Nestled in Western North Carolina lie several natural treasures that are dear to all state residents, such as the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. These forests contribute to the health of the Southern Appalachian ecosystem, which supports and sustains us with clean drinking water, healthy air and countless recreational opportunities, including boating, hunting and fishing, camping and bird watching. Every year, millions of visitors come to enjoy all that the Pisgah/Nantahala and Great Smokies have to offer.
Besides serving as a home away from home for all those folks, these areas are the actual home of hundreds of different kinds of plants, including one of the world’s most diverse assemblages of tree species. They also shelter one of the largest populations of vertebrate species in North America, as well as dozens of different kinds of nesting birds.
Yet out of the Pisgah/Nantahala’s roughly 1 million acres, only about 66,000 (less than 7 percent) are permanently protected as wilderness. Meanwhile, the visitation numbers make it clear that there’s a growing demand for more protected scenic areas, wilderness and parklands. Nonetheless, we’re seeing a lot of those opportunities disappear as our national forests are increasingly threatened by private development, climate change, invasive pests such as the hemlock woolly adelgid, proposed highways and mismanaged off-road vehicles.