After encouraging everyone to go to the Sandy Mush public meeting on July 30th I thought it only appropriate that I attend. So I showed up dutifully and was quiet impressed by what I saw. First there were about 40 – 50 in attendance; a mixture of hunters, bordering landowners, and recreationist. So we had a good cross-section of folks there. After about thirty minutes of introductory material we broke into small groups to discuss specific questions on a handout sheet.
I thought the WRC staff did a great job of setting the framework for discussion. Gordon Warburton, Mountain Ecosystem Supervisor opened the meeting talking about the Game Land history and the history of Sandy Mush Game Lands. David Stewart from the Commission reminded the audience that the mission of the WRC is to conserve and sustain fish and wildlife resources within the state. Sandy Mush was purchased by the state from Progress Energy in 2004 and transferred to the WRC in 2006.
The current status of the Game Lands is that 71% is forested, 26 % open fields, 2 % water, and 1% developed. Gladly, we saw that 7% of the forested land is in early successional or young forest growth which was a point of contention in later discussions. I was surprised to learn that nearly half, 1077 acres, of Sandy Mush has limited management activity to meet environmental requirements near streams and wetlands.
After the introduction we separated into small groups to discuss questions on a handout sheet. The discussions were led by WRC staff. It seems like the groups I drew was mostly local residents and recreationists. I think myself and one other were the only hunters out of ten people. The local residents seemed to dominate the discussion, one person in particular who didn’t like anything that was happening out there. It was an odd discussion because while agreeing that they liked all the wildlife around, they did not like the WRC cutting trees or the smoke from prescribed burns.
What exactly do they think draws all the wildlife? The timber harvests produce early successional habitat that is needed by all wildlife species and the burns help release dormant seeds that cause many native grasses and trees to grow. I really wish people would educate themselves on wildlife habitat and what it takes to manage for it. Several folks had questions about maintaining walking trails through the area. The staff made it clear that their priority was wildlife habitat and clearing/cutting trails during certain times of the year may disturb nesting wildlife.
Two topics of discussion were of interest. Most people agreed that having hunting limited to three days a week was a good idea. I think because the area is so small and so close to Asheville that game populations could not handle the increased pressure. The recreationists liked the three day schedule because they can walk or bird watch without conflicting with hunters. So be it. The other point that surprised me was that the Fishery Biologists think that several miles of stream may be suitable for Hatchery Supported Trout Waters. They think 1.6 miles of Sandy Mush Creek and 2 miles of Turkey Creek can sustain trout populations at certain times of the year like early in the trout season. It would be wonderful if that happened.
Here is the takeaway. Sandy Mush is a unique topography in the mountains. It is mostly rolling hills, not steep mountains, and because of that lends itself to management for a variety of wildlife from field songbirds, to forest creatures like grouse, and deer and turkey. Because of its uniqueness, and the mission of the WRC, it will be maintained as a wildlife habitat and for hunting. Other recreational uses are secondary.
The public meeting for Green River Game Lands was two nights later and I was unable to attend. If you could not make either of the meetings you can still comment. There are two ways. Go to the WRC website, ncwildlife.org, and click on the “Comment on Game Land Plans” from the scrolling icons at the bottom of the page. You may also submit comments directly by email to email@example.com and type “Sandy Mush” or “Green River” in the subject line. I plan on commenting on Green River via email. I also asked Gordon Warburton if there would be a public meeting on Cold Mountain Game Lands in Haywood County. It is in a different region and will be scheduled at a later date.