A Barnardsville resident reflects on the Big Ivy Forest meeting

by Deborah Anderson

In the way back of the foothills, bumped up against the ranges of the great

Pisgah and Nantahala, is an area called the Big Ivy. Driving state road 197

before it turns into gravel, turning off to pass weathered barns and white

churches, slowing down to approach the split rail fences and iconic log cabin

of Dillingham’s first residents--you might miss the sign for the Big Ivy

Community Center. But on this night there’s no chance of missing the turn.

The parking lot is overflowing and there’s a steady stream of 4x4‘s lighting up

the dark.

 

We arrive at the same time as the forest rangers, the reluctant stars of this

particular evening’s gathering. They are dressed in neat green uniforms with a

brass buckle emblem on their belt. “Caring for the Land and Serving its

People.” They look nervous and they should be. The people are not happy.

By 7:00 it’s standing room only. Some folks are holding green placards

--“Don’t Cut the Big Ivy!” But the hand-made signs are not held in the air or

pumped in protest. They hold them close to their chests, one arm cradling the

signs and the other draped around their kids. There are lots of kids. They are

not running around but watchful, like their parents. There are nervous smiles

and familiar nods. But no one can ignore the sheriff deputies in the back of

the room. Just in case things get unfriendly. Mostly, people look worried.

An old-timer shakes his head at the crowd. His hunting jacket smells of

woodsmoke and whiskey. “No one is from here,” he growls beneath his hat.

It’s a decree and an accusation but I get what he means. Most of the accents

aren’t local. You don’t get to claim that unless your great granddaddy was

buried here. And his daddy too.

 

But as the people start to speak--some softly sincere, some blatantly

accusing--there’s no doubt about the shared sentiment. No matter how deep

your family’s roots are planted here, no matter if you’re a farmer or a builder,

college boy or biologist or transplant from Ohio--you are here on a cold night

in February in a crowded room with no place to sit, because you care. The

calling is clear: The Big Ivy is special. The Big Ivy needs protecting. The

bureaucratic engines poised to clear- cut her forests and whittle away her

natural habitat must be stopped in their tracks. Now. Tonight.

 

A kid whistles to shut everyone up. In front, dressed in coat and tie, is the

County Commissioner. Other commissioners get a brief intro as someone

shouts to please speak up! Someone else yells that there’s people outside in

the cold who can’t get in. We’re at capacity now, with folks sitting in windows,

standing on ledges and crammed in every lip of space.

 

Three forest rangers stand and with a courageous nod, the District Ranger

starts to speak. His opening line is not what anyone expects.

“I just want to say that there is NO current plan to log anywhere in the Big

Ivy.”

 

The people weigh in on this statement that is repeated over and over as the

night progresses. The rangers choose their words carefully. But it is the word

“current” that does not go unnoticed.

We had seen the “Draft Management Areas for Big Ivy” map with the bright

orange staining 700,000 acres “designated suitable for logging.” The rangers

explain that the management areas1A and 2A are part of the strategy for

“forest habitat diversity” and for “restoration and connectivity.” What they

don’t say is that all those red stains are proposed timber production sites for,

among other purposes, to “...regulate crops of trees to be cut into logs, bolts,

or other round sections for industrial or consumer use.”

 

The ranger continued: “What we want to hear from you tonight are your

ideas to guide the future project for the next 15 years....”

He is interrupted. “No Logging!” a woman calls. She gets immediate

applause.

 

Hands are raised and folks wait patiently to be recognized. Some read

prepared statements, some get their children to speak for them and almost all

tell personal stories of why the Big Ivy should be preserved. Whenever the

ranger’s answers lapse into “government speak” citing “timber sales

administrators” and “potential wilderness inventory areas”, the crowd brings

them back to the same simple mantra: We don’t want any logging. The

County Commissioner stands up to join the chorus.

 

The District Ranger concludes with an invitation to visit his office. He

says,“Come bang on my head” instead of his ‘door’, which gets a laugh. He

thanks us. Another ranger had one final comment. She uses the terms

“stewardship” and “shareholder input” as inherent and valuable to the

process. The people interrupt. Who are these shareholders? What committee

of politicians and Big Money gets to decide the fate of the Big Ivy?

The ranger tells them simply: The shareholders are You.