The Transylvania Times -

Local Partnerships Lead To Habitat Improvement On Local Public Lands


Last updated 8/17/2020 at 3:43pm

The Shared Stewardship Program's first project last year was at Cove Creek in Pisgah National Forest. The goal of the project was to stop vehicle crossings that can pollute the water. (Courtesy photos)

On July 27 at the N.C. Arboretum, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue met with a few state officials and local conservationists to discuss issues surrounding Pisgah and Nantahala national forests.

The meeting was held in an open-air tent and was limited in participation to meet social distancing requirements. In attendance was also the chief of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), the USFS regional forester, the N.C. National Forest supervisor and the USFS deputy forest supervisor.

From the state were N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler and his assistant, along with the N.C. State Forest Service forester and the N.C. state conservationist. Also attending was a representative of the Eastern Band of Cherokee.

From the non-government participants was Evergreen Packaging, The Pisgah Conservancy, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Council (FWCC), Trout Unlimited and the Hemlock Restoration Initiative. The discussion centered around the Shared Stewardship program that the USFS signed with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, N.C. Forest Service and N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission on Sept. 25, 2019. This Shared Stewardship agreement establishes the framework for these parties to work collaboratively on accomplishing mutual goals, to further their common interests, and respond more effectively to the increasing ecological challenges and natural resource concerns in North Carolina.

As chair of the FWCC it was an honor and privilege to bring the sportsmen and women's concerns for wildlife and wildlife habitat in the national forests in Western North Carolina to the table. The grassroots council has actively been engaged now for seven years, sounding the alarm about the decline with many wildlife populations in these national forests. This to date was the highest level we have been able to deliver this message. The lack of capacity of the USFS to maintain young forest habitat over the past 25 to 30 years has been devastating to many species that need this type of habitat. The upcoming Forest Revision Plan revealed without outside resources this trend would continue, thus the importance of meeting and significance of bringing N.C. State resources to action. Wildlife, in particular, is a state responsibility held in trust by the people of North Carolina and working with the USFS is a must in order to provide quality habitat needed for the state's wildlife.

Evergreen Packaging's message was one of aligning market needs and efficient timber sales to match both restoration needs and cost benefits. Oftentimes too much is put on the contractors, as far as road improvements or restoration needs, that makes sales too costly and unprofitable. In turn, that restoration project doesn't get bid on, which is costly and has no benefits. Having more collaboration up front between foresters and contractors was key in their message.

The Pisgah Conservancy (TPC) noted its success with several projects, with the Cantrell Creek Project being its largest to date. TPC has been instrumental in providing the groundwork that brings resources together to make projects in the Pisgah District come together. Just like habitat, many trails and infrastructure have not been maintained due to funding and capacity issues. As a private entity, the ability to fundraise and partner are expanded and will continue to be a huge asset to the Pisgah District.

Trout Unlimited noted its focus on water quality issues. This included many culvert replacements, with proper-sized culverts that allow for fish and aquatic passage. Also, several stream bank restoration projects have been supported on national forest lands.

The Hemlock Restoration Initiative (HRI) noted its success with working on restoring and treating hemlocks on both National Forest and surrounding state and private lands. The importance of looking at WNC as a whole was brought up not only by HRI but was emphasized by the state and the Eastern Band of Cherokee when discussing connecting issues around the national forest.

The Shared Stewardship Program took on its first project last year and is being implemented at Cove Creek Campground in Pisgah. This project takes the vehicle creek crossing out and installs a crossing that will allow aquatic passage without potential oil and gas contamination. The increased capacity to do control burns is another benefit for both forest and wildlife health that should greatly benefit from this agreement.

In today's world of doing more with less it only makes sense to look at partners to achieve unmet goals. If we intend on taking care of these lands to the best of our ability, shared stewardship may be our best foot forward.


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