In a show of good-faith compromise across a broad variety of forest user groups, the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Partnership submitted collaborative proposals to the U.S. Forest Service to be considered for inclusion within the Draft forest plan planned for release in Spring 2018.
The partnership is a collaborative group formed in 2013 by a variety of stakeholders to foster civic engagement and positive guidance in creating the best possible management plan revision for Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests. It is a citizens’ group that represents a diverse cross-section of public lands interests, including recreation, forest products, cultural heritage, conservation, wildlife, hunting, angling, and other public lands stakeholders.
The partnership is working to provide support to the official Forest Service Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Management Plan revision process, and has brought together over 30 organizations who have actively met for five years to identify and bridge some of the gaps of collective support for how the national forests are managed in Western North Carolina. While the group has been submitting points of agreement throughout the years this set of proposals is the most comprehensive to date. They will continue to be refined as the group digs deeper into complex issues.
Julie White, representing the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association, explains that “this collaboration among a diverse group of National Forest users is important in developing a forest plan that we all understand and accept. Further, it lays the groundwork for groups to work together in the future to protect our forests. Working in this collaborative group has helped me to appreciate the respect we all have for the forests.”
To compile its proposals, the partnership utilizes a variety of sources including national, regional, tribal, and local expertise with an emphasis on public participation and information sharing to reach consensus. The proposals reflect five years of meetings and individual stakeholder work, in which members and affiliate organizations developed and vetted proposals, shared concerns, built understanding, and developed solutions to accommodate all members’ values and interests.
“Sportsmen and wildlife biologists have worked to share the benefits of active management for wildlife populations and ecosystem restoration, and the need to amend the lack of young forest habitat for wildlife species,” says Chris Coxen, District Biologist for the National Wild Turkey Federation. “We appreciate this opportunity, and the willingness of other partners to include our values in their own visions of a well-managed National Forest.”
“Graham County is unique in that 70% of our land is federally owned. The opportunity to navigate the planning process with such a broad array of interest groups was one we couldn’t afford to ignore,” said Sophia Paulos, Graham County Economic Development Director. “The Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Partnership not only gave us a voice in the collaborative process, they also gave us the opportunity to build relationships with the wide variety of interest groups that use USFS lands in Graham County. We look forward to our continued work with our partners in the NPFP.”
“Truly supporting the many values of the national forest and finding innovative ways to move all interests forward was the key to consensus and meaningful agreements,” said Jill Gottesman, Conservation Specialist for The Wilderness Society. “There has been a belief that special places on the forest are protected at the expense of active management, and we are working to move beyond that—to build trust, support the Forest Service in their mission, and create a different paradigm than what we have seen in the past.”
In fall 2012, the Forest Service began the process of revising the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forests Land and Resource Management Plan, inviting public input and participation within the process. The Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Partnership is one effort where a broad set of interested groups are working together to support meeting the goals of many through the plan. When the revised plan is completed—which is now anticipated to be in 2019—it will guide management of the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forests for approximately 15 years. The Forest Service published the current plan in 1987 with a significant amendment to the plan published in 1994. The partnership has also submitted letters to North Carolina’s Federal delegation on legislative issues that affect the national forests, including reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, recreational trails support, and wildfire funding. Many members of the partnership are participating in the National Forest Foundation’s Stakeholder Forum, which has also experienced forward momentum in its process.
The partnership has received grants from the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina (CFWNC) and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation to fund facilitation of the group’s meetings and other administrative needs. In addition, many participating organizations have donated funds to match grants received. The partnership has always been an open and transparent collaborative, with membership open to all stakeholders interested in the plan revision process. Beyond the forest plan, the partnership is committed to creating a lasting voice for innovative management and public investment in the public forests of North Carolina’s mountains for the future.
“This planning process has been an incredible opportunity to learn more about how other user groups value our National Forests,” says Lang Hornthal, director of the sustainable forest products group, Root Cause. “Having a shared vision of how the Forest Service should manage the over 1 million acres of the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forest helps turn potential conflict into cooperation. The NPFP is committed to seeing the planning process through to fruition and remaining an active partner to the Forest Service through implementation.”