The future of your favorite trail, river, or open space is being decided right now, it’s time to protect your National Forest.

The 1.1-milion acre Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina boasts the highest mountains in eastern North America, one of the most biodiverse temperate ecosystems on Earth, and is the source of many mighty rivers and the drinking water of millions of people.

Every 20 years, the Forest Management Plan is revised. This is the most important time the public can participate with National Forests, because the Forest Plan dictates what can and can’t happen on Forest Service land for about two decades.

Despite this fact, most of you have not been participating in plan revision process so far. I know, because there are hundreds of thousands of BRO readers out there and I’ve only seen about 20 of you at the eight meetings held so far.

Much better represented at meetings have been hunters that want to see more logging to boost deer and grouse populations in the mountains. Vocal people speaking up for the importance of logging have been very well represented. Folks valuing natural areas, old-growth forests, ecosystem services, and backcountry recreation have not been participating in proportion to their actual numbers.

The Nantahala-Pisgah plan revision will span at least three years – the process is more a marathon than a 5K. It’s important for folks to get involved early – to  become familiar with the content and jargon of forest planning – and stay with the process to the finish to ensure a quality product.

Concerned with the resilience of the forest? Concerned that the current recreation infrastructure may not be up for the growth of the next 20 years? Want a plan for adaptation to climate change? Want a loop evaluated on your favorite trail system, or boating access evaluated on your favorite stream?  The Assessment Phase is the time for all of that, and it runs through October.

It’s followed by a Planning Period in which specific plan alternatives will be crafted an evaluated, with many more opportunities to advocate for the values you love on the forest. Sometime in late 2015 or beyond, a specific Forest Plan will be chosen and then implemented for up to 20 years.

When you participate in public meetings or provide written comments on the forest plan, there are a number of ways you can advocate for the health of the forest and for the recreational experiences you love.  Some of the critical issues to address in this forest plan include:

  1. Ensuring that enough of the Forest Service’s resources are directed towards providing and maintaining the outdoor recreation infrastructure that is the heart of our region’s tourist economy
  2. Making ecological restoration of the natural communities of the forest a priority in the plan
  3. Maintaining and increasing riparian area buffers to ensure water quality and an enjoyable experience while swimming, wading and paddling
  4. Creating protected corridors along longer distance trails like the Appalachian, Bartram, Art Loeb, Chunky Gal, and Mountains-To-Sea Trails to help provide migration corridors for wildlife and knit together protected areas
  5. Making sure the plan considers and addresses present and future threats like non-native organisms and climate change

Find information on the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan Revision at wnca.org.

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