Editorial: How Does More Wilderness Area Designation Affect the Average Person in Graham County?

The Graham County Board of Commissioners held a Special Meeting this past Thursday, 12/3, for the purpose of discussing the specific areas proposed in Graham County that may meet criteria for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System and also the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The goal is to have detailed and specific information necessary to prove ineligibility for as many locations as possible in order to fill out the comment forms and get them submitted by the comment expiration date of Dec. 15th.

For more detailed information on the subject of Wilderness designation and a list of the particular areas being considered in Graham County, check out the previous post, “Forest Service Announces List of Possible Lands…

Participants at meeting look over maps. Photo by Lisa Russo

Participants at meeting look over maps. Photo by Lisa Russo

About 60-70 people, emotionally charged and opposed to these wilderness designations, showed up at the initial specially called Commissioners meeting back on 11/12 in response to the Forest Service’s announcement of the possible locations. At this meeting to work on filling out the actual comment cards, only about 20 people attended, including one of the more outspoken commenters from the initial meeting, Mr. Jimmy Millsaps, our new County Manager, Mike Edwards, and the author of the commentary below, Mr. Dale Wiggins. The county’s Economic Development Director, Andy Cable, led the discussion.

Click link for a FAQ handout on Wilderness, published by the USFS.

Unable to stay for the full meeting, I checked the internet later for any updates. Mr. Steve Odom, Chair for the GC Republican Party, recently created a Facebook page, titled “Stop the Wilderness” to help rally local support, disseminate information and answer questions. Following Thursday’s meeting there was a post from Mr. Wiggins stating his disappointment in the lack of meeting participants. He wrote:

“There was a meeting Thursday to discuss the additional proposed Wilderness designated lands in Graham County. Over 30,000 acres of additional lands. ALL OF BIG SNOWBIRD CREEK that is on USFS lands. Plus lands on Yellow Creek, more in the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock area, Deep Creek, huge section near Cheoah Bald, I was shocked to see how much and where it all was. Then if that’s not enough numerous streams that are being looked at for Wild and Scenic river designations!!!! Guess how many people came to participate? Less than 20!!!! Can we just sit by and say “it won’t affect me? If you look at the map you can see the long term goal is to spread the Wilderness designation throughout the USFS lands in Graham County. Think I’m crazy? Get a map and see for yourself. Ever hear of the Wildlands Project? The only trout stream in this county where elderly and disabled people can drive to and fish would have the road closed and only foot traffic allowed!! Not to mention the fact that the people who eek out a living on some of these lands would be taken away. The comment period ends December 15th, ten days from today. Another meeting will be held next Thursday at the Community Center on Knight Street beginning at 5:30. Not a meeting to call people names and place blame but a meeting to organize and fight this to the bitter end. Don’t think it could happen to you? I’ll ask this question. DO YOU TRUST THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO LOOK AFTER YOUR BEST INTERESTS? I hope to see a lot more of you next Thursday than I did this past Thursday.”

Dale Wiggins addressing the BOC at a recent meeting. Photo by Lisa Russo

Dale Wiggins addressing the BOC at a recent meeting. Photo by Lisa Russo

Having heard Mr. Wiggins speak before and knowing his passion for this issue, I asked him if to write an editorial on this subject for the GrahamEditorial.com and its readers. He agreed and sent in the following piece about how more wilderness area designation affects the average person in Graham County. Here is his Editorial, in full:

So, how does more Wilderness Area designation impact the average person in Graham County? On the surface it sounds good to those who are concerned about protecting various animals, forests, pristine water sources and a host of other things. What could be wrong with that? Here’s what I think. One, it’s basically creating National Park lands without having to call it a Park. But you can drive a car through most of our national parks. You can’t drive a car through a Wilderness Area. I’ll admit that’s really not that big of deal because the areas being sought for the Wilderness designation don’t have roads cars can go on anyway. If that was the only issue it wouldn’t be an issue to most of us would it? But that’s not really the underlying reason that it will impact your life or your children’s lives and of course grandchildren’s lives. If the Federal government would say “we want this area and we’ll not want any more of the land in Wilderness” then maybe we could say “OK, take this area or that area since you won’t be wanting anymore of it ever.” Would you believe the US Forest Service if they came to you and said that? I wouldn’t and if you have an average mind you wouldn’t believe it either. This whole Wilderness issue and the concerns for those people with “ologist” at the end of their job title can be traced back to the US Forest Service’s own failed policy that we all know as “clear cutting.” Remember when the Forest Service first started this practice? Us local folk who don’t have a lot of education but do have a lot of common sense or horse sense looked at clear cutting and said to ourselves, “what the hell are they thinking?” Cut down every tree, leave nothing and the forest will come back healthier and stronger. It came back alright as briar patches, scrubby unhealthy trees, unwanted species taking over, and more issues than I have the time and space to list. But who suffers from that? Not the US Forest Service. Every person who ever logged was blamed. Not the feds, “it’s the loggers who are raping our forests”. What was the Forest Service and the “ologists” solution to this fiasco? Stop all logging on federal lands then everything will be fine once again. I know that’s not how the so-called educated person might state it, but that’s what happened.

What does that have to do with Wilderness Area designations? Well, the “ologist” people said “hey, let’s make sure that we can protect the forest from these darn loggers.” They should have asked how we can protect the forest from the US Forest service and the “ologists?” So they decided after much consultation and little study about the impact of Wilderness designations have on local people, the local economy, and on the forest itself to create “Wilderness Areas” where no man can ever cut a tree, build a road, pick a flower and a host of other things that are prohibited in Wilderness Areas. They concluded it would be great thing and hey it will be like a park almost without having to call it a park. Everybody will love a “wilderness” right?

Well, they forgot to mention a few of the negative impacts. Number one I guess would be the loss of jobs; people can’t harvest plants in Wilderness Areas, not just trees, but any plants. No ginseng harvest, no moss to harvest. They never concerned themselves with the “trickle down” effect. Next the ease of access so people can go and recreate in the forest. No road to get there even if there was already one there before the designation of “Wilderness Area”. Oh yeah, you can still fish, you can hunt, that is, if you are physically able to walk long distances in mountainous terrain. OK, that’s good for most I would say, they can walk. But what about those who maybe can’t? The elderly, the disabled, the very young, what about them? Well, nothing’s perfect is it? But hey, they covered their butts from the idiotic practice of clear cutting, created lots of jobs for “ologists”, “ologists” who don’t live in the locales where these designations are placed. “Ologists” who want to see zero human impact. “Ologists” who care more about some bug or some bat that no one else has ever seen but they swear that they are there. How do they know? Often the US Forest Service “ologists” reply is “well it looks like good habitat for them if they decide to locate there.” What are they gonna do, get in a plane in California and fly over and parachute out?

Want an example of this kind of “ologist” idiocy? Several years ago US Fish and Wildlife along with the US Forest Service “ologists” declared the Graham County, NC was the only place in the world that the rare Junaluska salamander could be found. Yep, Graham County, NC and nowhere else. They were preparing to take control of several areas along Tallulah Creek and some tributaries to “protect the habitat” of the Junaluska salamander. It just so happens that this habitat was mostly on privately owned land. No matter says the ologists and US Fish and Wildlife; we must protect the Junaluska salamander. I was a county commissioner at the time, I know what was said. Now I wouldn’t want to be the guy responsible for the extinction of some species you know, but being the uneducated person that I am I was dumb enough to ask US Fish and Wildlife, “how do you know Graham County is the only place on this huge planet the only home the Junaluska salamander has?” I wasn’t supposed to ask that I soon found out. Why? Because they didn’t know the answer. The “ologists” had not studied the planet to see if they existed anywhere else. So after much wringing of hand and pressure from our Congressman Charles Taylor, the US Fish and Wildlife and these “ologists” had to go do a study. Imagine their disappointment when they found Junaluska salamanders in other areas! In other states even!!

I’ve said all this somewhat silly stuff to show you, one, that we cannot trust the Federal government. I’ve said it to say to you that even if it doesn’t affect you directly, more Wilderness designation could affect your neighbor, your children. Every future generation of people who are able to call Graham County home will be impacted by these designations. Myself and others won’t be here a hundred years from now but the Wilderness Area will be and by then if we the people don’t take responsibility for protecting our homes, our way of life, our culture, our economy, and yes our children, there may not be a Graham County. Since the first lands were given a “wilderness” designation, each time the US Forest Service has to do its Forest Management Plan, the “ologists” have come asking for more wilderness areas. This time they want over 30,000 more acres in Graham County. Combine that with what they’ve already been successful at having designated as wilderness and it’s approaching half of the US Forest Service lands in Graham County.

Does that bother you enough to stand up and try to stop it? It does me and I’m going to put every ounce of energy I have into doing so. Did I mention they want some “Wild and Scenic River” designations? Well, that’s as they say “a whole ‘nother story.” There will be a meeting to decide the future of this in Graham County on Thursday, December 10, 2015 in the Community Center at 5:30pm. Will you be there? I plan to be.
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