A forest plan identifies short- and long-term management objectives such as thinning, harvesting, and regeneration, non-timber product management, soil and water protection, wildlife habitat creation and protection, natural beauty, and other important resource activities.
Resource specialists with the North Carolina Division of Forest Resources as well as professional consulting foresters provide land management planning services to non-industrial forest landowners.
Planning: Private and Public Lands
The American Tree Farm System, a national program begun in North Carolina in 1944, also provides planning expertise. Tree farmers are recognized by the Tree Farm sign, which is received when a significant portion of a management plan is implemented and certified. The property is monitored every five years to verify plan implementation.
The USDA Forest Service has several ongoing programs that monitor forest resources in Western North Carolina. The Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) Program has been tracking wildlife habitat, forest health, plant diversity, insect outbreaks, wood supply, timber resources, and other forest characteristics since the 1930’s. FIA tracks the movement of logs from forest to mill and surveys the location, size, and type of mill in the region. Additionally, information is periodically collected on forestland ownership, the reasons for owning forestland, and possible futures of these lands.
The USDA Forest Service Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center, located in Asheville, monitors the effects and consequences of complex stresses on forest health and provides land managers with credible predictions of potentially severe disturbances with sufficient warning to take preventative actions.
The USDA Forest Service Forest Health Monitoring (FHM) program tracks changes and trends in forest condition on an annual basis. FHM uses data from ground plots and surveys, aerial surveys, and other biotic and abiotic sources to evaluate forest health conditions affecting the sustainability of forest ecosystems.
Many communities have developed management plans for their urban forests. These include urban forest master plans or strategic plans, street tree planting and maintenance plans, city parks vegetation management plans, and hazard tree reduction and replanting plans.
Local municipalities in Western North Carolina monitor trees along city streets, parks, and natural areas by periodically collecting data on tree condition, size, damage, and defects. The larger municipalities in the region have annual budgets to track the vitality of watersheds and urban forests, including the removal of damaged or dead trees and the maintenance of healthy trees as necessary.
National forest plans are prepared in accordance with detailed planning regulations authorized by the U.S. Congress. The major themes of a national forest plan are identified with input from resource planners, the public, and in collaboration with those interested in the future of the forest.
The current Nantahala and Pisgah National Forest Plan was published in 1994 and is scheduled for revision in 2011. It guides activities on 1,041,451 acres in 15 counties in Western North Carolina and specifically addresses resource development, management, and conservation. The plan also established desired future conditions and overall objectives for recreation areas, trails, visual resources, forest roads, minerals, wildlife and fish, cultural resources, timber production, non-timber forest production, vegetative management, wild and prescribed fire, forest pests and disease, and rehabilitation and stabilization of eroding areas.
Several new issues have arisen or have become significant since the 1994 plan was written and will be addressed in the upcoming revision. These include invasive non-native plants, forest fragmentation, loss of the Carolina and Eastern hemlock, and maintenance and restoration of southern Appalachian bogs.
On a periodic basis, specialists monitor a number of resource conditions in the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests. They monitor trends in biodiversity (rare, threatened, and endangered plant and animal communities), timber growth and removals (softwood and hardwood products), forest botanical products (Galax, vines, ginseng, bloodroot, and black cohosh), and mineral extraction (limestone, dimension and aggregate stone), road construction, closure, and maintenance, and wildfires (number, acreage, and intensity).
They also monitor forest health concerns, such as damage from insects and disease (southern pine beetle, gypsy moth, hemlock and balsam woolly adelgid, oak decline, and dogwood anthracnose) and the spread of invasive species such as princess tree, Japanese honeysuckle, multiflora rose, kudzu, and oriental bittersweet.
Additional monitoring efforts include air quality (sulfate particles and low-level ozone), soil and water resources (riparian areas, floodplains, wetlands, water quality, soil erosion, and stream sedimentation), and maintenance and protection of vistas, recreation sites, and cultural resources.
Some monitoring programs are not sufficiently funded to accomplish necessary site visits and management treatments. Of particular concern are trends in biodiversity and the spread of invasive plants.
Planning: Conserve and Protect
North Carolina's Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), through the initiative One North Carolina Naturally, has created a planning tool to help prioritize land and resources of exceptional value. Other planning efforts include the Natural Heritage Program, which inventories, catalogues, and supports conservation of the rarest and the most outstanding elements of natural diversity, the Conservation Tax Credit Program, which offers a tax credit to promote conservation of ecosystem functions, and the Stewardship Program, which provides guidance and funding for conservation easements held by the state of North Carolina.
Blue Ridge Forever is a long-term campaign led by 13 land conservation organizations located throughout Western North Carolina. The goal is to identify and safeguard land and water in the southern Blue Ridge mountains. Their landscape level plan guides the protection of nationally or state designated ecological areas of significance, including wildlife habitat, high water quality, areas of cultural and economic significance and scenic value, and working farms and forests.
The Land-of-Sky Regional Council, serving Buncombe, Henderson, Madison, and Transylvania counties, is currently designing a regional conservation framework called Linking Lands and Communities, which will help guide future growth in those counties.
In 2005, the High Country Council of Governments, serving Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell, Watauga, Wilkes, and Yancey counties, created a description and synthesis of conservation activities and plans in their region. The new oversight plan reports on priority sites for future protection as identified by various organizations, local governments, and public agencies. In 2008, the High Country Regional Trail plan was created, identifying general trail locations and connections as well as 389 miles of proposed local and regional trails.
The Mountain Landscapes Initiative, a partnership project between The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina and the Southwestern Commission Council of Government serving Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, and Swain counties, identifies sound practices for clearing home sites and grading roads on a slope as well as guiding farmland preservation, affordable housing, and green building techniques.
Currently, specialists at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte are collaborating to forecast the impacts of urban growth on natural and rural lands in Western North Carolina. The project evaluates the expansion of urban development since 1976 and predicts the loss of natural and agricultural areas in 2030. Results of the study will heighten community awareness of the consequences of unmanaged development and provide important information to guide planners in management decisions.
The Southern Appalachian Man and the Biosphere Program (SAMAB) is a public/private partnership whose mission is to promote the environmental health and stewardship of natural, economic, and cultural resources in the southern Appalachians. SAMAB partners include federal, state, and regional resource management agencies, universities, and the private sector. Established in 1988, SAMAB has supported numerous projects and conferences that have improved communication and cooperation within the region. Among these is an assessment, completed in July 1996, that created a framework for future management of the region. The Southern Appalachian Assessment was completed by resource agencies with input from a large segment of the natural resources community and the public. The report assessed atmospheric, social/cultural/economic, terrestrial, and aquatic resources. The assessment revealed no major crises, but did identify several issues of concern, including outbreaks of forest pests, water pollution and water acidification, and forest fragmentation. The report also shed light on the types of changes expected across the landscape as the region’s forests reach maturity.
The Appalachian Trail is a unique corridor traversing the highest ridge tops between Maine and Georgia. It is considered a 'barometer”'for the air, water, and biological diversity of the Appalachian Mountains. The National Park Service and Appalachian Trail Conservancy, in cooperation with other organizations, have created a monitoring program on the 2,170-mile trail. The Appalachian Trail Environmental Monitoring Program assesses and monitors natural resource trends across the trail’s 270,000-acre land base.
In 2002, the U.S. Fire Learning Network (FLN) was created through a multi-agency cooperative agreement. Since 2007, the Southern Blue Ridge division of the FLN has taken charge of 2.7 million acres across Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. The FLN identifies specific plant communities, such as oak-hickory and pine-oak forests, in need of fire restoration, chooses and monitors fire demonstration sites, and educates the public on the benefits of prescribed burning. The FLN approach encourages the practitioner community to share experience and learning across geographies and to improve integrated fire management practices over time.
GeoBook is a monitoring tool designed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency primarily for county planners, watershed managers, or local land trusts and conservation groups needing a wide range of information on an area the size of a few counties or a watershed. It is intended for people who need geographical data but do not have access to the technical expertise or software to use such information. GeoBook provides a simple way to visualize local land uses and natural resources such as urban, agriculture, and forest land use, water resources, and demographic trends within a defined geographical area.
The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission Wildlife Action Plan (WAP) guides the management of the region’s fish and wildlife. The plan was developed to improve the understanding of species diversity, make informed decisions for all species, conserve and enhance habitats and the communities they support, foster cooperation with other regional resource managers, support educational efforts, and improve existing regulations and programs.
The plan targets imperiled animals and their required habitats early, preventing them from becoming extinct. Along the Little Tennessee River, biologists are stabilizing banks, reintroducing species, and improving flow management to restore habitat for threatened fish and mussels.
The continued availability of natural lands and wildlife populations will allow those engaged in wildlife-oriented recreation, be it consumptive or non-consumptive, to continue to enjoy their pursuit.
The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) is responsible for monitoring fish and wildlife in Western North Carolina. The agency monitors hunter harvest of big game animals (deer, bear, turkey, and boar) through the Big Game Harvest Reporting System. Population estimates are derived for deer and bear using collected data including age, gender, and non-harvest mortality. Annual hard and soft mast (acorns, hickory nuts, berries, and tree fruit) surveys determine food availability for many species of wildlife, such as bear, deer, turkey, squirrels, and songbirds. Bait-station surveys are conducted to monitor black bear abundance.
Small game animal surveys include the Furbearer Trapper Harvest Survey, which annually monitors beaver, muskrat, otter, fox, mink, raccoon, and other animals. Fur prices and fur sales are tracked by surveying fur dealers and buyers. Results of raccoon field trials are used as an index to raccoon abundance. Game birds are monitored through annual surveys including a summer turkey brood count, call counts of breeding populations of mourning doves, quail call counts, a grouse drumming survey, as well as wood duck banding. Hunter harvest surveys are conducted every three years to estimate hunter harvest levels of selected wildlife species.
NCWRC also conducts disease surveillance in wild animals, such as chronic wasting disease in deer (not yet present in North Carolina) and investigates and responds to various individual disease incidents. A less rigorous monitoring program is the Wildlife Observation Survey. In their professional capacity, NCWRC biologists observe and report sightings of species seen outside of their normal range (e.g., fox squirrels, spotted skunk, and river otter) as well as sightings of non-harvest mortality.
NCWRC monitors non-game wildlife including mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, fish, freshwater mussels, snails, and crayfish. Through the Wildlife Diversity Program, the Commission strives to prevent species from becoming endangered by maintaining viable, self-sustaining populations of all native wildlife, with an emphasis on priority species and habitats.
NCWRC aquatic biologists monitor fresh water mussels, snails, crayfish, and fish throughout the region. Biologists also conduct population assessments of rare bog turtles and salamanders and work to conserve yellow-bellied sapsuckers, painted buntings, golden-winged warblers, and cerulean warblers, among many others.
Since 1966, the North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) has monitored the status and trends of avifauna in the southern Blue Ridge Mountains. BBS data provide an index of population abundance that can be used to estimate population trends and relative abundances at various geographic scales. Declining population trends can act as an early warning system to galvanize research and management action to determine causes of avian declines and reverse them before populations reach critically low levels.