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Nantahala National Forest to restore wildlife habitat, forest resilience through Nantahala Mountains Project

The U.S. Forest Service is focused on restoration for more than 800 acres of the Nantahala National Forest. Today, the agency released the final analysis and draft decision for the Nantahala Mountains Project. The collaboratively developed project outlines goals and actions that will improve wildlife habitat, forest health, and forest resilience.

“The Nantahala Mountains Project is a well-rounded restoration effort with many components all moving toward a healthier, more resilient Nantahala National Forest. We’ll be supporting wildlife, restoring native tree species, and improving trail access for more sustainable recreation,” said Troy Waskey, Nantahala District Ranger.

Waskey also noted that the project will begin with some strategic tree and vegetation removal, including a carefully designed timber harvest followed by planting native trees that wildlife prefer.

“By allowing more sunlight to get to the forest floor, we’re creating patches for native plant communities to thrive. These new openings create a young forest, which helps insects, birds, like the golden-winged warbler, and larger animals who depend on these newly created habitats to find food and nesting sites,” Waskey explained.

The project will benefit rare plant species as well. “The American columbo, that grows in this part of the forest needs more light to flower and thrive,” said Nantahala Botanist Maria Dunlavey.

Two earlier projects, Turkey Pen and Red Bird (shared with the public in 2017 and 2018, respectively), were incorporated into the Nantahala Mountains Project Environmental Assessment after multiple rounds of public input.

The U.S. Forest Service led the collaborative effort to develop the project, including coordinating with the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Council, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that biological, cultural, and recreational resources were considered and protected.

The final Environmental Assessment for the project reflects the goals outlined in the newly revised Nantahala and Pisgah Forest Plan, including long-term goals for southern Appalachian water resources and watersheds. Notably, the U.S. Forest Service adopted stricter guidelines for protecting waterways under the revised Forest Plan. The previous plan, which was finalized in the 1990s, placed a buffer of 30 feet around streams and rivers. The new plan includes a more protective zone of 100 feet. The project also includes plans for creating two stream crossings that will reduce road runoff. These crossings will provide fish passages that connect enhanced stream habitat benefitting southern brook trout.

“We’re the Forest Service, but we don’t just think about the trees. Healthier forests mean cleaner water and better habitat for everything from salamanders living near streams to bats that fly through river corridors,” said Johnny Wills, Nantahala Wildlife Biologist.

Today’s release of the project’s final analysis and draft decision, initiates a 45-day objection period. The objection period is not a public comment period; only individuals and entities who have previously commented may file objections before a decision document is signed. This final step of the process builds on early participation and collaboration efforts, with the intention of trying to resolve lingering concerns before a decision is made.

For more information on this project and the objection period, go to: https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/nfsnc/?project=61088

For more general information on the objection process, go to: https://www.fs.usda.gov/emc/applit/includes/20160531Final218ObjectionBrochure.pdf.

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