While a draft forest management plan is still nearly a year away, a group of recently released documents gives a glimpse into how the U.S. Forest Service might ultimately manage the 1.2 million acres in the Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest over the next 20 years.
Maps showing management areas, goals for each type of management area, descriptions of each of the forest’s unique geographic areas and a list of special interest areas are all contained in the documents that the Forest Service put out for public comment. And, while different stakeholders have different opinions on what’s been written so far, opinion on the Forest Service’s process seems to be running high.
The new documents divide the forest into 12 different geographic areas, distinct landscapes that contain their own unique ecology and identity. With each area, the Forest Service has included a description of the area’s history and notable places, a map of management areas and a list of management goals.
The Forest Service, compares the geographic areas to cities and the management areas within them to zoning districts. Just like most cities have areas zoned as residential, commercial and industrial, each geographic area has areas designated for interface, matrix or backcountry management.
It’s a markedly different scheme than the current plan, which defines 21 different types of management areas. In the plan currently under construction, just three management types — interface, matrix and backcountry — would cover the bulk of the forest, with a few other management types — concentrated recreation areas, administrative sites, Appalachian Trail, National Scenic Byways, heritage corridors, Wild and Scenic Rivers, special interest areas and research natural areas, and wilderness — appearing less frequently for a total of 12 different management area types.
The three main management types form a sort of gradient across the forest. Interface areas, generally about 1 mile wide, follow existing roads and are the places where human impact and population are likely to be the highest. The matrix area contains the most acreage and serves as a “connective tissue” between the interface and the backcountry. The backcountry, meanwhile, is managed to be remote and often roadless, with large blocks of relatively undisturbed forest.
In the backcountry, management will emphasize habitat for species that need large blocks of older forest to thrive, and while timber harvest will be allowed there, it will be used to accomplish “site-specific restoration goals” and wouldn’t happen frequently, the pre-draft plan says.
In the interface areas, management would seek to minimize any impacts to access roads or to the scenic beauty visitors experience as they drive past. Extra care would also be taken to prevent spread of invasive species, as spots closer to roads and other public areas are more susceptible to such issues. Meanwhile, management in the matrix will seek to make young forest more frequent — likely using timber harvest and fire to achieve the goal — than in the interface. Some road construction would be permitted to facilitate such management.
Open houses seeking input on the developing forest management plan for the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests are planned throughout the summer, with the public invited to learn about and comment on the latest round of documents released as part of the process.
• 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, July 11, at Tartan Hall in Franklin.
• 6-8 p.m. Thursday, July 13, at the Pisgah Ranger District Office in Brevard.
• 3-6 p.m. Tuesday, July 25, at the Cheoah Ranger District Office in Robbinsville.
• 3-6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 8, at the Brasstown Community Center in Brasstown.