Western NC counties want a voice in forest study

Eamon Queeney—North State Journal
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.)speaks to delegates during the North Carolina Delegate Breakfast at the Marriott Cleveland East onJuly 20

WASHINGTON, D.C. — County commissioners in Western N.C. say a new measure attached to the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015 will give that part of the state more control over the forests there. The amendment sponsored by Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) would require that the U.S. Forest Service get county approval before designating land in the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests as a wilderness study area.”States and counties know best how to manage and conserve their own land — not federal government bureaucrats. However, in North Carolina, we have seen the federal government grossly overreach by preventing residents in many counties from utilizing their own land as they see fit. My amendment will help ensure that North Carolina counties ultimately decide whether to designate new land as wilderness, empowering local officials and hardworking taxpayers with a key say in the decision-making process,” said Tillis.County commissioners around the forests say that the current system is a blow to property tax values and keeps residents from using the land for hunting and fishing.”Swain County is totally opposed to any new land being designated as wilderness or wilderness study areas,” said David Monteith, Swain County Commissioner. “Nearly 90 percent of Swain County is already controlled by the federal government and we cannot afford to give any more of the remaining private land to federal bureaucrats.” “The United States Forest Services owns 48 percent of the property in Clay County, N.C., and our rural county has Tier 1 designation as a very impoverished and economically distressed county,” said Clay Logan, the Clay County Commissioner. “One of the biggest draws of our county is the recreation provided by the national forest lands. People seek out our county to take advantage of the hunting, fishing, hiking, and camping opportunities that are available here. These lands have a large impact on our economic development. Any additional lands that are put into wilderness study areas will be very detrimental to our county in numerous ways. Lands that are designated as a study area will not be accessible by road and there will be no way to enter the land except on foot. This kind of access will eliminate handicap access and it also will eliminate the timber harvesting which supports our school system.”The amendment was approved by the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry this week.