Over a million acres of national forest land now spreads across 16 counties in western North Carolina. The 1911 Weeks Act authorized the establishment of national forests in the east to secure favorable water flows and provide a continuous supply of timber. In fact, the first national forest tract in the eastern United States was purchased in 1916 in the Curtis Creek drainage in the Grandfather Ranger District of the Pisgah National Forest.

Over the years the mission of the national forests has steadily expanded. Outdoor recreation, livestock grazing, timber, watershed, wildlife and fish and wilderness are all multiple uses authorized by law on national forests. Recently, two laws, the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the 1976 National Forest Management Act (NFMA), have provided additional direction to the USDA Forest Service.

NEPA requires the Forest Service to take a hard look at the potential environmental impacts of its proposed actions. NEPA mandates that the Forest Service considers reasonable alternatives and discloses environmental effects of its proposals. NEPA also gives the public the opportunity to review and comment on agency proposals prior to decisions being made.

The 1976 National Forest Management Act was intended to resolve disagreements over how national forests are managed. NFMA requires a detailed ten to fifteen year management plan for each national forest. Among other things, Forest Plans determine what lands are suitable for timber production, how much timber harvest is permitted yearly, what harvest methods are to be used and which portions of the forest are recommended to Congress for Wilderness designation.

These land management plans also zone each national forest to allow for different combinations of multiple uses on different parts of the forest ranging from commercial timber management to proposed Wilderness designation. Forest plans also contain standards and guidelines for how a variety of resources are to be managed, including fish and wildlife habitats; water quality, outdoor recreation, scenic and cultural resources. NFMA also provides for extensive public involvement during the development of these forest plans.

The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forest Plan was issued in 1987. It was appealed and in response, an amended Forest Plan was released in 1994. This amended Plan provides the current direction for overall management of these two mountain forests. At this time the Forest Service does not expect to begin a full revision of the current Plan until the year 2001, or 2002 at the earliest.

The USDA Forest Service provides continuing opportunities for the public to be involved in management decisions on the Nantahala and Pisgah. At the forest plan level, the Forest Service keeps a mailing list for those interesting in the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests. Persons on this list will be informed of any future amendments to the Forest Plan, and they will be notified when the Forest Service begins revising the current Plan.

The public also has the opportunity to be involved at the local project level. As part of the NEPA process, the Forest conducts site specific environmental analyses for all projects implementing the Forest Plan. Depending on the extent and likelihood of environmental impacts associated with the proposed project, the forest prepares either 1) a categorical exclusion and decision memo, 2) an environmental assessment and decision notice; or 3) an environmental impact statement and record of decision.

The Forest Service provides a number of opportunities for the public to be involved throughout these project-level environmental analyses. First, the Forest publishes a quarterly schedule of proposed actions. This schedule includes information about upcoming NEPA analyses, including brief descriptions of the proposed projects, time frames for public comment, and where to write or call for additional information. Second, each Ranger District and the Supervisor's office issues scoping notices and seeks public comment when they begin the environmental analysis process for each project. Third, environmental assessments and environmental impact statements are circulated for public comment prior to any decision being made. And finally, those who have commented on proposals and still object to the decision can file an administrative appeal and ask for a review of the forest's decision by the regional forester in Atlanta.

Anyone wanting to get on the Nantahala and Pisgah Forest Plan mailing list, should contact U.S. Forest Service; Land Management Planning; 160a Zillicoa Street, P.O. Box 2750; Asheville, NC 28802. Telephone number is 828-257-4200; fax 828-257-4263, or email at /nf_pe/r8_nc@fs.fed.us. You can request to get on the mailing list for the NEPA quarterly schedule of proposed actions, and the forest's scoping lists at the same address listed above.

Additional information about the National Forests in North Carolina, including recreation opportunities, forest facts, news releases, and additional planning information, can be found at the forest's official web site: http://www.cs.unca.edu/nfsnc. Information about planning and environmental analysis for the other national forests in the Southern Appalachians can be found at http://www.r8web.com/.

Submitted by Terry Seyden,
Public Affairs Officer, National Forests in North Carolina
September 15, 1998