Protect Pisgah Rally draws hundreds—and surrounds the Forest Service headquarters with 34,000 hearts
August 1, 2022
I expected only a few folks to show up at the Protect Pisgah Rally. After all, it was scheduled for a drizzly Monday afternoon in a parking lot. How many people would actually take time out of their busy schedules to attend a forest rally?
More than 500.
It ended up being the largest forest rally ever in North Carolina. I was stunned by the turnout—and so was the Forest Service.
But perhaps it should not have been so surprising. After all, the Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest is the most popular national forest in the country. More than six million people visited the forest last year, and most forest users want to see stronger protections for Pisgah.
The one-million-acre Pisgah-Nantahala is also one of the country’s most biologically diverse national forests. It shelters more salamander species than any national forest, and it’s home to some of the last and largest old-growth forests in the East.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Forest Service has targeted 44,000 acres of old-growth forests for logging in its proposed Pisgah-Nantahala Forest Plan. The plan will also increase logging 400% to unprecedented levels, open most of the forest to timber harvest, and authorize up to 300 miles of road building while reducing protections for water, trails, and biodiversity.
As a result, the plan has drawn widespread opposition. More than 34,000 public comments have flooded the Forest Service, including a record-setting 14,000 legal objections filed against the forest plan.
Yet the Forest Service has forged ahead with its draft plan. They are also moving forward with the Buck Project—one of Climate Forests’ 10 worst logging projects nationwide. The Buck Project is a massive logging project in the Pisgah-Nantahala that targets old-growth forests and rare salamander habitat.
The Protect Pisgah Rally was the last chance for the public to weigh in on the forest plan. And they made sure their voices were heard, loudly and clearly. Hundreds arrived in front of the Forest Service headquarters with hand-made signs, chanting: “Our Forests! Our Future!” The Mayor of Asheville, youth leaders, and indigenous elders urged the Forest Service to protect the ancient forests of the Pisgah-Nantahala.
The Forest Supervisor spoke briefly, but he and more than a dozen Forest Service employees huddled together for most of the rally as crowds swelled on their doorstep.
It was an intentionally positive, love-themed rally, and the message was simple: we love Pisgah and want to see a lot more of it protected. The love fest culminated with the unfurling of a nearly quarter-mile-long banner of 34,000 hearts—one for each of the 34,000 comments supporting more protections for Pisgah. Rallygoers surrounded the Forest Service building with the banner, chanting: “Pisgah-Nantahala: Worth More Standing!”
The rally was organized by the Center for Biological Diversity and the I Heart Pisgah coalition, with support from eight additional conservation organizations. But it ultimately was led by the people who attended. An open mic at the end of the rally allowed anyone to speak. Teenagers with quivering voices spoke courageously. So did veteran forest activists who warned of tree-sits and direct action if the Forest Service failed to protect the ancient forests and biodiversity of the Pisgah-Nantahala.
The rally wasn’t just a feel-good moment. It played a pivotal role in forest plan objection meetings that began the next day. The three-day meetings concluded with an objector telling the Forest Service: “This plan does not have social license. It faces widespread public opposition. You have betrayed a decade of public input. The good news is that you have a simple, easy solution: protect more of Pisgah, especially its old-growth forests.”
The Forest Service will issue a final plan this fall.