Flying Squirrel Would Alter Parkway Views If Management Prescription Fails
The National Park Service (NPS) has prepared an environmental assessment (EA) for proposed vista management within high altitude Carolina Northern Flying Squirrel habitats along the Blue Ridge Parkway (BLRI) in North Carolina.
The project area is in four locations at Craggy Gardens, Mt. Pisgah, the Graveyard Fields area to Richland Balsam, and Waterrock Knob. The project proposal is to set forth a long-term management strategy that would best protect and preserve Carolina Northern Flying Squirrel (CNFS) while providing for an enjoyable visitor experience of traveling the BLRI. The EA analyzes three alternatives:
- No action (allowing the overlooks and vistas grow up without any periodic cutting),
- Historic management methods (cutting every 3 years according to rotating schedule as the Parkway currently prescribes)
- Developing management guidelines and mitigation objectives utilizing mechanical treatment techniques for each individual vista within potential CNFS habitat to satisfy National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and NPS Management Policies .
The Blue Ridge Parkway is proposing as its third and preferred alternative a very labor intensive approach whereas the landscape architect and resource manager for the Parkway will personally supervise the vista management. This assumes that these individuals will be on site when the cutting of these vistas actually occurs. These contracts will be more expensive as the prescription for these will be from on the ground instructions which would go some thing like this: “cut right here, yep, leave that tree; no, not that one — yes, it is ok to leave that one.”
This is not a model for any efficient and effective program of vista management that I have personally witnessed, the crew simply does there job with regard to exclusive plant species which are left standing. Every three years, presumably, this scene would be repeated and the decisions on the ground will be subjective in park manager’s verbal directions to cutting crews.
Currently, the Parkway does not have the staff to manage the preferred alternative. The preferred alternative states that “Biologists and Landscape Architects in the Resource Planning and Professional Services Division would be responsible for the vista management program with potential CNFS habitat and would determine which trees can be cut at each individual vista and any other mitigation measures that are needed.” The Blue Ridge Parkway does not have a traditional resident landscape architect who has the time commitment to give to this program. There are only two park biologists qualified to serve this requirement and their offices are not even in the districts where the program will be administered.
NPS Management Policies of 2006 has language which states that the Service must protect and strive to recover rare, threatened, or endangered species native to national park system units that are listed under (NEPA), and undertake management programs to inventory, monitor, and restore and maintain listed species’ habitats. It is the opinion of this author that continued vista clearing as prescribed in the Historical Management Method (Alternative 2) does not diminish habitat as the CNFS never had this area as habitat in the first place. NPS / BLRI listing of disadvantages in its 127 page document expresses its own self-doubt in stating that “cyclic maintenance of vistas could have an impact…” and that the “Park Service could be out of compliance…” This author contends that there is a big difference in “could” and “would.”
Documented studies (references are available) have shown that the rate of increase of visits to the Blue Ridge Parkway diminishes when Parkway views are compromised or lost. This factor has a direct impact on local tourism revenues.
The operating budget for the Blue Ridge Parkway has only increased one-half of one per cent since 1980. Funding for the National Park Service or the Blue Ridge Parkway is not expected to be increased significantly in the years ahead despite current funding initiatives. A quarter of the permanent work force of the Blue Ridge Parkway has been lost since 2002 and those vacancies still remain unfilled – including the positions of a landscape architect, community planner, and public information officer.
Another twenty-five per cent of the work force is eligible for retirement in the next four years. If the Park Service commits to its preferred alternative, it will more than likely find itself down the road unable to service the highly labor intensive management alternative, give up because it can’t keep up, and then completely abandon any vista clearing management program in the CNFS critical habitat areas. The originally conceived and designed historical views of the Blue Ridge Parkway would (I didn’t say could) be lost forever.
Responses are encouraged as the issues are multi-facetted. Individual questions can be responded to in postings.