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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

Nantahala and Pisgah Forest final plan released

Looking Glass Rock, Brevard, NC
Sara Parlier
Looking Glass Rock, Brevard, NC

The Forest Service released the long-awaited plan for the million acres of forest in Western North Carolina. The plan has been in the works for more than a decade. Last January, the final draft plan was released, and stakeholders submitted their objections. 

“The forest plan is a framework to address incredibly complex challenges like climate change and invasive species, impacts from development on adjacent private lands, and high levels of visitor use,” James Melonas, forest supervisor of the National Forests in North Carolina, said in a press release.

The plan centers around four themes, according to the release: connecting people to the land, sustaining healthy ecosystems, providing clean and abundant water, and partnering with others.

It identifies 49,000 acres for newly recommended wilderness, adding to the 66,000 acres of designated wilderness already found on the forest, the release said.

“The revised plan has been developed with extensive input over many years,” Melonas said. “We appreciate the passion, creativity, and patience of all our partners and communities working with us to build a plan that reflects multiple values while ensuring our national forests are sustained for generations to come.”

The plan was expected at the end of January. A spokesperson declined to give BPR a specific reason for the delay at the beginning of February.

Melonas says one example of the new revised plan is the new Tribal Forest Protection agreement the Forest Service has with the Eastern Band Cherokee Indians.

Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Joseph Owle told BPR that the agreement has strengthened the relationship between the Forest Service and the tribe.

“They look at the management of these areas in a co-stewardship fashion. So including the tribe in these decisions and asking for input and then sharing in the execution of some of the projects,” Owle said in January.

The 361-page final plan, the 754-page environmental impact statement, the 95-page record of decision and all other documentation about the plan are available on the Forest Service website.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.