Potential Wilderness Inventory and Evaluation Process

Two areas  - The Bearwallow Inventoried Roadless Area on the Appalachian Ranger District and Overflow Wilderness Study Area on the Nantahala Ranger District  - were inadvertently not included on the inventory maps presented to the public online on November 18, 2014,. These areas were not included in the initial inventory that was presented to the public in April 2014, but were in fact added to the inventory after consideration of public comments in the fall of 2014. These areas are included in the inventory of potential additions to wilderness and will be evaluated for their wilderness characteristics. In order to allow the public ample opportunity to provide input on these two areaand all other areas included in this inventory, the comment period for the evaluation of potential additions to wilderness will be extended until Feb. 27th, 2015.

The Forest Service received over 500 comments on the online collaborative mapping tool between November 2014 and January 5, 2015 and these comments will be considered as part of the evaluation process. We welcome additional comments from the public to help inform the evaluation ofall areas included in this inventory. Comments addressing the evaluation questions listed below are most helpful in informing the evaluation of areas.

Link to the web-based COLLABORATIVE MAPPING TOOL: https://my.usgs.gov/ppgis/studio/launch/31595

If you are having trouble viewing the web-based mapping tool, you can view pdf maps of the areas here:

The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests are in the process of revising the forest plan. Part of the revision process includes considering potentially suitable lands for wilderness recommendation to Congress. A description of this process can be found in proposed directives in the 2012 Forest Service Planning Rule, Chapter 70 of the Forest Service Land Management Planning Handbook 1909.12 at http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/planningrule/home/?cid=stelprdb5403924. This process is required by the 2012 Forest Service Planning Rule and is intended to be a transparent and collaborative process. This is an important process because you will have a voice in shaping future recommendations for wilderness designation.

  1. Initial Inventory. In April of 2014, the Forest Service shared the initial inventory maps with the public and provided an opportunity to provide comments on both the inventory process (http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprd3797573.docx) and initial maps.

  2. Final Inventory Maps. The inventory maps have been updated based on public comments and the Forest is now initiating the process for evaluating those areas. The final inventory maps are displayed online through the collaborative mapping tool as well as available to the public at ranger district locations. Inclusion in the inventory does not imply a designation nor does it necessarily convey or require a particular kind of management.

  3. Evaluation Phase. At this point, the Forest is initiating the evaluation of areas included in the inventory. We are looking for area-specific comments that will help us evaluate areas for wilderness characteristics.

    Evaluation criteria of lands carried forth from the inventory phase include:

    1. Degree to which the area appears to be affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprints of humans substantially unnoticeable. For instance, some things to consider would be:

      ·         Are invasive species present? If so, which ones and how prevalent are they?

      ·         Does fish stocking occur in this area? If so, are native or non-native species stocked? Are any motorized or mechanized transportation or equipment used?

      ·         Does the area provide contiguous habitat or connectivity for fish and wildlife?

      ·         Have there been vegetation treatments in the area? Are they substantially noticeable?

      ·         Are there permanently installed vertical structures within the area, such as cell towers or television and radio repeaters?

      ·         Are there any recreation improvements within the area?

      ·         Are there any structures, dwellings or other relics of past occupation present?

    2. Degree to which the areas has outstanding opportunities for solitude or for a primitive and unconfined type of recreation.

      ·         Are sights and sounds from outside the area present?

      ·         Are there developments or activities immediately adjacent to the area that impact opportunities for solitude?

      ·         Can a traveler see or hear evidence of civilization from within the area?

    3. How an area less than 5,000 acres is of sufficient size as to make practicable both its preservation and its use in an unimpaired condition.

      ·         Is the area adjacent to existing designated wilderness?

      ·         Is the area self-contained or geographically isolated?

    4. Degree to which the area contains ecological, geological or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.

      ·         Does the area contain any rare plants, animals or ecosystems?

      ·         Does the area contain outstanding landscape features such as waterfalls, mountains, viewpoints, water bodies or geologic features?

      ·         Does the area contain high quality water resources or important watershed features?

    5. Degree to which the area may be managed to preserve its wilderness characteristics, considering shape, configuration, legally established rights or uses, presence and amount of non-federal land, and management of adjacent lands.

      ·         What is the ownership of adjacent lands?

      ·         What are the current uses of adjacent lands?

    6. Other information relevant to determining the wilderness character of the area.

      ·         Is there any mechanized use such as mountain biking in the area?

      ·         Is there motorized use or designated motorized trails within the area?

  4. Analysis Phase. Those lands that emerge from the evaluation phase may, at the Forest Supervisor’s discretion, be included and considered as draft forest plan alternatives during the development of a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS). The DEIS is expected to be released in summer 2015.

The Forest Supervisor will ultimately decide whether to recommend suitable lands for National Wilderness Preservation System designation to the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service. Such recommendation may then be forwarded to the Secretary of Agriculture and ultimately to Congress for their consideration and possible designation.

Comments on the evaluation of areas may be provided by any of the following means: