The Nantahala & Pisgah National Forest’s (the Forests) Forest Plan was finalized on February 17, 2023. RGS & AWS has been deeply engaged throughout the Forest Plan revision process advocating for the habitat needs of ruffed grouse, forest wildlife, and forest health. This includes comments we submitted to the draft Forest Plan on June 29, 2020, and objections we submitted to the revised Forest Plan on March 22, 2022.
Combined, the Nantahala & Pisgah National Forests total about 1.04 million acres in western North Carolina and contain a large proportion of mid- to high-elevation sites within their boundaries, representing one of the best opportunities to benefit ruffed grouse in this part of their range.
In our comments and objection, RGS & AWS strongly advocated for increased active forest management for young and open forest creation, increased commercial timber harvests as the most cost-effective means to achieve desired conditions, and Management Area allocations that are less restrictive to active forest management actions.
The good news is that there’s a lot about the final Forest Plan that we like! The final Forest Plan will:
- Double annual young forest creation (up to 1,200 acres) and accomplish even more with the help of partners like RGS & AWS (up to 3,200 acres annually). Achieving 3,200 acres per year will maintain up to 90,000 acres in young forest habitat long-term as a mosaic.
- Increases the amount of land operable to timber management from 430,000 to 505,000 acres. This includes 245,000 acres that are commercially viable currently.
- With this, 270,000 acres are modeled to be impacted by active forest management with the help of partners.
Combined, these increases lay the groundwork to create and maintain 4-9% young forest and 9-19% open forest conditions long-term, based on the Forest Service’s modeling in their Final Environmental Impact Statement.
Table 1: The 2023 final Forest Plan increases active forest management for the benefit of wildlife species on the Nantahala & Pisgah National Forests across multiple decision categories.
|Decision||Previous 1994 Forest Plan||Final 2022 Forest Plan|
|Young forest creation (annual acres)||650||3,200|
|Acres suited for timber production||361,176||458,027|
|Land operable for timber management (total)||206,000- 430,000 acres||233,000- 505,000 acres|
|Land operable for timber management (commercially viable currently)||98,000- 216,000 acres||108,000- 245,000 acres|
|Intermediate thinning treatments (annual acres)||150||600|
|Thin and burn for open forest woodland (annual acres)||N/A||900|
|Prescribed fire (annual acres)||8,500||45,000|
|Projected timber sale quantity (MMCF)||2.1||9.4|
In addition to our engagement in the formal comment and objection processes, RGS & AWS have been active on a daily basis engaging with partners, stakeholders, and the US Forest Service on navigating the planning process and developing strategies for how to implement the new Forest Plan.
Moving forward, we are all-in on collaborating with the Forest Service and pragmatic partners to get to the higher tiered objectives for young and open forest creation outlined in the Forest Plan. We plan to leverage partnership agreements (including stewardship), external funding, and collaborative support to provide capacity in the form of wildlife foresters to plan and implement projects on-the-ground.
We are planning to implement our first stewardship project with the Nantahala National Forest this year, which includes commercial timber harvests across 191 acres and noncommercial habitat improvements such as tree planting, road maintenance, and crop tree release. We plan to build on this success and meaningfully increase the Forest Service’s ability to implement their new plan in an unprecedented, additive way.
RGS & AWS are putting our best foot forward with Nantahala & Pisgah National Forests, and across the Southern Appalachians, to increase healthy forests and abundant wildlife in the region. The positive decisions that we see in the Forest Plan are undoubtably in part due to RGS & AWS’s robust engagement in the planning process. I’m not sure that would be the case if we hadn’t been at the table over the past 2.5 years! We are moving-the-needle on multiple fronts, including in public lands advocacy, project planning and development, and project implementation, and we couldn’t do it without your support!
Forest Conservation Director
Southern Appalachian Region (NC, SC, GA, TN, KY, VA)
Ruffed Grouse Society & American Woodcock Society