Deciding the Next 15 Years for Western NC’s Forests: The Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Management Plan

This year, the National Forest Service will share the first draft of a new management plan for Western North Carolina’s two national forests, Nantahala and Pisgah.

This big-picture plan changes every 15 years, and is incredibly important because it sets the ground rules for all activities in the forests: from wildlife management and timber sales on public lands to the hiking, fishing and mountain biking for which our region is famous. Everyone who loves our forests has an issue they care about that will be impacted by the new forest management plan.

Comprising more than a million acres combined, Nantahala and Pisgah are a central part of our natural and cultural heritage and a driver of our region’s economy. Generations of people stretching back to the first inhabitants of the Blue Ridge have depended on our beautiful mountains, forests, rivers and streams for their livelihoods. Our crafts, cuisine and culture reflect this deep connection to the land. Nantahala and Pisgah are also among the most biodiverse temperate forests on earth, with more than 2,000 species of plants, over 400 bird species (over 220 that rely on these forests for nesting,) and more than 100 species of mammals that attract attention from biology experts and enthusiasts from all over the world.


Looking Glass rock amidst Western NC’s famous fall colors. 

The blackbelly salamander, a native to the Appalachian Mountains.

To honor this heritage and range of virtues, MountainTrue’s approach to our public lands seeks balance and sustainability. We want a forest plan that:

  • Protects our wild places and unique natural habitats for future generations,
  • Benefits our region’s economy,
  • Includes timber harvest as a tool for restoration and habitat creation,
  • And continues to offer inspiration, adventure and solitude to all of us who enjoy these mountains.  

Previous management plans for Nantahala and Pisgah have come up short. The 1987 plan tilted too far toward resource extraction and put our wild places and sources of clean water and recreation at risk. The Western North Carolina Alliance (now MountainTrue) appealed that plan, eventually prompting the Forest Service to add a 1994 amendment with protections for streams and springs, and to begin restoration for old-growth forests that had been decimated at the turn of the 20th Century. But the goals of the 1994 amendment were not realized due to decreasing federal budgets, lack of political leadership for protective designations, and a lack of ecosystem specific priorities for timber harvest and restoration.

Fast forward to recent years: the early draft of the forest management plan released in 2014 would have zoned almost 70% of the forest for timber management. MountainTrue again pushed back, with thousands of our supporters asking the Forest Service for a more balanced forest plan.

Those of us who care about our forests are trying something different this time: coming to the Forest Service with a win-win vision first.

That’s why MountainTrue is an enthusiastic participant in the Nantahala Pisgah Forest Partnership, a collaborative group that has gathered in the spirit of cooperation and compromise to bring all forest interest groups into the same room at once: timber, water, wildlife, recreation, wilderness and more. We don’t leave anyone behind, and we believe it’s critical that everyone be willing to support everyone else’s values with the expectation that the support will be reciprocal. For the past five years, the Partnership has come up with a vision and a set of win-win strategies for a forest plan that allows all of our interests to co-exist and thrive.

The Forest Service has also received recommendations from other groups participating in the forest plan revision, and now we want to share the best of those ideas with you. MountainTrue, members of the Partnership, and other forest experts are hosting a series of public events this March titled “The Future of Nantahala-Pisgah National Forests: An Expert Panel on the Forest Management Plan.” The four events are:


With the forest management plan expected to be released this year and the draft environmental impact statement expected this spring, this is your chance to take part in constructive dialogue with other voices that rely on our forests. These forests are valuable national treasures that deserve the best plan around – we hope you’ll help make that vision a reality!

Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.