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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

This Land Is Your Land

I grew up in the Blue Ridge mountains of Western North Carolina. I’m a city girl, really, born and raised in Asheville, WNC’s largest city. However, I had parents who valued the natural world, who appreciated the beauty of this area, and who believed that our proper education involved time spent in the woods. I was lucky this way.

Three children growing up with divorced parents, we often didn’t have money for vacations, expensive trips to the beach, or theme parks. What we did have more than made up for it. My mom was always ready for an adventure. In her car, she kept towels, changes of clothes and shoes, and a bag of picnic supplies, “just in case.” Many a warm weekend afternoon we were off—most often to Davidson River (where the photo at right was taken in 1969 of my mother, my brother, and me) and The Cradle of Forestry in the Pisgah National Forest. My father, an outdoors writer, would take us along as he researched articles. His favorite areas were found in the Natahala National Forest—the Santeelah River, all along the Nantahala Gorge and throughout the Slickrock Wilderness.

My parents were connected to these regions through their own childhood experiences, and they wanted to share those with us. As a result, the string of love for these mountains, rivers, and forests was tied to our hearts and continues to draw us back…back to the region that is our true home, back to the natural world that feeds us, restores us, and nourishes us.

My husband feels it, too. For different reasons and under different circumstances, his parents created a similar love and belonging. It was one of the shared values that drew us to one another. We even become engaged atop Looking Glass Rock, declaring our love and commitment to each other in view of the blanketed ridges of the Pisgah National Forest, a place where, in separate childhood lives, we had parallel experiences of home.

We grew up, we moved away. But this place called to us, and, with the birth of our first child, we knew we needed to return. We knew that we wanted our daughter to find a home, too, in this place amid these woods, these vistas and valleys.

I want my daughter to know the glories of this world. To know that there are still places where wildflowers grow unbidden and unbridled, where creatures live out the cycle of their lives without interference. I want her to know that this land belongs—if it must be owned—to her, to her parents, to their parents and grandparents, to her children and grandchildren, and to others whom she may never know or meet but who feel the same thin string of love drawing them here. And I want her to teach her children that we are stewards of the land.

The President’s Fiscal Year 2007 Budget for the US Dept of Agriculture Forest Service proposes to reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act for another five years. This legislation was designed to provide payments to states and counties which have been impacted by reduced receipts from lower timber harvest levels on Federal land. To help fund this program, the Administration recommends selling a number of acres of National Forest System Lands around the country—in nearly every state. The lands that are proposed for sale have been identified. You can go to this site for more information on the land sale, including a listing and maps for each state.

According to the US Dept of Agriculture Forest Service, “the extension of the Secure Rural Schools Act would provide affected states and counties a short-term safety net of payments which will be adjusted downward over time and eventually phased out.”

In North Carolina, there are four National Forest regions on the list: Croatan and Uwharrie in Eastern NC, and Pisgah and Nantahala in Western NC. The proposal includes nearly 3000 acres in the Pisgah National Forest, and nearly 4000 acres in the Nantahala National Forest. This land is spread through thirteen counties.

Developers in these rapidly growing areas are drooling. With the explosion of high-end gated communities of second and even third and fourth homes, formerly pristine forest lands are the perfect draw for rich out-of-state visitors who wish to create their personal haven. The developers see dollar signs.

But what about the rest of us? Our National Lands should remain so. They should belong to all of the people. To my daughter and my neighbor and my husband’s niece and her children. And to generations to come.

The National Forest Service was established by Congress in 1905 as a division of the US Department of Agriculture in order to manage our forests and grasslands to “provide the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people in the long run.” Over the years, as public demands on National lands have changed, Congress has directed the Forest Service to manage forest lands “for the sustainable yield of renewable resources such as water, forage, wildlife, wood, and recreation.” The stated mission of the Forest Service is “to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations,” (USDA Forest Service website).

I fail to see how selling this land supports this mission. As a parent of a child in a rural area, I see the importance of funding rural schools. I see that states and counties are struggling to find money for education. I get that. However, if the Secure Rural Schools initiative is to be phased out, is there not a better “short-term” solution for funding than the permanent loss of valuable natural resources?

I fear for our National wild lands. I fear that we are setting into motion a pattern that will lead, eventually, our losing the parts of this country that make it great. That we are selling our children’s heritage. That we are squandering their future.

For now, I will speak out. I will make my voice be heard. I will teach my daughter the mysteries of the land. I will smile as she splashes in the creeks, hugs the trees, proudly names the wildflowers, giggles at the wooly worms. I will take her to the places I love, the places of my childhood and my parents’ childhood. I will hope—that she will feel at home here in these mountains. And that this home, this land will always be…ours.

Please take some time to explore the USDA Forest Service website, which has lists and maps of the lands potentially for sale across the country. More importantly, please note that the Forest Service is accepting public comments on this proposal.


For more information on the areas I have mentioned, visit the following websites:
USDA National Forest Service
National Forests of North Carolina
Cradle of Forestry
Nantahala Outdoor Center

Images property of Wesley J. Satterwhite

3 Comments:

  • At Wednesday, 10 May, 2006, Blogger Leslie Shelor said…

    It is a tragedy to think that by the time your lovely daughter is grown, she might no longer be able to share the treasures of our nation with her children, as you have with her.

     
  • At Wednesday, 10 May, 2006, Blogger D L Ennis said…

    Well said Wesley! As anyone who knows me knows, I share your concerns, and I’m very passionate about those concerns, about our public lands!

     
  • At Wednesday, 10 May, 2006, Anonymous jbromom said…

    What a beautifully written personal account with social commentary for all! So proud of you!

     

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