Sep 15 2016

Today, Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) announced that the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry passed his amendment to the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015 that would give North Carolina counties the final say as to whether their land is designated as wilderness study areas by the United States Forest Service (USFS). Today, several North Carolina County Commissioners from affected counties also voiced their support for giving local communities the ultimate decision-making authority to protect the interests of North Carolina residents.
The Tillis amendment directs the USFS to build a dialogue with local officials to determine how to best manage the land, and then gives North Carolina counties the authority to have final approval of what lands, if any, are designated wilderness. The amendment will only affect the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests, both located in North Carolina, and does not block the wilderness designation process vested in Congress or prohibit new lands from being designated as wilderness. The Tillis amendment simply gives local residents and North Carolina counties the power to make decisions for the land they already own.
The current USFS process of identifying new wilderness study areas in the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests has had detrimental effects on local counties and residents. The wilderness study designations impede the ability of residents to access the land, preventing them from hunting and fishing. The designation also negatively impacts property tax revenues for the affected counties. 
U.S. Senator Thom Tillis:
“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.”
Mark Swanger, Chairman of the Haywood County Board of Commissioners:
“As Chairman of the Haywood County Commissioners I would like to thank Senator Tillis for working to ensure that local County interests are given due consideration in the proposed revisions to the Pisgah National Forest Land Management Plan that includes and affects areas of Haywood County. The County believes that sufficient forest management practices are critical to maintaining a healthy forest ecosystem for native wildlife, which in turn sustains the economic and enjoyment value of areas. One concern we have expressed is that less forest management will negatively impact future search and rescue efforts, and increase their frequency, difficulty and cost by limiting necessary maintenance to roadways and trails, and reducing necessary signage.
“Our Board passed a unanimous resolution on February 2, 2015 in opposition to any additional wilderness that would reduce the land management practices in Haywood County. There are other forest management designations and plans that could conserve the resources and protect the environment for its present uses and allow the full use of modern methods to do so. We would welcome additional dialogue with the U.S. Forest Service on the best way to manage the forest areas in Haywood County.”
Cal Stiles, Cherokee County Commissioner:
“The citizens of Cherokee County are opposed to any additional USFS lands being designated as wilderness. This prohibits the taxpayers from being able to enjoy the freedom to use the forest lands as we have for generations. These are public lands and belong to the citizens for their use and enjoyment. The wilderness status does not permit timber sales and would preclude the local school system from receiving their percentage of any timber sales, thus having a negative impact on their budget. The timber industry which is a large economic engine in Cherokee County would be negatively impacted effecting a loss of jobs. The Cherokee County Board of Commissioners are totally opposed to any expansion of the wilderness plan by the USFS and have unanimously passed a resolution stating our opposition to any expansion of a wilderness plan by the USFS. However the proposal, to allow the county to be a stakeholder in this process and sit at the table to discuss the USFS plans, I think would be very beneficial for everyone. Ultimately, we all need to work for a solution which is in the best interest of the taxpayers.”
Jacob Nelms, Chairman of the Graham County Board of Commissioners:
“The Graham County Board of Commissioners are steadfastly opposed to any additional wilderness located within the boundary of Graham County. Local officials are always ready and willing to have honest and open conversation with the USFS to make sure that the local interests are heard and included in any decision making process that will affect them.”
Kevin Corbin, Chairman of the Macon County Board of Commissioners:
“The Board of Commissioners are opposed to the management of additional wilderness area in Macon County by the U.S. Forest Service. Local representatives welcome the opportunity to have an open and candid conversation with the U.S. Forest Service regarding the future use of public lands by the federal government to ensure that the interests and concerns of constituents in Macon County are properly included in the decision-making process for the revision plan.”
Tommy Thompson, Chairman of the Henderson County Board of Commissioners:
“Although the current plan does not increase the amount of wilderness area within Henderson County, the Board of Commissioners are opposed to a plan that unreasonably restricts access to our national forests for use by our citizens. However, we remain open to having dialogue with the U.S. Forest Service that will advance the goal of reaching a common solution that is both reasonable and fair to our citizens.”
Mike Hawkins, Chairman of the Transylvania County Board of Commissioners:
“The Transylvania County Board of Commissioners has concern over potentially net negative consequences of additional wilderness designations in areas of the Pisgah and Nantahala Forests located within our county, and we oppose the designation of any wilderness areas within Transylvania County. We are pleased with local National Forest staff, commend them in their manner of local engagement, and support their contributions to the community. We call upon the U.S. Forest Service to increase management activities which will enhance the social, biological, and economic values of our Forests for the benefit of all our residents and visitors.”
David Monteith, Swain County Commissioner:
“Swain County is totally opposed to any new land being designated as wilderness or wilderness study areas. Nearly 90% 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. We support and thank Senator Tillis’ efforts in keeping private land in the hands of local citizens.” 
Jeff Whitson, Yancey County Commissioner:
“It is imperative that a continuous form of dialogue be established between the U.S. Forest Service and local government. It is a shame that the U.S. Forest Service has bypassed the voice of the People and their elected officials. It would appear that the designation of additional wilderness area is an attempt by the U.S. Forest Service to manage less land. It will take away from the county’s rich local heritage, raise safety concerns, diminish tax collection capabilities, as well as encroach upon the freedom of each taxpayer to enjoy our public lands. These issues are important when meeting the needs of the people we serve in Yancey County.”
Matt Wechtel, Madison County Commissioner:
“I, along with several of my fellow County Commissioners, are against the proposed Forest Revision Plan primarily because the Federal Government appears to have no intention to allow local officials and residents to have a say in the future use of these lands.  We believe that the lack of ‘management’ ultimately leads to worse natural disasters as is evidenced by the ‘Hot Springs Fire’ earlier this year which was fueled by years of tinder caused by non-managed forest land.  I believe that changing the plan to increase designated Wilderness areas will increase the effects of these fires, reduce timber revenue to our school systems and reduce our citizens’ ability to use these lands to benefit our communities.”
Clay Logan, Clay County Commissioner:
“The United States Forest Services owns 48% of the property in Clay County, North Carolina and our rural county has Tier 1 designation as a very impoverished and economically distressed county.  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. 
“Clay County feels like any additional lands that are put into wilderness study areas will be very detrimental to out 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.”