Forestry in Action

What the New Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan Means for Birds

The revised plan falls short in some areas, but overall keeps diverse bird habitat in the forest.

The recently released Nantahala Pisgah Forest Plan will drive future management on 1 million acres of our state’s most treasured public forests, including some of the most important places for birds in North Carolina. 

In 2020, nearly 800 Audubon advocates spoke up to make the plan better for birds. Audubon also worked with colleagues in the Nantahala Pisgah Forest Partnership for many years to reach a compromise set of recommendations that balance the needs of birds, wildlife, recreation, and the people who depend on the forest for their livelihoods. The Forest Service took all of the input and released a new version of the plan earlier this year.   

After wading through hundreds of pages, our assessment is that, overall, the plan will keep a diverse mix of habitat within the forest to support a wide variety of birds. It falls short in several important ways (more on that below), so we signed onto a list of objections from the Partnership and are submitting our own list of specific objections. Overall we are supportive of the plan and the process.  

Audubon’s key takeaways:  

  • The plan will keep a diverse mix of habitat in our state’s most treasured public forest, supporting a wide variety of birds. This includes reasonable and science-based increases in the amount of young, re-growing woodlands needed by species like Golden-winged Warblers. It also maintains a stable amount of intact older forests, which supports interior forest birds like Scarlet Tanagers and Wood Thrushes.   

  • On the other hand, the plan misses opportunities for greater and more focused habitat restoration. The plan doesn’t clarify which kinds of habitat management can take place in different places on the forests. By leaving these decisions to be made for individual projects, the plan is inviting more conflict and less certainty.   

  • The plan misses opportunities to improve coordination among partners as we tackle difficult management decisions in the future. This will only make it more difficult for forest managers and groups like Audubon to respond as the forest changes, whether it’s due to climate change, natural disasters, or human pressures.   

  • The plan misses opportunities to take a more holistic approach toward monitoring changes in the forest. What happens on neighboring lands next to the forest matters for birds and people. If bird habitat is being create or degraded nearby, that should impact what kinds of habitat management happen on the forest.   

There are several ways to make your voice heard at this stage in the plan’s development.   

  • Sign on to Audubon’s objection letter: Because of the Forest Service’s rules, only people who submitted comments during the last comment period will be able to formally sign on to objection letters (Audubon’s or those of other groups). This isn’t ideal, but it’s the rules. As soon as dates are announced for this special sign on period, we’ll get in touch with Audubon advocates who are qualified to sign on.  

  • Implementation: Regardless of whether you commented before, we can all have a strong voice in implementation of the plan.  

  • The plan recommends almost 50,000 acres of new Wilderness designation, which requires Congressional action and will warrant engagement from our advocates.   

  • We’ll also need to weigh in on specific projects as they are proposed.   

  • We will be very engaged in the creation of the final monitoring guide for the implementation of the plan, ensuring that birds, forest conditions, carbon storage, and many other factors are accurately tracked and used to inform future management. 

For more background here are links to Audubon’s objection, our original comments, and the plan documents (we recommend starting with the Record of Decision).  

The plan is as important as it is complicated. Thank you for staying engaged and speaking up for birds. If you have specific questions, reach out to Conservation Director Curtis Smalling at 

How you can help, right now