archery lesson

David Whitmire teaches a young girl how to use a bow and arrow.

This past August I sat through the objection process for the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest revision plan. This was a three-day procedure and one of last phases in this now ten-year planning process.

While nothing is unusual about an objection process in a forest plan or a project, this one seemed different.

Due to the fact this was a collaborated plan and one of the first in the country, one would believe most participants would have recognized their interests and those of others within the plan, but what turned out was 800 objections (a potential record for forest plans nationwide).

By far, most objections were concerning the active management of these forests. While the hunters I represent did not agree on every issue within the plan, we recognized other points of view and their places within the plan.

While wildlife habitat and access are our main concerns, the objections to active management that create young forests was troubling for our interests because those objections can directly affect wildlife health and abundance and those issues in turn affect the long-standing hunting heritage in these national forests.

Forty years ago a drive-up Highway 276 in Pisgah would have shown a whole different user group dominating the pull offs: hunters. Through the 1980s, Pisgah was a destination public hunting game land. When other areas became more prevalent with deer populations and the lack of young forest habitat began to disappear in Pisgah, so did the number of deer and hunters.

What is the big deal with this plan now? For hunters, the amount of change that has occurred within a short amount of time for their sport is monumental.

The loss of abundant game on these national forest are big reasons, but there is much more. The amount of private land that was available for hunting in WNC in the past 30 years has shrank considerably due to increased development.

Increased fees for leasing in and out of state private lands for hunting has many returning back to public game lands. The increase of new hunters with the hopes of harvesting organic protein on public land has grown over the past few years.

The fact of now being a minority forest user instead of the once majority adds to the necessity of being heard. Last, but most importantly, hunters have been the voice for wildlife along with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission in advocating for improved habitat in the planning process.

Why should others forest users care about the heritage of hunters in these forests? If one is not tied to this culture, it would be easy not to hear or see the importance of what hunting means to local communities.

With fall comes conversations of game and stories that have been happening long before the first Europeans settled in the mountains. Many of our mountains and land features are named from hunting legends and stories from the Cherokee and our settlers.

These stories continue today through the experiences of hunters returning home and sharing their adventures and wild game meat.

While hunting is not for everyone, empathy for those who continue these time-honored traditions should be. Empathy for wildlife that need a small percentage of forests for quality habitat to flourish should concern everyone. Our national forests belong to everyone. As users of these resources, we should support our resource managers knowing their job is to manage these forests for the health of the forests. These forests, like people, are diverse. In return, managing for diversity is something we all should care about.

It clearly is not the Forest Service’s responsibility to save the hunting traditions in the mountains.

That job is for the hunters who value the traditions and pass that down to future generations by teaching those wanting to learn the sport.

Without quality habitats in these two forests needed to support abundant game, the future of the mountain’s hunting heritage is a dim one. While the Forest Service and hunters align with these need and the remedies, those who continue to object to active management take away from already limited resources.

Let us hope after the past 10 years of sitting at the table with all the user groups together that the past is the past and the future for these forests will be one of trust and acceptance.

The plan for habitat provided by the Forest Service will be effective for wildlife, but the plan also represents all users and the needs of the forest itself.

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