Can mountain bikers, hikers and horseback riders get along on the trails of the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests? Can we also co-exist with birders who need peace and quiet, loggers that depend on our forests for their livelihoods and ecologists who want to protect rare species? The answer is “yes,” but with a caveat: only as long as our national forests are managed in the interest of all of us.

On March 22, we joined the environmental non-profit MountainTrue and the wood products company Columbia Forest Products for a conversation at the Boone library about how we each enjoy and make use of our national forests. We shared our hopes for the forest service’s new management plan, which will decide the ground rules for these lands for the next 15 years.

While you might expect this conversation to be confrontational, the tone was respectful and hopeful. We came out of our panel confident that our interests can work together in the upcoming Nantahala-Pisgah forest management plan.

This didn’t happen by accident. For the past five years, all of the panel’s participants have been talking, negotiating and working together as part of the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Partnership.

That partnership brings together groups from an even broader range of forest interests to collaborate and support innovative management and public investment in our region’s public forests, now and for the future. It’s hard work, but we do it because we know that when we work together, we can accomplish more.

When you get a group of people with different perspectives in the same room, you learn a lot about each other. You find out that we are all conservationists at heart and that each of us has a valid interest in our public forests. Collectively, you come to terms with the fact that every forest service department is underfunded, and no longer able to do the work they have traditionally done. You realize that it’s not just the land, but the agency itself that needs allies, and that the forest service is going to need the full spectrum of conservation interests on their side to do what needs to be done. You also come to understand that there is room for all of us in our national forests, and that we must all pitch in to maintain trails, create wildlife habitat, restore ecosystems, protect water quality, and, most of all, form partnerships with our fellow stakeholders.

That’s why we’re calling on the forest service to create a new plan that allows all of our multiple uses to win and why we’re calling on you to support that vision. Our national forests are critically important to our communities, our wildlife, our economy, our water and our region’s future. Plus, since these are public lands, you own them … we all do.

To that end, we ask you to participate in the forest plan revision for Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the new plan will be released this year, and it will contain the full breadth of possibilities for the next 15 years in our forests. To manage those lands properly, the Forest Service needs to know why you value them and your ideas for maintaining the American tradition of public lands. But even more than that, the multiple use mission of the national forests — that belief that these lands be shared for recreation, range, wildlife, wilderness, timber, water and more — needs your support.

So get involved and stay involved. As the forest plan revision enters the home stretch, we need you to speak up for your values, your favorite places, and help us secure a future for these forests so they can be enjoyed by our grandchildren. And be sure to make room for your fellow protectors of public land, whether they hike, bike, hunt, fish, make a living or just pass time on national forests. This is our public land to share.

Curtis Smalling, director of conservation, Audubon NC, Deirdre Perot, representative of Back Country Horsemen of America and Julie White, representative of the Southern Off-Road Mountain Bicycle

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