Lengthy and interesting article by Jack Igelman on the Nantahala and Pisgah forest planning process. Theirs is particularly interesting because they have two collaborative groups, and because they are in a part of the country with very different history, culture and so on from the West. They’re fortunate (and so are we) that they have a reporter with the patience and fortitude to dig into the complexities of the people and the process.
It’s worth reading in its entirety, and I’ve just selected a couple of paragraphs below. There is also a discussion of the “two-tiered” approach.
What were the issues?
According to the comments of the Stakeholders Forum, the key issues are forestry and restoration, special designations, sustainable recreation and wildlife.
While the members agreed on “general values” associated with those issues, they disagreed on the “mechanisms” to achieve a range of conservation, recreational and economic objectives.
“The elephant in the room was the issue of wilderness,” Prater said.
Some members were concerned that the proposed plan may open land for timber harvesting that is also suitable for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System. Alternatively, other members were concerned about overly restricting the ability to harvest trees for restoration or economic purposes.
According to the comments submitted by the Stakeholders Forum, “some members strongly support wilderness recommendations; some are willing to live with wilderness recommendations; and some are not supportive of wilderness recommendations.”
Prater said the Stakeholders Forum fell short on specific recommendations, “but we identified fertile ground for compromise. It’s a process. We admitted to areas that we couldn’t reach agreement that are too volatile or controversial, but acknowledged they exist.”
Lang Hornthal of EcoForesters, a nonprofit forestry organization based in Asheville and a member of both collaboratives, said the Stakeholders Forum’s final comments also helped explain why some interests disagree.
“The narrative on forest planning is that the public hears just one side of the debate within the lens of what’s important to them, whether that’s the need for more wilderness or more active forest management,” Hornthal said. “The Stakeholders Forum served the purpose of helping the Forest Service better understand where conflict lies.”
Whitmire said one barrier to reaching consensus was that many of the participants had constituents to serve, himself included.
“I didn’t want to let sportsmen down,” he said. “Hunters and fishermen are really in tune with the forest, and sportsmen felt like we had a story to tell.”
What was beneficial, he said, was forming working relationships with other interests and demonstrating to the Forest Service what we “can agree on and don’t agree on.”
For example, members did not agree with how to approach old growth in the plan and that “there is no singular definition for ‘old growth’ that is broadly agreed upon across stakeholders,” and there was disagreement regarding the amount of inventoried old growth in the forests.
While the Stakeholders Forum was not as specific as the Partnership’s recommendations, members said the dialogue that occurred over several years was meaningful, especially for sportsmen, whose central concern was that game populations are suffering due to aging forests.
For example, he said, the Forest Service should focus future projects in noncontroversial areas of the forests. Specifically, it should tread carefully in places where there is old-growth forest or areas that are recognized in the state Natural Heritage Program for their extraordinary biodiversity.
A case in point is the controversial Buck Project decision to harvest trees and restore forest in Clay County in Nantahala National Forest.
The decision, made in June, infuriated environmentalists, who said the project will harvest trees in sensitive areas of the forest that contain old growth and unique plant and animal species.
“In our viewpoint, it’s not that complicated,” he said. “If there is uncertainty around areas with old growth or unique species, then we need to tread lightly and err on the side of doing less.”
I wonder whether it would make sense to delineate the noncontroversial areas up front as part of the forest plan? Or whether that is part of the plan (perhaps suitable acres are also noncontroversail?)