ASHEVILLE, N.C.— More than 14,000 objections have been filed in opposition to the federal plan for the Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina, marking the highest number ever received by the U.S. Forest Service over such a plan.
This record-setting number of objections highlights the widespread opposition to the plan, which seeks to quadruple logging in the country’s most-visited national forest while reducing protections for its most important recreation and conservation areas.
The forest plan is a blueprint for the next three decades of forest management. It is a map that decides which parts of the forest will be logged and which will be protected. The Pisgah-Nantahala Forest Plan proposes opening more than 60% of the forest to logging over the next 30 years.
“The Forest Service had an easy lay-up, but they completely missed the rim,” said Dr. Jeffrey Graham, an Asheville physician and mountain biker who objected to the plan. “Fortunately, there is still time on the clock to fix it.”
Objections were filed by a broad array of organizations and individuals encompassing thousands of forest users, more than 100 businesses and dozens of organizations, including the Center for Biological Diversity.
In addition, city officials in Asheville — the largest and most populous city in the Pisgah-Nantahala footprint — objected to the plan for its failure to protect ancient forests and popular trails just 15 miles from downtown. Buncombe County also objected to the forest plan for failing to protect the proposed Craggy National Scenic Area viewshed and the headwaters of the Ivy River, the municipal drinking water source for the town of Weaverville.
The Center recently released a report card of the plan, which issued failing grades in most categories for inadequately protecting the forest, wildlife and recreation.
“The deluge of public objections have sent a clear and powerful message that the Forest Service needs to protect this forest,” said Will Harlan, a senior campaigner at the Center. “The Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest is far more valuable standing than cut down.”
Other forest plans have received only a handful of objections in recent years. For example, New Mexico’s Cibola National Forest Plan received six objections last year. Only one objection was leveled against South Carolina’s Francis Marion National Forest in 2017. Alaska’s Chugach National Forest received 46 objections in 2019.
In addition to the unprecedented number of objections, the Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest also received a record-setting 22,000 public comments as the plan was being drafted, with more than 92% supporting stronger protections for the forest. More than 10,000 of these comments supported fully protecting the proposed Craggy National Scenic Area.
But the final plan issued by the Forest Service instead pursued its own agenda, quadrupling timber harvests and weakening protections for the 1-million-acre forest — and placing 4,000 acres of the proposed Craggy National Scenic Area within its highest-priority logging designations.
The 60-day objection period closed yesterday and the Forest Service now has a three-month period to resolve objections.
“This 1-million-acre national forest belongs to all of us,” said Emily Diznoff, a trail runner and one of the 14,000 people who objected to the forest plan. “The public has spoken loudly and clearly that they want to see more of the forest protected. We hope that the Forest Service is listening.”
The Southern Environmental Law Center, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of Big Ivy, The Wilderness Society, Forest Keeper, Save the Ivy River and MountainTrue similarly objected to the plan. Student organizations from UNC-Asheville filed objections, as did hiking groups and coalitions of scientists and health professionals.