The U.S. Forest Service is seeking comments from the public on a proposed action in Panthertown to include burning 485 acres around Blackrock Mountain and 329 acres acres around Little Green Mountain. The 814 acres to be included as part of a 3-5 year prescribed burn rotation represents 13% of Panthertown Valley.
We are asking the public to please attend this very important meeting and information session on Thursday September 20 at 6 pm at the Cashiers Community Center gymnasium located off US 64 in Cashiers, about 1/4 mile west of the NC 107 intersection, heading towards Highlands. There is a sign for Wendy’s and Silver Creek Real Estate on the corner of the road leading to the meeting. The Community Center is on the right, next to the fire department. The gym is located upstairs. Look for signs.
Refreshments will be provided at the meeting.
Deadline for comments by Friends of Panthertown members has been extended by the Nantahala District Ranger until October 6. Please make sure to get your comments in before then. Attend the public meeting for more details.
Read a related article in today’s Smoky Mountain News. Wednesday, September 19, 2012 edition.
The U.S. Forest Service is proposing a controlled burn in Panthertown Valley, a popular recreation area in Jackson County dissected with hiking and biking trails, abundant waterfalls and camping sites.
We also appreciate the media coverage provided by The Sylva Herald in last week’s newspaper. This, the Crossroads Chronicle, and The Transylvania Times are the primary newspapers that most of our local users read. WRGC 540AM is our local radio station.
USFS plans for prescribed burns in Panthertown to be discussed
The Sylva Herald
Thursday, September 13, 2012
By Lynn Hotaling
A U.S. Forest Service proposal to conduct prescribed burns in southern Jackson County’s Panthertown Valley has prompted the Friends of Panthertown to host an information session next week.
Slated for 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20, in the Cashiers Community Center gymnasium, the meeting will include experts from several organizations, including the U.S. Forest Service, who will be on hand to answer questions and take comments related to proposed actions in Panthertown Valley.
During the meeting, anyone from the public will have an opportunity to join FOP, and all members will be permitted by USFS to comment on the proposed burn in Panthertown until Oct. 6, which is an extension of the Sept. 17 deadline that’s being offered by District Ranger Mike Wilkins to group members.
“We believe it is important for the public to have an opportunity to learn more and share their thoughts about the proposed plan,” said FOP Director Jason Kimenker. “We are in support of whatever is best for Panthertown Valley. At this time we are consulting with ecologists from several organizations, including the U.S. Forest Service, for their input before forming an official position.”
The Nantahala Ranger District is seeking comments on its proposal to add eight units in Macon, Jackson and Swain counties, including two in Panthertown, to the prescribed burn rotation, beginning in 2013. These treatments would be predominantly conducted during the dormant season of the year, generally between Oct. 15 and April 15. Maps showing the burn units are available by clicking the “Land and Resources Management” and “Projects” links on the web page, http://www.fs.usda.gov/nfsnc.
The areas in Panthertown, which are the only ones in Jackson County, include the Blackrock (485 acres) and Little Green Mountain (329 acres) units. The USFS proposal indicates there would be no ground disturbance with only pre-existing control lines used, and the burns would be designed to restore table mountain pine in the forest. Blackrock is on Panthertown’s west side while Little Green is on its east side.
According to the USFS, the purpose and need for the proposed treatments include reducing fuel accumulation in order to better protect national forest and adjacent ownerships from wildfire; improving wildlife habitat by increasing the availability and quality of nutritious forage for grazing and browsing animals such as deer, turkey, and bear; reducing undesirable shade tolerant species such as mountain laurel, red maple, and white pine in pine beetle areas to allow for regeneration of desirable species; and establishing burn units in a mosaic pattern to mimic natural fire behavior.
Retired Western Carolina University botanist Dan Pittillo has expressed some concern for the plan.
According to Pittillo, Panthertown Valley is a significant State Natural Heritage Area, and he questions the wisdom of designing a burn to restore table mountain pine.
“I have significant questions of the value for this activity,” Pittillo writes in an online comment on the Forest Service proposal. “There is little in the way of table mountain pine trees except for the shallow-soiled rock outcroppings of southwestern slope of Little Green Mountain and there may not be any on Blackrock Mountain. For this small population, a controlled burn may do more harm than good to help to propagate the pines. Most of the pines occur in shallow, organic rocky pockets of the outcrops. If fire did get into these organic soils and it was dry enough, burning the soil would reduce the available habitat for the pine seeds.”
Pittillo says a second reason against the proposed burns at Blackrock and Little Green mountains is that it would “reduce the pinkshell azalea, maybe destroy the southeastern Appalachian endemic population of twisted-hair spikemoss, sandmyrtle, purple and Carolina rhododendron, and blueberries.”
“This would be a negative impact on the existing botanical diversity as well as rare species such as the pinkshell azalea,” Pittillo writes.
Pittillo’s third reason is that burning is not needed to speed up organic debris decomposition for this humid region.
“Unlike the drier western ecosystems where woody fuel accumulates due to the lack of decomposers, our organic debris more quickly breaks down due to the abundance of fungi and bacteria in our moist ecosystems,” he writes.
Deadline for comments for non-Friends of Panthertown members is Monday, Sept. 17. Oral or hand-delivered comments must be received at the Nantahala Ranger District office during normal business hours, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Comments may be sent electronically to firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments may also be sent by regular mail to: Nantahala Ranger District, 90 Sloan Road, Franklin NC 28734 or faxed to (828) 369-6592.
Again, the deadline for comments by Friends of Panthertown members has been extended by the Nantahala District Ranger until October 6. Please make sure to get your comments in before then.