MountainTrue supports efforts to return fire to Linville Gorge

MountainTrue supports efforts to allow natural fires to burn in and around Linville Gorge as long as the safety of human lives and property can be assured. In the likely event that some natural fires are suppressed because of concern for human health and safety, we endorse the use of prescribed fire as a surrogate.  Our endorsement stems from the following beliefs:

  • There are rare and endangered species at Linville Gorge that require fire for survival.
  • There are many other species and several ecosystems at Linville Gorge that benefit from fire.
  • Fire is an important natural process.
  • The fire suppression of the past 100 years has been harmful.
  • Suppression of natural fire ignitions is against the spirit of Wilderness.

Linville Gorge is a priceless natural area, federally designated Wilderness, and one of the most visually stunning places in North Carolina. The Gorge is loved and used by rock climbers, hikers, hunters, anglers, naturalists and sightseers.  From a conservation standpoint, the Gorge is home to one of the largest expanses of old-growth forest in the eastern U.S. and unique assemblages of plants and animals.

A recent Forest Service proposal to allow prescribed fire in Linville Gorge has caused controversy and raised opposition from some people who own homes near the Gorge and others who have a purist interpretation of the Wilderness Act.

However, at MountainTrue, we are actively working to increase Wilderness designation in North Carolina, and we support the proposal to return fire to Linville Gorge. We believe that both natural and prescribed fire in Linville Gorge will benefit the land, ecosystems and the people of North Carolina.


A controlled burn at Linville Gorge/GaryKauffman

It is widely acknowledged that the 100 years of fire suppression practiced by the U.S. Forest Service was a mistake, that suppression of natural fires has interrupted important natural processes, harmed wildlife populations, led to massive and undesirable changes in forest structure and species composition, increased fuel loads and, in addition, made both forests and human communities more vulnerable to catastrophic fire. These are generally conceived of as problems of the arid West, but they also apply in the Southern Appalachians, and no place more than Linville Gorge.

Linville Gorge and the rest of the Blue Ridge Escarpment lie in the rain shadow of mountains to the west. The southerly aspects and steep terrain of the Escarpment produce soils that drain and dry quickly after rain. These conditions create a landscape that is heavily influenced by fire.

Linville Gorge stands out as being exceptionally steep and prone to fire even when compared to the rest of the Blue Ride Escarpment. Ecologist Cecil Frost has documented that Linville Gorge receives a high number dry lightning strikes compared to other places in the mountains.  According to Forest Service records, between 1955 and 1985, there were 17 recorded lightning ignited fires on the east rim of Linville Gorge, all of which were put out using aircraft under the misguided fire policies of the day.

Frost estimates that 10 of those fires had the potential to burn the entire east rim of Linville Gorge, yielding an average fire interval of 3.1 years.  A dendrochronology study of 300-year-old Table Mountain pines from Linville Mountain by researchers from Texas A&M University examined the rings of old trees.  This study on the west rim of the Gorge found fire scars on an average of every seven years, from 1700-1950, after which all fires stopped due to suppression.

The history of frequent fire at Linville Gorge has fostered unique evolutionary lines.  Most notable among these is mountain golden heather (Hudsonia montana). Mountain golden heather is known from only two ridges on Earth – both on Pisgah National Forest – and the largest population resides on the east rim of Linville Gorge. There are several other rare, uncommon, and common species at Linville Gorge that require fire to thrive.

hudsonia_montana_closeup_lgMountain golden heather has long been known as a fire-dependent species, and its numbers were trending downward, even with micro-burns conducted for it in the 1990s.  That changed in 2007 when a severe drought made suppression of an April lightning fire impossible.  The Shortoff Fire burned into the month of June and would have burned the entire east rim of the Gorge if fire fighters had not contained it.  While the fire was severe – more severe than most people would have wanted – and perhaps made worse by 50 years of fuel accumulation, mountain golden heather has since increased by 200 percent in the area of the burn. However, these gains will not be permanent and an ecosystem that evolved in a regime of fire every three to seven years cannot thrive under a fire regime of 50 to 100 years.

These are the horns of the dilemma: the conservation community now understands that fire is essential for maintaining the dry forests communities and rare species at Linville Gorge and the Forest Service is beginning to plan for the possibility of letting the frequent lightning ignited fires there burn, but they can’t do that, because they need to ensure the safety of homes built on the edge of the Wilderness.

One possible solution to the problem is to allow fire managers to set fires on the ridges of the gorge in conditions when the effects will not be so severe and the safety of lives and property can be assured.  With time, as the communities around the Gorge make preparations to defend themselves for inevitable wildfires, as fuel loads are reduced, and as the skill and comfort level of fire fighters increase, it may be possible to let all lightning fires in and around the Gorge run their course, allowing the Gorge to be truly wild.

The Wilderness Act states that, “a wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and the community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” The word trammel, meaning trap, is a key word in this section, as is the concept of human domination and control.

At the Western North Carolina Alliance, we consider the control of wildfires in Wilderness to be against the spirit of the Wilderness Act.  To be wild or a Wilderness implies that an area is uncontrolled, and the radical change of the fire regime at the gorge is to control, trap, or trammel the land and “the community of life.”

This has had many negative consequences.

Regardless of our opinions about fire and wilderness, we, as a society, hold the health and safety of human communities to be paramount. This means that if lightning strikes and causes a fire in dangerous conditions, it will be put out.  It means that the land and the species it supports need a surrogate for those fires that are put out to meet the human need for safety.

It seems to us that prescribed fire is one reasonable solution to the problem.

The U.S. Forest Service is in the process of developing a proposal on fire management in Linville Gorge.

At the time of this writing, the scoping period for the project is open until Jan 31. (Period extended as of Jan. 10.)

Hearing from the public will help the Forest Service develop alternatives that consider any issues voiced by the public. The Western North Carolina Alliance encourages people with an interest in Pisgah National Forest to study the issues and comment on the Linville Gorge Wilderness Prescribed Fire Scoping, whether they support fire in the Wilderness or not.

You can find the scoping for the Linville Gorge Prescribed Fire Proposal HERE.

(Download a pdf of this article HERE.)

Fire Loving Plant Species at Linville Gorge

Common Name Scientific Name Status
Heller’s Blazing Star Liatris helleri Threatened – G2
Mountain Golden Heather Hudsonia montana Threatened – G1
Sweet Pinesap Monotropsis odorata Rare – G3
Appalachian Golden Banner Thermopsis mollis Rare – G3
Mountain Witch Alder Fothergilla major Rare – G3
Pine Barren Death Camas Stemanthium leimanthoides Rare – S1, G4
Shale-barren Blazing-star Liatris turgida Rare – G3
Turkey Beard Xerophyllum asphodeloides Uncommon
Fragrant Goldenrod Solidago odora Common
Narrow Leaf Aster Ionactis linariifolia Uncommon
Little Blue Stem Schizachyrium scoparium Common
Indian Grass Sorghastrum nutans Common
Yellow False Indigo Baptisia tinctoria Common
Hairy Lespedeza Lespedeza hirta Uncommon
Appalachian Sunflower Helianthus atrorubens Uncommon
Clasping Aster Symphyotrichum patens Uncommon
Grass-leaved Golden-aster Pityopsis graminifolia Common
Maryland Golden-aster Chrysopsis mariana Common
Grey Goldenrod Solidago nemoralis Common
Wavy-leaved Aster Symphyotrichum undulatum Uncommon
Rosinweed Silphium compositum Uncommon
Silky Oat-grass Danthonia sericea Common
Carolina Lily Lilium michauxii Uncommon
Hillside Blueberry Vaccinium pallidum Common
Appalachian Deerberry Vaccinium stamineum Common
Table Mountain Pine Pinus pungens Uncommon-Common
Pitch Pine Pinus rigida Common
Sweet-fern Comptonia peregrinia Uncommon
Slender Spikegrass Chasmanthium laxum Uncommon




  1. 1. This is designated Wilderness Area, deliberate acts of burning is contrary to the Wilderness Act.
    2. The concept of controlling fire or the use of the phrase “controlled burns” is an oxymoron, and has no place in the discussion of setting fires in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area due to:
    a. Setting fires in terrain as steep as the Gorge has a high risk of becoming an out of control fire with many factors of unpredictability.
    i. Chimney effects where fire in the steep canyons will create its own wind currents, increasing the inability to control the fire
    ii. The inability to have men on the ground to work effectively in managing fire.
    iii. The duff layer is known to harbor fire long after it has been ignited and will remain beyond weather predictions, therefore creating risk.
    b. The first “prescribed burn” results in forest that is more fire ready than prior to the use of “prescribed” burning.
    c. With the first burn and its more fire ready state, the risk of wildfire increases to a a notable greater probability than before the “prescribed burn”.
    d. This burn plan for the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area was described by the USFS as one of the biggest or the biggest , therefore pushing boundaries of knowledge and experience, therefore is experimental, unpredictable, and of greater risk of catastrophic fire in the forest and surrounding communities.
    e. The plan to burn large tracts of land in multiple areas, multiple times, increases an already higher risk for out of control fire by another factor of multiples; in the meantime the standing “prescribed” burned forest is more ready for fire and will be in the vicinity of new burn areas so that escaped fire will have a greater chance of igniting.
    f. The concept or use of “controlled fire” in flat terrain is not necessarily controllable either, i.e.: the Croatan’s “controlled burn” in which 20,000 unplanned acres were burned when the fire went out of control in this “prescribed” USFS burn. That is the equivalent of 14 times more than was planned for the “controlled burn”.
    g. The “prescribed” burning of the Linville Gorge Wilderness will require ongoing maintenance with funds that may not continue.
    i. If the required ongoing maintenance ends, the suggested outcomes of “restoration” will result in notably increased risks of catastrophic wildfire and invasive species.
    3. “Prescribed” burning in its “successful” state will increase the spread of invasive species, i.e. the Princess tree, and multiflora rose.
    a. These species will flourish in the in dry disturbed ground resulting from the “prescribed” burn.
    b. The Princess tree’s propensity to flourish in areas with “prescribed burn” will cause further decline to the natural species in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area.
    c. Currently the Shortoff Mountain area has a large Princess tree population that can only be removed with chemical treatment.

  2. Do you accept comments that don’t support setting fires in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area?

  3. Where to begin?
    First i am Disgusted by your disingenuous use of the Wisemans View video because Linville gorge will not look like this if or when you suceed in destroying it. Hikers, fishermen, climbers and hunters and all wildlife will face a chared landscape. If you want to offer a picture of Linville Gorge, why not have the integrity to show what it will look like after you finish ruining it. There have been a few large fires in the LGW since 2000 and maybe your membership would like to see what it looks like a few years later…ill be glad to supply several photos for your consideration. Your terribly distorted views of the concept of trammeling are illustrated by the proposal of the US Forest Service to drop fire on the Gorge by helicopter –and THIS you believe is restoring the balence of the natural fire cycle? You dream.

    Lets take a look at your document above;

    You say there were 17 recorded NATURAL fires recorded by the USFS between 1955 and 1985…Did the USFS stop keeping records or did you just cherry pick the interval? Would the data after 1985 give a different conclusion?

    The point is made that lightening will cause fire, that the LGW gets more lightning than other places and that it is not a matter of IF the LGW will burn but rather WHEN. I agree. Note here that the incidence of UNNATURAL fire ( man made) has conveniently been ignored in your discussion. Why was it left out? The vast majority of fires both in LGW and outside of it are UNNATURAL. Fire would occur in Linville Gorge if lightening DID NOT EVEN EXIST.. Natural ( lightening) fires are not really the issue because in ANY kind of fire, Natural or Unnatural , the USFS is required to supress it. The LGW is long and narrow, its sides are steep and fire does not stop to recognize a Wilderness Boundary. The USFS is responsable whether they want to be or not simply to protect the adjacent private property. They would be sued if they didnt. So lets stop fooling ourselves with false issues.

    Now with, i count, 4 major LGW fires in recent years just how much MORE of the Gorge has to burn BEFORE we reach the magic point of so-called RESTORATION.? Can anyone give me an estimate here? I would guestimate that as muchas 40 % of the Gorge has ALREADY burned and submit that we are well past this undefined point. Ill go out on a limb here and suggest that there IS no science currently available that can tell us where this point is. What science there is, is honest but weak. We should not rush into a drastic and radical ‘fix’ based on science stretched thin to the breaking point. If anything we should be supressing fires more quickly and for the foreseeable future and not attempt to destroy a supposedly unnatural forest by even more UNNATURAL means. The Linville Wilderness is quite natural As It Is- Thank You – but i can not say the same about some of you.

    Im sure you are aware that the USFS has suffered cutbacks in funding. The cost of containing the LGW fires since 2000 is in the millions (?). Fire crews have to be flown in from western states, bulldozers have established firelines, Airplanes have scooped water from lake James — and these good folks have to be housed and fed… is not cheap. And to prevent the build up of flammables and avoid future catastrophic fires, the USFS has abandoned the Wilderness Act of 1964 and proposed preemptive burns – to the ground- three times – until there is no fuel ( and incidently ,no forest) left. Talk about overkill! I think that is the central core of this whole proposal: it is a long term plan to lessen or avoid catastrophic fire..and on this issue alone, it makes sense. If the USFS had the integrity to stick ONLY to this talking point, i might consider them credible.

    For the past decade of so the USFS has supported a program to ‘Restore’ the Peregrine Falcon to the Linville Gorge…Whatever happende to that effort?

    Instead we find other issues like the endangered species, the invasive species, the hemlock disease all worthwhile but now crammed in to legitimize in the public mind the idea that the USFS supports NATURE. They do Not. It is an ugly, disasterously thoughtless and heavy handed proposal and you people should have known better! — SUCKERS. Bob Underwood

  4. Thank you very much for taking the time to comment. The Western North Carolina Alliance was founded on the principle that protecting our forests is a local and global necessity. We believe that your concerns are addressed in the above article and encourage you to further communicate your concerns to the U.S. Forest Service as it undergoes this process.

    • …And thank you , WNCAADMIN for allowing me the space to express views here so very contrary to yours. Be assured that the USFS will hear these views also. But im not finished with you and there are other points i have to make and you need to consider.

      I share with you the very legitimate concern that homes adjacent to the gorge may be destroyed by a fire fueled by generations of Biomass and therefore more difficult to contain. Is there no other way these homes can be afforded some measure of protection with out burning down the ENTIRE Gorge? Suggestion: Trails are allowed by the Wilderness act and there is an entire network of trails in the LGW not recognized or mapped by the USFS. Perhaps some of these trails could be widened or re-routed and used as firebreaks or as Lanes for quicker response via a fleet of ATVs. Mechanical devices have been used before in the Wilderness area in case of fires – an exception routinely granted to the terms of the Wilderness Act. I do not know the state of the art in remote surveilance but perhaps inflared detection via a drome could establish the location and expansion of a fire quickly..

      If you must use the Linville Gorge as an experiment..why not experiment by leaving it fireless to accumulate flamable biomass indefinitely? No one doubts that fire is some part of the natural cycle but can you say with any real certainty where that part lies? I dont think so. If parts of The Linville Gorge Wilderness have already endured , say, 60 years of surpression ( about 20 times what you immagine would be ‘natural’), do these places show any evidence of ill health? Outside of the Hemlocks, the forest looks quite healthy to me. It aint broke: dont try to fix it. What would happen if the forrest were undisturbed by fire for say a thousand years? How unhealthy would it become? Maybe it would continue to change as it does, but retain its over all health. If you need to experiment, leave it alone in one of the FEW places where wilderness is protected by law and let us learn just how and when fire is desireable.

      We can agree that the forest is a constantly changing interaction of complex multifactored processes. Chestnuts are gone, hemlocks are dying ( no one mentions the locusts) and by itself fire in the LGW is not going to re establish them.

      Accumulation of duff over time must reach some limit where decomposition by moisture and microorgainisms contain it, otherwise we would find areas in the forest where duff reached depths of several feet. I dont find any such areas. I dont think we understand this process well enough to be messing with it.

      In regard to the Mountain Golden Heather ( pictured). Why should the MGH and the few other endangered species be the touch stone by which all other species are valued? You have listed 30 ‘fire-loving’ species. Why not list the thousands that are not fire loving? Does the tail wag the dog? Is it necessary to burn down the entire gorge to save this species?

      I have hoped to offer alternative ways of addressing wilderness issues to avoid the radical and insane proposal you people are supporting. Maybe some of you can think of others.

      I think the USFS now views a Wilderness Area as an economic liability to them where money goes in but none comes out. ( They dont even charge for camping permits.) They see millions of board feet of dead hemlocks that cant be harvested doing nobody any good….Perhaps the Linville Gorge Wilderness is not the real issue here but If they can suceed in undermining the Wilderness Act itself…..well, you get the picture. You are part of it.

      ..and thanks again for allowing me to post.

      Bob underwood

  5. This is a reply to Mr. Underwood from Chris Kelly, a non-game Biologist with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission:

    Hello Mr. Underwood,

    I understand you were interested in NCWRC’s thoughts on peregrine falcon with regards to the proposed prescribed burning in Linville Gorge. Since 2005, I have been coordinating conservation efforts and nest monitoring for western NC’s peregrine falcon population.

    The only concern I have is if the U.S. Forest Service hovers a helicopter smack in front of a nest ledge during March-May/June when the adults are on eggs or there are nestlings. I observed that once but I’m not sure why the chopper was there or whose chopper it was (it appeared to be a flight training exercise). Beyond that, the prescribed burn should create openings in the forest canopy stimulating herbaceous growth and stimulate fire-dependent species. This in turn improves foraging and nesting habitat for numerous songbirds, which translates into better hunting for the bird-eating peregrine falcon. I’m hopeful this effort will improve the table mountain pine community. Perhaps we’ll see the pine cone-eating race of red crossbills in the Gorge more regularly. Past fires in the gorge have created a landscape that supports a unique bird community consisting of house wrens and prairie warblers among the usual xeric forest bird community.

    As for nesting: Linville Gorge has produced over two dozen fledgling falcons since reintroduction in the 1980s. Pretty impressive! NC Wall and Shortoff are occupied most years. Nesting has been difficult to track at Shortoff the past 3 years. We observe from an extremely distant observation point so between their elusive nature, visual distortion by heat waves, and inability to hear them calling at that distance, it is easy to miss a nest exchange. The pair appeared to be feeding nestlings in 2012, but when I returned to get a nestling head count, there was no activity at the nest and the adults were flying around the nose of the cliff. Either I misjudged the nesting stage and they’d already fledged (I suspect this is the case, as the adults could have been tending fresh fledglings perched around the nose—something I observe at many eyries) or the nest failed. Nest failure could be due to any number of factors, none of which can be easily determined: predation of nestlings (red-tailed hawk, great-horned owl, or possibly a terrestrial mammal such as a raccoon or fox if the nest can be accessed on foot – hard to tell if this is possible at the Shortoff eyrie, but I’ve watched a gray fox running across the face of Table Rock on low angle rock and the falcons abandoned that eyrie for NC Wall), premature fledging (before young are fully flight capable), disturbance by climbers (I have not seen anyone violate this closure nor do I suspect it based on communications I receive from conscientious climbers, but then I’m only there a handful of times each season), exposure of eggs or nestlings to severe weather (hot or cold), etc. The forest above Shortoff burned intensely a few years ago, as you know, and is recovering. It’s hard to say if this would impact the local nesting pair at Shortoff. I doubt it. The adults will wander to hunt for prey, and I know the pair at NC Wall will take racing pigeons – so they’re probably not restricting their hunting to the immediate vicinity of the cliff (though they will hunt there too). The falcons at NC Wall were successful this year. These two pairs (Shortoff and NC Wall) are in fairly close proximity to each other and, based on our observations of adult falcons squabbling, it may be too close for comfort (these are extremely territorial, aggressive birds). The more habitat available for their avian prey, the better.

    All in all, I think the long term benefits to birds and other wildlife far outweigh the potential limited short term disturbance threat, and I anticipate the Gorge’s falcon eyries to continue to remain occupied. I hope this has been informative and helpful.


    Chris Kelly
    Mountain Wildlife Diversity Biologist
    Western region birds and Carolina northern flying squirrel
    North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
    Asheville, NC

  6. Ill note here that Chris Kelly is with the NC Wildlife Resources Comission one of the agencies that receives funding under the grant discribed in the CFLRP document. ( see Resources and therefore this agency has a vested interest in this project.

    I really have to QUESTION the judgement of Chris Kelly, the EXPERT on this issue…but what can i say? I am a hiker and not an expert on any aspect of forestry. Now if you, Dear Reader, want to believe that the Peregrine Falcons eyries in Linville Gorge Wilderness will remain occupied after the entire gorge has been burned three times in a period of 10 years…. you go ahead and trust this expert.

    I believe that whatever benefits the birds and other wildlife might gain from a charred forest will not be available to them for several years after the burn and they will FLY AWAY. But we wont know that, will we, unless or until the burns take place.

    Bye Bye Falcons, you have been fun to watch.

    Bob Underwood

    • Bob,

      I would note that you seem to have very little understanding of the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program. All the money goes to the Forest Service, and the Wildlife Resources Commission actually provides matching dollars to those funds, they are providing tens of thousands of dollars of matching money each year to the project and have not received a nickel.

      I think the reason you fall back on conspiracy theories and wild accusations is that you have some cognitive dissonance as to why any person with integrity would support this proposal. The simplest answer in this case is the true one: people who support this idea do so because they believe it will be good for the land and the community of life. While it would be mature of you to accept this possibility, assaulting others’ integrity seems to be your preferred method of communication rather than having a conversation about facts. Until and unless you are willing to communicate without making unfounded, inaccurate accusations you will remain irrelevant in this conversation.

      I commend you on your concern for the Gorge and for your energy. I suggest you invest some of your abundant energy into tempering your words and focusing your criticisms on facts, rather than paranoid fantasies.

      Josh Kelly

  7. Only one life-long hiker’s humble opinion here, but I am weary of the heavy handed management policies in our National Forests, and now to see this in our wilderness areas too, is very discouraging.

    I have always viewed “controlled” burns with a jaundiced eye. Mostly used for maintaining the timber resource, not wilderness integrity. I could give a rat’s posterior for timber revenue protection on our public lands!

  8. Joe,

    Your concerns are completely understandable, and in many Wilderness Areas, I would agree. I think Linville Gorge is a special case, for the reasons outlined above. The lightning fires there need to be allowed to burn, and prescribed fire is needed as a bridge to that, and as a surrogate for the fires that are put out to ensure human health and safety.

    Ironically, you are united with the timber industry in your opposition to fire. Fire suppression began in an effort to keep fires from scarring trees so that the trees would have greater timber value – though its not clear that fires actually do lower timber value. Very few in the timber industry support fire, most would rather use chainsaws to manage vegetation than let nature do it.

    Josh Kelly

  9. Josh, without going into futher recrimination, you are right. I have to wonder why anyone of integrity would support this proposal. I can not support the idea that fire is good for the land when a large percentage of that land has burned already within the past 13 years. And i see no one from your side who can tell me with any degree of certainty when the Gorge has been burned enough. Can you? Leaving any conspiracy theories and accusations aside perhaps you can tell me why the ENTIRE Linville Gorge should be burned? Or why, when 5 out of 7 of the burns i know about were man-made, you support yet another man-made burn to “RESTORE (?) the ‘natural fire cycle. Yes, i definitely question the so-called ‘Science’ but i dont question the sincerity of your belief in this ‘science’. I have Not questioned the honesty of this science — in my mind there is no intent to deceive on the part of those who do these studies – but i do believe the conclusions are weak and questionable and when this is the case the public needs to know. Experts can and do disagree. Before we rush into anything as drastic and radical as burning 12000 acres in a Wilderness Area, those of us who are less assured than you might want to know : WHY?

    In spite of 60 years of supressed burns, I dont see an unhealthy forest. ( with the exception of the hemlocks). But i do see a forest that is constantly changing from the Chestnut blight in the 20s to the current Hemlock infestation. Perhaps i would judge the forest to be currently unhealthy if i had the perspective of viewing it 90 years ago.

    Bob Underwood

  10. WNCA,
    This is a major federal action significantly affecting the environment of the Linville Gorge Wilderness and, as such, should have the full analysis of an a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), are you requesting a full analysis with an EIS for this proposal?

    • Lonnie,

      I think an Environmental Assessment adequately analyses the potential environmental impacts of fire in Linville Gorge. Some members or the NC Chapter of the Sierra Club have requested an EIS. The reality is, the cost of doing an EIS would likely kill the project, which is probably your desire. So, by all means, request and EIS if you think that would be beneficial.

      As part of whatever environmental analysis is performed, WNCA will ask for an analysis of the environmental consequences of suppression of lightning fires in the Wilderness, such as: changes in vegetation and wildlife; reduced populations of endangered species; toxicity of chemical flame retardants; severe fire effects resulting from the fire-fighting technique known as back-burning; tramelling of Wilderness due to human control over natural processes; etc.

  11. The US Forest Service has asserted aggressively that “controlled” burns are necessary in the Gorge while no fuel load studies or fire risk assessments were performed in conjunction with these claims. This endorsement to set fires in the Gorge is disingenuous at best. Citizens alive and yet to be born deserve every precaution that an old growth forest with the exceptional designation of Wilderness remain free from human management. Why would Westerrn North Carolina Alliance endorse and risk a reputation as a defender of wild places without the facts? WNCA activities appear otherwise altruistic. People that are paying attention can only be left to think that this $4.5 million dollar grant is more important than the truth.

  12. The idea that “restoring” fire to the Gorge is nonsensical given that a minimum of 4,000 acres of the 12,000 acres of the Gorge has had fire since the year 2000. If you have been to this part of the Gorge you cannot miss the thousands of burned acres. The upper third of the Gorge is a temperate rain forest with an average of 67″ of rain annually. The rain forest has shaded steep inclines with low light exposures that retain its moisture and provide the conditions that do not allow for widespread fire. How much more of the forest needs to be burned?

    We hear a lot about the endangered species and how they need fire, the last time I spoke with one of these experts I asked if it was fire that was needed or open ground, he agreed that it was open ground that was needed. When the expert was asked if manual clearing of the outcrops could replace fire, he said he did not know. Why wouldn’t this be explored before telling the public that fire is required for these plants, and that humans must supply that fire?

    The USFS process for controlled burns will use helicopters to drop incendiary devices into the forest to start the fires in the Gorge, and will be applied in the same areas two to three times over an eight year period. Any outcomes described by the USFS are predicated on the ability to control every fire they set, otherwise they will have caused the very fire they tell us they are protecting us from. This past weekend in Jonas Ridge we are have had steady 25-35 mph winds with gusts of 60 mph, these winds were not predicted and this unpredictability is the nature of the Gorge. The USFS cannot even promise to control fire on flat terrain. A prime example is the Croatan National Forest catastrophic fire started with the plan of setting a fire to perform a 1,500 acre “controlled” burn, instead the fire rapidly consumed over 21,000 acres!

  13. Where are the stewards of Wilderness?

    The USFS and the WNCA lack due diligence in all respects regarding their aggressive public assertions of the need for fire:
    1. Public notice in the newspaper of record was not performed and was only performed after public scrutiny of the process. Not only was it not published as required by law, effort to notify the community was poor to non-existent.

    2. No fuel load studies were done despite the constant public comment by the USFS that there is undue fuel load in the Gorge. The fuel load is the only reason that the USFS can use “controlled” fire in the Wilderness, and only pending the risk assessment. We are now being told that these studies will be performed after the public comment period. The public comment period has been poisoned by these announcements from the US Forest Service and supported by WNCA as the public expects the federal government and partners to speak truthfully.

    3. No fire risk assessment was done to determine the level of risk for controlling fire, despite the regular USFS public assertions that the risk is less than 1%. The public comment period has been poisoned by these announcements from the US Forest Service and supported by Wild South as the public expects the federal government and partners to speak truthfully.

  14. There are 1000’s of peer reviewed papers by scientists documenting the benefits of prescribed fire, and quite a few documenting the benefits of fire in Linville Gorge. Mr. Crotts and Mr. Underwood have made many unsubstantiated accusations, and present a typical refrain. When confronted with scientific evidence, they reply they are unconvinced, and cut and paste a link to an unrelated article. In full disclosure they should address that their major concern is protection of their vacation homes built near the gorge, which receive subsidized rural fire protection from fire departments and the forest service at taxpayer expense. This is the real issue as there is no reason to suppress fires in the gorge unless homes are threatened, and these homes should not have been built so close to a highly fire adapted ecosystem.

    Please validate your conspiracy theories with facts. Please validate your assertions that fire is detrimental to the gorge with peer reviewed research, don’t cut and paste an unrelated internet article from across the country.

    Why do you not get that the reason that many of todays fires are so intense is because of 70 years of fire suppression? Repeated prescribed fires do not eliminate fire, they reduce fire severity. When you have recreational users in a wilderness area, fire is not an if it is a when.

  15. This article stirred a good bit of controversy when it was first published. How much more poignant the remarks are today.

  16. If a place is to be truly designated wilderness then we must allow nature to take it’s course. I would advocate no prescribed burns but on the other hand advocate no fire suppression except only where human life or structures outside the wilderness areas are threatened. Fire is as much a part of nature as rain is and each should be allowed to run it’s natural course in an area designated as wilderness i.e.wild and free. To do otherwise is simply an admission of failure and the term “wilderness” is a complete falsehood when we seek to control the natural course of events by suppression or any other type of control. Either we honor the designation “wilderness” or we do not and if we choose not then it is not a true wilderness and never will be.


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