeholders, governing bodies and emergency management agencies operating within the 11th Congressional District. The session is not open to the public.
  • September 2016: Buncombe County, the region’s most populous county, passes a resolution favoring wilderness designation for the Big Ivy watershed and Craggy Mountains, an area in the northern portion of the county. The Asheville City Council passes a similar resolution in August 2017.
  • May 2017: The Forest Service presents a draft portion of the forest plan that divided the forest into 12 distinct geographic areas with unique social, ecological, and economic characteristics that connect to the three themes of the forest plan: “restoration and resiliency; providing clean water; and connecting people to the land.”
  • March 2018: Asheville based MountainTrue hosts four expert panels throughout the region to discuss the forest planning process and presents a “win-win” version of forest planning. Three of the panels are moderated by CPP environmental reporter Jack Igelman.
  • September 2018: Forest Service delays release of the draft plan revision draft environmental impact statement citing the enormous volume of public comment that the agency must evaluate and integrate into the draft plan.
  • 2019: The Forest Service develops the draft forest management plan and forest management plan revision. According to the Forest Service, “based on public input, we have changed language in the plan, changed zoning (management area) boundaries and direction, and added a completely new chapter about places and uses that are important on the forest. We have also used public input to understand the differences of public opinion on how we manage forest resources, and to build a range of alternatives that responds to the range of public interests.”
  • Feb. 7, 2020: The Forest Service releases the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests Proposed Land Management Plan and a draft Environmental Impact Statement.
  • Feb. 14, 2020: The official 90-day comment period begins.
  • Late 2021: A final management decision is expected.

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Jack Igelman is a contributing reporter with Carolina Public Press. Contact him at jack@igelman.com.

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